Friday, March 25, 2016

The Twenty Seven Murders of Henry H. Holmes, Part Two

On The Road and a Mysterious Death and Disappearance

    In May 1886, Holmes headed to Philadelphia. He first found employment at the newly opened "State Lunatic Hospital at Norristown," still in operation today. How bad does a place have to be to spook even Holmes? "This was my first experience with insane persons, and so terrible was it that for years afterwards, even now sometimes, I see their faces in my sleepa."
    His job there was limited to a few days. He then found employment at a pharmacy on Columbia Street in Philadelphia. This didn't last long either. From Holmes' Own Story: "About July 1st, one afternoon, a child entered the store and exclaimed, 'I want a doctor! The medicine we got here this morning has killed my brother (or sister).' I could remember of no sale that morning corresponding to the one she hastily described, but I made sure that a physician was at once sent to the house, and having done this I hastily wrote a note to my employer, stating the nature of the trouble, and left the city immediately for Chicago, and it was not until nine years later that I knew the result of the casea."
    The nine years later would have been July, 1895, a time when many accusations about Holmes' past came to the fore. Here, we have the news that this incident rattled Holmes enough to get him to abandon his job on a moment's notice and rush off to Chicago. This is suggestive of guilt.
    In July, 1886, Holmes began working at Dr. E.S. Holton's drugstore at Wallace and Sixty-third in Englewood, IL, just outside the Chicago city limits. The story as presented in the papers of the time is that Dr. Holton was suffering from prostate cancer and would soon die. Holmes arranged to purchase the drugstore and then failed to pay to Mrs. Holton who, in turn, brought a lawsuit. She disappeared, with Holmes claiming she'd moved to California10.

    This story did not appear in Holmes' April 1896 confession. In a minor coup in investigation, Adam Selzer of Mysterious Chicago found that Dr. E.S. Holton did not die of prostate cancer. Dr. Elizabeth S. Holton was Mrs. Holton and she lived into the twentieth century.

    Regardless of the end of Dr. Holton, Holmes, now the owner of the pharmacy, settled in to the Chicago area which would be his home for the better part of eight years. On January 28, 1897, he married Myrta Belknap of Minneapolis, Minnesota11.

Jekyll and Hyde?
    In January of 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson published his famous novella about the good Dr. Henry Jekyll and his evil alter-ego Edward Hyde. Herman Webster Mudgett first used the name Henry Howard Holmes when he applied for a pharmacy license in July, 188612. Did Dr. Mudgett derive the name Henry from the novel? Later, when Dr. Holmes needed a mysterious person to blame for some of his crimes, he invented "Edward Hatch."

    "Howard Pitezel [victim twenty-five] chose to go with Hatch...a" In his death row confession, Holmes admitted he was Hatch. "I first met [victim twenty-one] Miss Minnie R. Williams in New York in 1888, where she knew me as Edward Hatch...b"

(Whether there existed a confederate of Holmes, literally named Hatch, or else going by another name would make for a lengthy post all its own.)
    As for his surname, Dr. Henry H. Holmes and Sherlock Holmes came into existence about the same time. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in A Study in Scarlet, completed in May of 1886, although not published until November of 1887 and therefore too late for Mudgett to borrow this name.

    It's quite possible Mudgett and Conan Doyle chose the name from the same source. By the 1880s, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, author and professor of medicine was one of the most famous people in America and had a world-wide reputation. Oliver Wendell Holmes briefly taught anatomy and physiology at the medical school at Dartmouth in New Hampshire, a fact of which Mudgett would have been acutely aware.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes has been cited as the origin for the surname of Sherlock Holmes. "...the most likely source is Oliver Wendell Holmes, the American essayist, novelist, poet, physician and professor of anatomy, of whom Conan Doyle wrote in Through the Magic Door, 'Never have I so known and loved a man whom I had never seen13.'"

    In 1886, the year of the creation of Sherlock Holmes, Oliver Wendell Holmes traveled to Scotland to receive an honorary degree from the University of Edinburgh. Arthur Conan Doyle received his medical degree from the institution a year earlier.

Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde 
 The Second Victim.

    Holmes declared, "My second victim was Dr. Russell, a tenant in the Chicago building recently renamed "The Castle." During a controversy concerning the non-payment of rent due me, I struck him to the floor with a heavy chair when he, with one cry for help, ending in a groan of anguish, ceased to breatheb." Holmes stated he then sold the body to be used as a laboratory skeleton.
    Supposedly taking place in "The Castle," this murder represents a jump of four years inasmuch as the building wasn't completed until mid-1890.
    In regards to this victim, I will again cite the author, Adam Selzer. He has written several treatises regarding the killer, including one examining the confessions14. Selzer presents various spellings from the contemporary papers, which refer to the victim as Dr. Thomas Russel, Russell, or Russler. The last of these names represented a tenant with an office in the Holmes' castle who according to 1895 news reports had disappeared in 1892. Selzer states he is inclined to believe that Holmes made a false confession and was referring to a Dr. Thomas Russell, in charge of a hospital in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1896, therefore not a victim.
    The commonality of the name helps to lend a murkiness to this matter. In a personal communication from his grandson, Dr. Thomas Russell of Grand Rapids, Minnesota did live in Chicago before moving north. He found the city too "rough.15"
    Further confusion arose when various contemporary news accounts claimed that Doctor Russell was either still living in or else could not be found in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Summary: Second Victim.
Dr. Russell
Motive: Non-payment of rent.
Method: Struck with chair.
Site: The Murder Castle.
Time: 1890?
Confirmation of murder: unconfirmed, unlikely.
The Murder Castle
The Murder Castle as presented in The Holmes-Pitezel Case, Frank Geyer, 1896

The Third and Fourth Victims
    "The victim was Mrs. Julia L. Conner. A reference to almost any newspaper of August, 1895, will give the minute details of the horrors of this case...b" Holmes goes on to say that the fourth death, the poisoning of the young child, Pearl Conner was carried out with the help of accomplices, an unspecified man and woman.

    In Holmes' Own Story, he explains away their disappearances, saying Julia was worried about losing her daughter to her husband and fled. "...she had given her destination as Iowa, she was going elsewhere to avoid the chance of her daughter being taken from her, giving the Iowa destination to mislead her husbanda." Holmes claimed he kept correspondences from her after her disappearance, proving she was alive.

    The story of Julia Conner and her four-year-old daughter Pearl is well-documented. In the version proffered in the book, Depraved16, Ned Conner, husband of Julia, worked for Holmes. The Conners lived in the Holmes castle. Julia was alleged to be Holmes lover. Ned filed for divorce and left town. Julia became pregnant. Holmes offered to marry her but only if she agreed to an abortion. At his behest, she took out life insurance. On Christmas Eve, after chloroforming Pearl, Holmes performed the procedure on Julia, ensuring she did not survive.

    Is this abortion story real? Holmes was not the source of the story and who else would tell of it? In another part of his confession, Holmes counted an unborn child among his murder victims, but not in this case. In his final confession on the gallows, Holmes admitted to only killing two women during "criminal operations" which some have interpreted as abortions.

    Ned Conner and the relatives of Julia Conner strongly believed Holmes was responsible for his wife and daughter's murder, well before Holmes achieved notoriety.

    Years later, when the police searched the castle, they encountered what they believed to be the bones of Julia and Pearl. The alleged accomplices were never identified.

Third and fourth victims: Julia Conner and daughter Pearl Conner
Residents in the castle. Alleged lover.
Motive: To collect insurance.
Method: Butchering, poisoning.
Site: The Murder Castle.
Confirmation of murder: well-established.

The Fifth Victim
    "The fifth murder, that of Rodgers, of West Morgantown, Va. (sic), occurred in 1888, at which time I was boarding there for a few weeksb."

    This murder appears to be an example where Holmes is merely confirming allegations in a news story. "Learning that the man had some money I induced him to go upon a fishing trip with me and, being successful in allaying his suspicions, I finally ended his life by a sudden blow upon the head with an oar. The body was found about a month thereafter, but I was not suspected until after my trial here, and even then by a fortunate circumstance succeeded in having the report publicly denied, but did not succeed in changing the opinion of fifty or more persons living in the town who had recognized my picture in the daily papersb."

    With his nationwide notoriety, it appears that a number of people in Morgantown, West Virginia claimed Holmes had been there. Regardless of how this part of his confession came to be, the story was refuted.

    As cited in The Three Confessions of HH Holmes, a week after the April confession, a story appeared in the Wheeling Register. "No man by that name was ever murdered here, and no murder of a man ever occurred in this place that the murderer was not convicted. W. Rogers was the name used by a newspaper correspondent from here for an old tanner who disappeared and was found in the river. He was supposed to have been murdered, and people here thought Holmes' picture looked like a man who was here at the time. It was established later that the man is still living and was not Holmes... Holmes simply lied17."

Fifth Victim: "Rodgers"
Motive: Money.
Method: Clubbed over the head
Site: Morgantown, WV.
Year: 1888
Confirmation of murder: Refuted.

The Sixth Victim.
    "The sixth case is that of Charles Cole, a Southern speculator. After considerable correspondence this man came to Chicago, and I enticed him into the Castle, where, while I was engaging him in conversation, a confederate stuck him a most vicious blow upon the head with a piece of gas pipe. ... This is the first instance in which I knew this confederate had committed murder, though in several other instances he was fully as guilty as myself, and, if possible, more heartless and bloodthirsty, and I have no doubt is still engaged in the same nefarious work, and if so is probably aided by a Chicago business manb."

    Here, again, Holmes says an unnamed associate performed the murder. This being the first murder by this person, it would not be the same as the man and woman who supposedly helped kill Pearl Conner. Among the associates of Holmes, the one who received the most attention from the police was the Castle janitor, Patrick Quinlan. In August of 1895, the police kept him and his wife sequestered, interrogating them for three weeks18. They later sued the police for unlawful imprisonment, but lost19.

    On July 29, 1895 the story of the disappearance of Cole ran in various papers. In The Chicago Tribune, he was referred to as Wilfred Cole while in other papers his name was "Milford C. Cole." The C could stand for Charles. A typical account can be found in the Los Angeles Herald.

    "Sheriff McRae of Fort Worth, Texas, who was in this city [Little Rock, Arkansas] last week, had a long talk with [Holmes associate John C.] Allen, and during the conversation the disappearance of Milford Cole, a wealthy Baltimore man, was mentioned. Cole came here a year ago last spring as the representative of a Baltimore lumber syndicate. He at once became prominent in lumber circles, buying a sawmill near Beebe, north of here on the Iron Mountain road, and contracting for the purchase of 25,000 acres of timber lands in Southeastern Arkansas. In July, 1894, he spent two weeks at Fort Worth, becoming well acquainted with Holmes, who tried to interest him in some business enterprises. These facts Cole mentioned to friends on his return to Little Rock. About three weeks afterwards he was summoned to Chicago by a telegram from Holmes and has not been seen or heard from since. Both Allen and Sheriff McRae recall Cole's association with Holmes at Fort Worth last year and Cole's subsequent disappearance20."

    In Holmes Own Story, under a section entitled "Other Disappearances," he says, "Charles Cole is also known to be alivea."

The Sixth Victim: Milford "Charles" Cole
"Southern speculator invited to Chicago"
Motive: Money.
Method: Unnamed accomplice hit Cole over the head with a pipe.
Site: Chicago Castle.
Year: 1894
Confirmation of murder: Unconfirmed

The Seventh Victim.
    "A domestic named Lizzie, was the seventh victim. She for a time worked in the Castle restaurant and I soon learned that Quinlan was paying her too close attention and fearing lest it should progress so far that it would necessitate his leaving my employ I thought it wise to end the life of the girl. This I did by calling her in the vault of which so much has since been printed, she being the first victim that died therein. Before her death I compelled her to write letters to her relations and to Quinlan, stating that she had left Chicago for a Western State and should not returnb."

    Again, in Holmes' Own Story, he claims she is living. "The same charge concerning a domestic named Lizzie is untrue, although I have no means of verifying it save that it has been proven that she was alive and in Chicago some months after I left that city, early in 1894a."

    In one news report, the police were said to be seeking a Mrs. Perr, a former housekeeper of Holmes in 189221. It was suggested she had gone missing.

    After the confession, several newspapers noted errors in who Holmes had supposedly killed. The Rockford Republic declared: "Five Victims Alive. Confession is Alleged to Be Untrue." One of his victims "has been seen those who know her well in the vicinity of the "castle," since Holmes declares that he suffocated her in a vault of his unique building.22" Although cryptic, this could refer to Lizzie, or Sarah Cook or Haracamp (below).

The Seventh Victim: Lizzie
A domestic
Motive: Worried his janitor was too interested in her.
Method: First victim of the suffocation vault.
Site: Chicago Castle.
Year: unspecified
Confirmation of murder: Unconfirmed.

Victims Eight, Nine and Ten.

    "The eighth, ninth and tenth cases are Mrs. Sarah Cook, her unborn child, and Miss Mary Haracamp, of Hamilton, Canadab."

    Here, Holmes counts an unborn child among his numbered victims.

    Holmes explains that Sarah Cook and her husband were tenants in the Castle. Sarah's niece, Mary Haracamp came to work as Holmes' stenographer. "...Mrs. Cook and her niece had access to all rooms by means of a master key and one evening while I was busily engaged preparing my last victim for shipment, the door suddenly opened and they stood before meb." Holmes hurried the two into the vault. Holmes had them write letters stating they were running away in exchange for their freedom. He then suffocated them.

    In Holmes' Own Story, he listed together several persons who he was accused of killing. "Robert Latimer, a former janitor [victim thirteen], a Mr. Brummager, one in my employ as a stenographer, also Miss Mary Horacamp [sic], from Hamilton, Canada, are alive, as shown by letters recently received from friends or relatives of eacha."

    While Holmes appears to be responding to accusations, I could not locate the name Haracamp does not appear in any of the contemporary news articles. The names Haracamp and Horacamp do not seem to exist outside of the Holmes' confession. On April 16th, 1896, just after the confession was printed, The Omaha Daily Bee  ran a brief item stating  "In the list of Holmes victims appears the name Mrs. Haverkamp of Hamilton, Ontario. No person of that name was ever known there."

Summary: Victims Eight, Nine and Ten
Mrs. Sarah Cook, her unborn child, Mrs. Haracamp (Horacamp)
Tenant and niece.
Motive: Eliminate witnesses
Method: Suffocated in the vault.
Site: Chicago.
Time: Unknown
Confirmation of murder: unconfirmed.

 Drawing of Victims as presented in the Hopkinsville Kentuckian
 Victims of Holmes as presented in the Hopkinsville
Kentuckian, August 27, 1895, page 3. Included are

Julia Conner (third victim),
Emeline Cigrand
(eleventh victim), Emily Van Tassel (twelfth victim)
and the Williams sisters (Victims twenty-one and twenty-two). 

The Eleventh Victim.
     "Soon after this Miss Emeline Cigrand, of Dwight, Ill, was sent to me by a Chicago typewriter firm to fill the vacancy of stenographerb."

    The disappearance and death of Emeline Cigrand became part of the canonical Holmes lore perhaps eclipsed only by the death of the Pitezels. Cigrand worked as the secretary to the head of a national chain of sobriety clinics, called the Keeley, or Gold cure. Holmes's handyman, Benjamin F. Pitezel went to their Dwight, Illinois clinic for treatment and returned, not sober, but with a glowing report of their secretary's great beauty. In May, 1892 Holmes lured her away for a 50% increase in salary. Among his many schemes Holmes ran his own alcoholism cure clinic out of the Castle, called the Silver Ash Institution23.

    One version has it that Cigrand and Holmes became engaged to be married. Since she knew of one of Holmes's current wives, Holmes insisted that she keep his name a secret, only referring to him as Robert Phelps, until he could arrange a divorce. In December they sent out wedding announcements. On December 7th, her hometown paper ran the announcement. "Miss Cigrand Weds Robert E. Phelps. The bride, after completing her education, was employed as a stenographer in the County Recorder's office. From there she went to Dwight, and from there to Chicago, where she met her fate24." Fate took on a different meaning than the societal reporter intended.

    Once Holmes locked her in the vault he promised to release her if she would send out wedding announcements. She complied and he later used these to show she was still alive and had merely run off with her new husband. He left her in the vault until she died of suffocation.

    In contrast to his confession, according to Holmes' Own Story, "She worked faithfully in my interests until November, 1892, when, much against my wishes, she left my employ to be married...a" A year later, he claimed, she returned to Chicago wanting her old job back. Unhappy with her husband, she was considering joining the convent. Holmes said she was seen by many around town.

    The police encountered what they believed to the bones and hair of Emeline Cigrand. According to an eyewitness, the day after she disappeared Holmes and his janitor Quinlan were seen hauling a large trunk out of the Castle.

Summary: Victim Eleven
Emeline Cigrand
Motive: Eliminate witness?
Method: Suffocated in the vault.
Site: The Castle.
Time: December, 1892
Confirmation of murder: Confirmed.
 Dancing with a skeleton
Dancing with a Skeleton from the University Palladium, University of Michigan,

 Intermission: Attempted Murders.
    Holmes follows up the death of his eleventh victim with a list of his attempted murders. Along with the well-documented attempted murders of three more Pitezel family members, he describes, "... an unsuccessful attempt to commit a triple murder for the $90 that my agent for disposing of "stiffs" would have given me for the bodies of the intended victims, who were three young women working in my restaurant upon Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. That these women lived to tell of their experience to the police last summer is due to my foolishly trying to chloroform all of them at one and the same time. By their combined strength they overpowered me and ran screaming into the street, clad only in their night robes. I was arrested next day, but was not prosecutedb."

    Famously, an intended victim of Jeffrey Dahmer escaped and made it to the police, only to be returned to his killer who then completed the killing. In this instance, Holmes claims to have three women escape his grasp and go to the police. Despite the titillating aspects of this story, no evidence supports it occurring.

Continued in Part Three

References, Citations and Notes.

a. Holmes' Own Story in which the Alleged Multi Murderer and Arch Conspirator Tells of The Twenty-Two Tragic Deaths and Disappearances In which He is Said to be Implicated. Philadelphia. Burk & McFetridge Co. 1895.

b. Holmes Confesses 27 Murders. The Most Awful Story of Modern Times Told by the Fiend in Human Shape. The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, April 12, 1896. Copyright 1896 by WR Hearst and James Elverson, Jr.

10. As recounted in Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America's First Serial Killer. Harold Schechter. Copyright 1994. New York: Pocket Books. Page 12.

11. Myrta Belknap remained loyal to her husband up to the time of execution, claiming she couldn't believe he committed the crimes. Interestingly, Holmes was born in Belknap County, New Hampshire.

12. The Devil in the White City. Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Erik Larson Copyright 2003. Vintage Books, Random House. Page 44.

13. The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Martin Booth. copyright 1997, Thomas Dunne Books.

14. The Three Confessions of HH Holmes. Adam Selzer. September 2012.

15. The genealogy site includes these bits of information:
Dr. Thomas Russell, b 25Feb1861 Alton, Peel Co ON, CA. d 15Oct1953 Grand Rapids, MN.

In a personal communication, Dr. Russell's grandson, also a doctor, said his grandfather "did live in Chicago before going to Minnesota. He said Chicago was to [sic] rough."

16. Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America's First Serial Killer. Harold Schechter. Copyright 1994. New York: Pocket Books. pp. 41-46.

17. The Three Confessions of HH Holmes. Adam Selzer. September 2012.

18. Cole's Disappearance. A Lumberman Who Was Summoned to Chicago by Holmes. Los Angeles Herald, July 29, 1895. I believe Milford Cole existed. John C. Allen gave many specific details about him while seeking a pardon in exchange for testimony: a poor strategy if such a person could easily be proven to not exist. Of course, Cole may have still been alive, Allen did not claim to witness his death in person.

19. Pat Quinlan Sues for Damage. Daily Illinois State Journal. September 17, 1895.

20. Mrs. Quinlan Loses the Suit. Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, April 21, 1897.

21. Daily Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Illinois. July 28, 1895.

22. Five Victims Alive. Confession is Alleged to Be Untrue. Rockford Republic, April 13, 1896.

23. Soup Bones Dug Up, Daily Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Illinois July 28, 1895.

24. As quoted in: Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America's First Serial Killer. Harold Schechter. Copyright 1994. New York: Pocket Books. Page 54. Although it is keeping in character with Holmes to invent names for an upcoming marriage, another version of the story is that Holmes killed both Cigrand and her fiance.


A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook editions through Amazon and other online retailers.

A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.

Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game.

Back page blurb.

Manhattan, 1896.

When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.

Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, will be available from Rook's Page Publishing, March 30, 2016. It features Nikola Tesla as detective.

His recent mystery, Never Kill A Friend, is available from Ransom Note Press. His epic poem, Two Mistakes, won second place in the 2015 Margaret Reid/Tom Howard Poetry Competition. He can be contacted at


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