Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tesla Versus the Martians

In January, 1901, Nikola Tesla announced that he had received radio signals which he believed came from Mars. A brief message, the numbers 1,2,3, came to him during his 1899 experiments in Colorado Springs at the foot of Pike's Peak. "I share the belief of other scientific men that the planet Mars is inhabited; that the inhabitants are intelligent and they are trying to communicate with the inhabitants of other planets including our earth.  . . . While investigating, the instrument I was using recorded certain feeble movements that could be barely noted at times. Their character showed unmistakably that they were not of solar origin. Neither were they produced by any causes known to me on the globe. After months of deep thought on this subject I have arrived at the conviction, amounting to almost knowledge, that these movements must be of planetary origin. . . . Inhabitants of Mars, I believe, are trying to signal the Earth." [Tesla And Mars. January 4, 1901  Daily People, New York, p. 2]

This announcement was copied in newspapers throughout America, provoking wonderment by those who believed it dawned a new age -- and ridicule from skeptics. Over time, the announcement was used to denigrate Tesla, to show that he was delusional enough to believe in little green men. But, as for believing in communication with Mars, he was hardly alone in his notions.

Some Context.

In 1894, Percival Lowell, one of the foremost astronomers of the day, directed the high-powered refractory telescope he had set-up at an observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona toward Mars and announced that he detected canals, ergo, evidence of life. He published these findings in 1895 in a book called Mars.

Even more important in solidifying the public's impression of Martians was H.G. Wells' sensational, The War of the Worlds, serialized in 1897 and published in book form in 1898, in which malevolent Martians invade the earth.

Martian mania was fully underway. In the fanciful serial, Edison's Conquest of Mars, also 1898, the inventor collaborated with the greatest minds of the day to save Earth.

The salvation of Earth ". . .was due to a few dauntless men of science, conspicuous among whom were Lord Kelvin, the great English savant; Herr Roentgen, the discoverer of the famous X ray, and especially Thomas A. Edison, the American genius of science." Edison's Conquest of Mars, Garrett Putman Serviss.

Notably, Tesla was absent from the list.

Also, beginning in the mid-1890s for the first time in human history, mankind could communicate beyond visible and shouting distances without the use of wires. Tesla undertook experiments transmitting and detecting radio signals from site to site in Manhattan. In 1896, Marconi showed that radio could communicate across the Bristol Channel, approximately 14 kilometers, and in 1899, across the English Channel. These transmissions were in Morse code. Voice transmission would not take place until 1900.

The possibility of communicating with another planet seemed possible as Tesla noted in an 1896 interview. "I have had this scheme under consideration for five or six years . . . [noting that we have electrical disturbances from the sun shows that electrical waves are propagated through space.] It is wholly through the electricity waves, which are propagated through the atmosphere and the ether beyond that we may hope to obtain any results." [May Signal to Mars. March 25, 1896. New Haven Register, p. 7]

A later article suggests that it was terminology that prevented Tesla from equating "electric waves" with electromagnetic or radio waves. In referring to using electric waves to communicate with Mars, Tesla said: "The oscillator instantly transform this electric current, by a series of coils, into an electro-motive force, vibrating at the rate of 2,000,000 to 4,000,000 times a second. This starts electric waves through the air and earth, which vibrate almost as fast as the waves that produce light, and travel with the same speed. These waves, like X-rays, pass through any dense substance . . ." [May 21, 1899  Seattle Daily Times Page: 4]

Other stories combined Tesla's ideas with the recent advances in astronomical photography—and foreshadowed those who would suggest Tesla was crazy. "In reflecting on recent photographs of Mars taken from a telescope, the photographer Dr. Elmerdorf declared he would soon be able to pinpoint the cities on Mars." In defending this statement the newspaper went on to say, ". . . one can pardon the enthusiasm of an extremist by recalling that all great inventors were at one time "extremists," Edison was a "crazy man" for years; and Nicola Tesla, who spends a fraction of his time signalling to Mars is called "peculiar" by nine scientists out of ten." [Mars Looks Pleasant Caught by Camera, Springfield Sunday Journal, October 30, 1898]

Together, these set the scene for Tesla's announcement that he had received a communication with Mars.

After Tesla's 1901 Announcement.

Some, including the radio expert Guglielmo Marconi dismissed the idea. "In earlier experiments before my apparatus was perfected I often received signals apparently from nowhere. . . . I should attribute the alleged signals from Mars to local disturbances in the atmosphere. . ." [Possible Signals from Mars. Signor Marconi is Not Inclined to Believe in Them. January 5, 1901, Baltimore Sun p. 9]

Other skeptics weighed in, some with derision. A San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece accused Tesla of swindling. "Faker Tesla has evidently found a "good thing" in some one who is furnishing him with coin to carry on his alleged experiments to communicate with the planet Mars . . . Tesla seems to be as much of an adept in working the "graft" on the credulous with money as was the author of the Keeley motor." [January 22, 1901, San Francisco Chronicle, p. 6] (The Keeley motor was the standard for a con job for many years.)

Others took the announcement with bemusement:

And he [Tesla] promises the men (but this, of course, is just between us)
He will have a private line for them to whisper up to Venus.
Also one "For Women Only" he will put in very soon,
So the girls can all be talking to the man in the moon.
[June 11, 1901, Boston Herald, p. 11]

The Colorado Springs Gazette commented: "If there are people in Mars, they certainly showed most excellent taste in choosing Colorado Springs as the particular point on the earth's surface with which to open communications." [March 9, 1901, Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado) p. 4]

Tesla assured the skeptics that he would soon be able to send messages to Mars and open up a dialogue. The world waited. As a January 12th, 1901 headline in The Philadelphia Inquirer read: All of Europe Talking of Signalling to Mars.

Tesla received his own treatment as a hero in a fictional adventure. The New Golden Hours magazine, March 30, 1901.
Alas, Tesla failed to open up a line of communication with Mars. In contrast, on December 12, 1901, Marconi sent the first wireless transmission across the Atlantic.

A month later, Tesla did not attend a dinner honoring Marconi held at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. As one editorial suggested, "Possibly he may have had engagements with the people of the planet Mars that forbade his going." [January 15, 1902, Worcester Daily Spy, p. 6]

Tesla did have his supporters. "Now comes Professor Hough, the venerable astronomer of the Northwestern University with the announcement that in his opinion Mars is inhabited by a race much superior to the race which now inhabits the earth. As the Martians had a long start of us--Professor Hough believes that under the law of evolution they should be much more advanced intellectually and morally than we are." [September 19, 1902, San Jose Evening News, p. 4]

In 1903, Lowell reignited the argument that Mars was inhabited by claiming he saw bright flashes emanating from the planet.

Marconi Versus the Martians.

Beginning in 1919, Marconi went through several rounds of reporting that he had observed signals that may well have come from another planet. Some of his pronouncements were appended with uncertainty as to whether Mars was inhabited, others declared more certainty. This could well have been the phrasing of the reporting, a phenomenon which could equally have affected Tesla.

"Marconi, inventor of practical wireless, announces that he has received strange signals that did not originate on the earth. Nikola Tesla believes they may be messages from Mars. . . . Are the stars inhabited? The soundest affirmative argument is that nature is always efficient and that stars without folks would be extremely, inefficient, useless." [January 30, 1919, Wilkes-Barre Times, p. 12]

Marconi suggested that a mathematical language could be formed for the primary communication. He recommended the first message be: 2 + 2 = 4, and wait for a confirmation.

In a 1920 article, the inventor suggested these signals could be from the sun -- or a planet. ""We occasionally get very queer sounds and indications, which come from somewhere outside the earth," said Signor Marconi. "We have had them both in England and America. The Morse signal letters occur with much greater frequency than others, but we have never yet picked up anything could be translated into a definite message."

In 1922, when a particularly close alignment of Mars and Earth could allow for signaling, it was reported that Marconi was at sea, arranging just such an experiment. He denied that this was the purpose for his voyage.

The question continued to hound him. In 1934, three years before his death, he is quoted as saying, "I am frequently asked if it is within the range of probability that we may one day talk to Mars by radio. Why not? If there are beings on Mars at least as intelligent as we are, there is no reason why we should not one day communicate with them." [Marconi Thinks Mars Obtainable In Line Of Radio Communication. August 13, 1934, Springfield Republican, p. 5]

Edison (and others) Versus The Martians

It is unfortunate and unfair that Tesla alone was tarred by his statements amount communicating with Mars. Here is a sampling of others of the great scientist and inventors of the day.

Thomas Edison had his round of publicity regarding communication with Mars. From an interview on his 73rd birthday in 1920: "Asked what he was working on now, the inventor said he was not prepared to make any definite announcement, but his latest investigations had to do with ether. He said he believed radio communication with Mars to be possible. ... "Existing machinery is sufficiently strong to send a signal to Mars. The question is, have the beings there receiving apparatus delicate enough to get our signals?" [Thomas A. Edison Warmly Greeted On 73d Birthday. February 12, 1920, Harrisburg Patriot, p. 8.]

On the occasion of his 74th birthday Edison announced working on an immortality machine and continuing to work on a radio to talk to Mars. "'. . . the life units which form a man do not die. They pass out of one important mechanism to seek another habitat. I believe that one hundred trillion entities go to make up a single man; twenty billion cells each consisting of a commune of 5000 entities. . . . The device is of the nature of a valve, and the slightest conceivable amount of energy exerted on it is multiplied many times. . . .' Next to the immortality machine in importance comes a radio invention by which Edison hopes to make possible communication with Mars." [Edison at 74, Works on Machine to Prove That He'll Live Forever. February 11, 1921, Cincinnati Post, p. 6] The immortality machine also mirrors some of Tesla's wilder pursuits in his later life.

Years before, in praise of Edison, Lord Kelvin said, ". . . Edison brought out his lamp here in New York, and the whole world was lit. New York is the only spot on earth that Mars sees. Mars is signalling only to New York." [Mars Signals New York. June 1, 1902 Macon Telegraph p.14]

Charles Steinmetz declared that building a radio tower to signal Mars was feasible but would cost one billion dollars. [September 8, 1921 Muskegon Chronicle, p. 4]


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

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

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


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, features Nikola Tesla as detective.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dr. Henry H. Holmes in the Journal of the American Medical Association

Dr. Eugene S. Talbot wrote an article regarding the multi-murderer Henry H. Holmes which appeared in the August 1st, 1896 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Talbot had received a dentistry degree from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1872 and a medical degree from Rush Medical School in 1880. By 1896 he had written three books:
  • Irregularities of the teeth and their treatment. (1888)
  • A study of the degeneracy of the jaws of the human race. (1892)
  • The etiology of osseus deformities of the head, face, jaws and teeth. (1894) 

Deformities and degeneracy, dental and otherwise, seemed to be of keen interest to him. He would soon branch out into being an expert in moral degeneracy and criminal behavior. In 1898 he authored, Degeneracy; its causes, signs and results, and, in 1905, Developmental pathology: a study in degenerative evolution. 

The article is presented below. I have lightly annotated it to clear up errors in Holmes biography. The work is mostly dry with occasional bizarre archaic references and some lack of clarity. He describes Holmes as having the most degenerate anatomy that Talbot had ever seen over twenty years but then goes on to say "Holmes was certainly a degenerate physically, as the numerous stigmata he bore proved, but he was not more of one than many moral men and good citizens."

I have highlighted the more remarkable findings.

H.H. Holmes.
 by Eugene S. Talbot, M.D., D.D.S.
Fellow of the Chicago Academy of Medicine

JAMA, August 1, 1896, Volume 25: pp. 253-7.

That Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes, was a criminal par excellence is beyond doubt, but how far and in what respects he was a degenerate, in the accepted sense of the term, is worthy of serious consideration.

Few criminals have received more public attention, but despite this, many essential details of his history are wanting. Very little has been stated as to his heredity. He claims to have come from respectable New England stock and to have been religiously and carefully brought up. As a boy he does not appear to have been a scapegrace, and no criminal charge is there on record against him. He married at 18 or 20 [Note: correctly at 17] and commenced the study of medicine at Burlington, Vt. From there he went to the University of Michigan, where he claims to have graduated in medicine in 1884.

According to his own account, after graduating he taught school and practiced medicine in New Jersey for about a year, but it would appear that before this he had already, with a confederate, conspired to defraud life insurance companies, an industry he never entirely abandoned and which finally brought him to the gallows. [Note: some newspaper accounts incorrectly place Holmes in Mooer's Fork, New Jersey shortly after graduation. Other accounts rightly point out that Mooer's Fork is located in northern New York.]

Just when he assumed the name of H.H. Holmes is not certain, but probably not long after this. He himself says it was done when he went before the Illinois Pharmacy Board in 1886. From that time he has been known by that name and under it started in business as a druggist in the outskirts of Chicago, where he went into rather extensive and complicated transaction, chiefly of a crooked character. He managed, however, to keep in fair standing with his neighbors, and at one time was actively interested in church and religious matters.

During this time he had abandoned his New Hampshire wife and child and without divorce, married in 1887 a Miss Belknap. Some years later in the same way he married a Miss Yoke in Denver under the name Henry Mansfield Howard. He is supposed also to have contracted another bigamous marriage with Minnie Williams (one of his supposed victims). Besides these he had irregular relations with other women. In 1894, shortly before his final arrest for the murder of Pitzel [Note: correctly, Pitezel], he revisited his old home and lived as husband for a few days with his first wife, to whom he told a romantic fiction anent his absence.

Between 1886 and 1894 there is no full account of his doings. They included an extensive series of swindles and forgeries. His transactions covered many parts of the country. He ranged from Canada to Texas and Colorado, often in trouble but generally managing in some way to escape the most serious consequences of his crimes. These were in their way often remarkable for their boldness and impudence. He negotiated for the sale to a gas company of a gas-making machine which was actually running on gas stolen from the company's own mains. He admits "deals of a somewhat similar nature."

While his confessions, generally, have been unreliable, it is probable that the above is safely inside the truth. He was emphatically a man of affairs, but his business transactions were so shady in their nature that the obscurity that enveloped them has been dispersed as yet only to give a glimpse such as the above.

It was during this period that he built his celebrated castle, with its secret chambers and passages, dark rooms, trapdoors, etc. Here he employed the female type-writers and other employees whose mysterious disappearance has done so much to make his popular reputation as a murderer. As far as this crime is concerned it must be admitted that the evidence against him is altogether circumstantial, his confessions and statements being notoriously and boastfully mendacious, in the main. Out of the twenty-seven murders he admitted in his latest confession shortly before his execution, the majority of the victims are still living. [Note: several, not the majority] Even his dying admission that he had been responsible for the sacrifice of two lives from criminal operations can not be accepted as perfectly reliable, considering his character for untruthfulness. He seems to have had little or no regard for human life, and as a dealer in "stiffs" and a defrauder of life insurance companies his operations were often enough suggestive of murders, even if these were not often committed.

The history of the Pitzel case, where it appears he made away with his confederate and then later three of his children, and seemed to be planning the deaths of the widow and remaining family, distributing the deaths about the country in such a way as to avoid suspicion, must be fresh in the mind of the reader.

Holmes in his personal appearance, like [English forger and swindler Thomas] Wainwright (whom he much resembled in his criminal career), presented nothing specially repulsive in his appearance. He was quiet, mild in manner and voice, fairly well educated, neat in dress and could pass anywhere for a respectable business or professional man. During his long criminal career he appears to have had no particular ambition, except to succeed in his crooked operations and to ingratiate himself with women for whom he seems to have had a more than normal inclination.

Mentally, there was no lack of acuteness. The fact that he managed to escape justice so long is an evidence of this. When he was finally arrested his behavior was peculiar and shifty. He told contradictory stories, and when his case came to trial he dismissed his lawyers and insisted on managing his own defense. Though he showed some aptness in examining witnesses, he was finally obliged to recall his counsel and give the case into his hands. The jury found him guilty almost without leaving the box. Perhaps the one witness whose testimony was the most convincing was his latest bigamous wife.

Holmes made numerous statements and confessions to detectives and others and published a book while awaiting trial which purports to give an account of his life.

The most remarkable of these confessions, however, was that published in the Philadelphia Inquirer of April 12, three or four weeks prior to his execution. In this he reports the details of twenty-seven murders and claims that he was a case of acquired moral idiocy; that he presented numerous facial stigmata of degeneracy that had grown upon him, during his criminal career. Eighteen of the twenty-seven victims in this confession are living. [Note: This tally of the living is incorrect. A better tally is difficult to undertake, several of the supposed victims had no names or else were not located.] Its author acknowledged its falsity within a day or two of its appearance.

It was not merely criminal vanity that prompted it, for he received for it a very substantial compensation of several thousand dollars. Throughout his imprisonment, his acquisitiveness was shown in this and other publications for which he received money, and in propositions of blackmail for persons he contemplated involving in these confessions.

While in Philadelphia, Jan. 30, 1896, I had the opportunity of making a careful physical examination of H.H. Holmes with the following results:

The subject was a 35 year old American, 5 feet 7 1/2 inches in height, weighing 150 pounds. The occiput was asymmetrical and prominent, the bregma sunken and the left side of the forehead was more prominent than the right which was sloping. The hair was brown, and on body and face excessive. The face was arrested in development. [?] The zygoma was arrested and hollowed on the right side.

The pictures of Holmes published in the daily papers and in his book, do not, to my mind, portray the features of the man as I saw him in his cell. Figure 1, comes the nearest as he appeared when I saw him. His face was cleanly shaven, except moustache, very thin and much emaciated, presenting the appearance of being in a decline, due perhaps to confinement and a tendency to consumption. He had a cough, and the chances are if he had been allowed to remain in confinement he would have succumbed to tuberculosis.

Figure 1

Figures 2 and 3 show the antero-posterior and lateral shape of head. The right ear was lower than the left. The nose was long and very thin; stenosis of nasal bone very marked. The septum deflected to left, nose to the right. The thyroid gland was arrested. Strabismus in the left eye, inherited. The left higher than the right. Slight protruding of the upper jaw; arrest of lower. The mouth on the left side drops lower than on the right. The width, outside of first molars was 2. Width outside first bicuspids 1.62. Height of vault, 63.

Figures 4 and 5 upper and lower jaw. The alveolar process was normal with the exception of the process about the second molar on the right side which was hypertrophied. The teeth were normal in size and shape, the third molar undeveloped. 

Figures 4 and 5

Marked pigeon breast, left side more prominent than right. Chest arrested with tendency to tuberculosis.

Arms: Right normal. Left one and one-half inches longer. He was right handed. His legs were long and thin. The tibia flattened. The feet medium in size but markedly deformed. Depression on left side of skull at bregma, said to be due fall of brick at age of 30. Sexual organs unusually small.

The jaws were unusually long as compared with the width, with a semi-saddle arch on the left side of the upper jaw. The molars of the lower jaw and left upper had been extracted in early life. The hypertrophy of the alveolar process, the want of development of the third molars and the general abnormal development certainly display a very unstable nervous system in his early life.

In twenty years' experience, I have never observed a more degenerate being from a physical standpoint. Holmes in his confession published [sic], stated that ten years ago he was examined by four men of marked ability and by them pronounced mentally and physically normal and healthy. "Today, I have every attribute of a degenerate, a moral idiot." Is it possible that the crimes, instead of being the result of these abnormal conditions are, in themselves, the occasion of degeneracy?  . . . within the past few months these defects have increased with startling rapidity; as is made known to me by each succeeding examination," etc.

Holmes was examined ten years ago, not to ascertain stigmata but for life insurance, and the Bertillon system was not used at all since only criminals are thus examined, for identification. When these examinations are made, only one arm, finger and part of the body are measured, and not both sides for comparison.

While I was making my examination, I called his attention to a number of deformities which he was not aware he possessed.

Being a medically educated man, he certainly should have been better acquainted with these malformations, but he had evidently given this subject little attention since he was ignorant of the cause of two most marked deformities: The too deep depression in the left front and occipital region of the head. These he claimed were due a brick falling upon him at the age of 30. The marked deformity of the chest walls he claimed to be due to pneumonia.

Both deformities were stigmata of degeneracy. Holmes, since his confinement, had no doubt lost flesh, which made these deformities appear more prominent. That they had developed as a result of his criminal tendencies is perfectly absurd. They must have developed with the osseous system, which would be complete by the 26th year; nor will acromegaly account for them.

Holmes had been called an extraordinary criminal, but he certainly was no more of a criminal than Wainwright, who was well known in his time as an essayist and better as a forger and murderer. From the standpoint of literary and artistic culture Wainwright stood higher than Holmes. Like Holmes, he attempted to defraud insurance companies and there is no doubt he poisoned a girl for this purpose. Holmes habitual criminality was modified by his education and antecedents. He had sufficient ability and self-control to successfully pass for a respectable citizen and to keep his criminal transactions so distributed as to territory and covered that only the self-interested perseverance of a life insurance company prompted by a hint from an ex-prison acquaintance could reveal them. His mental defects, so far as they existed, seem to have been confined to his moral sensibilities. He apparently had none of that sense of moral dictation which is a part of the constitution of every normal individual. He acted entirely as an egotist, perfectly capable of appreciating the possible immediate consequences of his acts and more than ordinarily expert in managing in one way or another in avoiding them, but utterly lacking in even the utilitarianism commonly expressed in the old adage that honesty is the best policy. While the murders have mainly created his popular reputation, they were but incidents in his consistent criminal career. He had no regard for others' rights or lives. Doing away with a mistress or a confederate when she or he became inconvenient was an easy matter to him. His education, his dissecting-room training and subsequent specialty helped to remove original superstitious fears that might restrain the average criminal. He seems to have been utterly lacking in any lasting or sincere affection or attachment. A man who could deliberately desert successively two wives with their children would be capable of abandoning others whose relations were less reliable.

[English criminologist] Havelock Ellis remarks that whatever refinement or tenderness of feeling criminals attain to reveals itself in what we should call sentiment or sentimentality. One of the characteristics of Wainwright's essay is their sentimentality. Himself, when in prison, he described as the possessor of "a soul whose nutriment is love, its offspring art; music, divine song and still holier philosophy." This sentimentality cropped up in Holmes in the letters to his first wife whose pathetic nature so impressed his counsel. It was also shown in his successes with women.

His crimes were apparently all deliberate and cold-blooded. In his arrangement of his building, "The Castle," he made provisions for various kinds of crooked work. Only in this way can be reasonably explained this seemingly crazy piece of architecture. There is no evidence in his record that Holmes was insane in any way except it be morally.

In his apparent disregard for human life he was less peculiar than would at first sight seem. When a man has an object in view, which to him is a supreme motive, nothing will stand in his way. Holmes had no regard for the law if he could avoid its punishments, no conscientious scruples to govern his conduct. The taking of life was no more to him than to the Sultan of Turkey, a hanging judge or a military commander, who will sacrifice forlorn hope to gain an advantage. It is not so improbable, therefore, that he may have been a more or less wholesale murderer if he found people in his way. He may have disposed of his victims and regarded it only as an inconvenient necessity. There is nothing in his character to make this intrinsically improbable.

Holmes was certainly a degenerate physically, as the numerous stigmata he bore proved, but he was not more of one than many moral men and good citizens. There was, with the defects, undoubtedly a certain defectiveness and want of balance of the nervous system, but it can not be said that this necessitated the career he chose. If he were a "born criminal" it was not evident till after he had passed his minority and his moral imbecility did not apparently reveal itself to any very striking extent during his boyhood. He followed the course of many young men, who, on leaving the associations and restraints of home fall into evil courses, only he went farther and under pressure, it may be of want and misfortune, adopted to the fullest extent the anti-social and aberrant career of a criminal. There was, possibly, always a certain defect in his moral constitution which was checked in its effects by the restraints and training of his earlier years and might have been overcome entirely had his will been directed into proper paths. His case seems to be largely if not altogether one of acquired moral obtuseness, not of complete congenital moral insanity. How far he was handicapped morally by his constitution, is a question that can not be decided absolutely, but probably not more than the average criminal, who is generally of a more or less degenerate type.

It has been assumed that his vanity and egotism were excessive and evidence of his abnormal mental constitution. First, however, it ought to be proven that these existed to any such extent as is inferred. This can not well be done from his history. He was not obtrusive in his manner and his very choice of life made it impolitic, to say the least, to such publicity, and in his way he was very politic. He had ample confidence in himself, as was shown by his attempting his own defense. This may be taken as evidence of egotism, but he can hardly be said to have been obtrusively egotistic. His numerous statements in regard to himself were apparently not so much prompted by vanity as by a desire to make a profit from them. This was especially true of his last noted confession, which was one of the best remunerated productions of fiction based on fact that has been brought out in the country.

There was certainly one striking psychologic peculiarity about the man; lying seemed to come naturally to him. He did it sometimes apparently without object. In this, however, he was not altogether unique, but there are marked examples, never in their acts passing over the line of legality.

Summing up the character of Holmes, we would say that he was, first of all, a swindler, a chevalier d'industrie and a roue. Money and women seemed to be his objects in life, especially the former, and he was perfectly unscrupulous in his methods of gratifying his ruling passions. His professional and general education, which he seems never after the first failure to have attempted to utilize properly, only served to make him the more dangerous and probably aided to make him the murderer as well as a seducer, bigamist, forger and thief. He may have had some congenital deficiency in his moral make-up, but the absolute lack of moral dictation of his later life, was due to or greatly aggravated by his self-chosen environments.

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

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

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


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, features Nikola Tesla as detective.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Criminality in the Hair. (And Ears, And Chin . . .)

In August of 1895, The New York Herald hired criminologist Arthur MacDonald to interview and physically examine Dr. Henry H. Holmes who at that time sat in Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia, accused of one murder and suspected of many more.

Arthur MacDonald had authored the first book published in America on criminology (appropriately titled: Criminology). He would go on to write 24 more books and many articles. He belonged to the school of Criminal Anthropology, of the Positivist movement. MacDonald's book, Criminology, included a forward by the founder of the movement, Cesare Lombroso.

McDonald's impressions of Holmes constitute a fascinating and unintentionally amusing look into what passed for forensic science at that time. Here is the article transcribed. (The pull quotes, in italics, are those of my selection.)

From the same article as reprinted in The Daily Mail and Empire, Toronto, August 10, 1895


Scientific Analysis of the Man Accused of Ten Murders, Confessed Criminal.


Examination of the Prisoner's Personal Characteristics as Revealed in an Interview.


Variations from the Normal Which Are the Revelations of the Criminal Character

". . . the possible chief of horrible assassins. . ."

For many years I have devoted myself to a scientific and philosophical investigation of the criminal, says a writer in the New York Herald. The nineteenth century has made criminology to a certain extent a definite department of knowledge, and all men of learning agree in declaring that the cosmic, the biological, and the social factors in crime are the causes wherein we may seek and find the true explanation of those abnormal members of our race whose lives are a menace to their fellows; and as the hospital surgeon hails with professional delight the presentation to his examination of the most serious and unusual complication of injuries in one man, so the criminologists regards with an enthusiasm which horror only increases that offender who by his atrocities reveals a moral nature most diseased and monstrous. I confess, then, that the personality of Holmes, the self-acknowledged criminal and suspected murderer, now imprisoned in Philadelphia, has attracted my most eager attention. His history as proven is worth of profound interest, while the variety and number of the murders of which he is accused are such as to make him unique in our age as the possible chief of horrible assassins. His shrewd and intelligent schemes, his entire self-control, his frightful disregard of human life, which led him to extinguish the divine spark with no more show of emotion than in the puffing out of a candle's flame--these qualities, while so detestable that one cannot meditate upon them without a shudder, are yet such that the well-being of mankind demands the patient and scientific investigation of their amelioration, if not their cure and their ultimate prevention.


It was then with a sense of much satisfaction that I received from the New York Herald a request to make an investigation of Holmes' personality from the criminologist's standpoint. I entered on the task with keen interest and an appreciation of its moment, tinctured only by a regret that none better fitted for the undertaking could be found. My way, however, was beset with difficulties which all the authority of a great journal could hardly overcome. To compass my ends a personal examination of the accused was indispensable. To gain it, however, I needed the consent of no less than three persons, they being Mr. Graham, the District Attorney, who in Philadelphia conducts the Commonwealth war against the suspected assassin; Mr. Perkins, the keeper of the prison where Holmes is confined; and, rather to my surprise, I admit, the alleged murderer himself. When I began my investigation last week I encountered such opposition in securing the consent of the first that, having gained it, I was nigh despair when the keeper informed me that the prisoner had issued a request that none be permitted to see him. I entered on a long argument with the keeper, as a result of which, from sheer weariness, perhaps, he said that he would consult with Holmes on the matter and be guided by the latter's decision. Happily the accused did not regard me as objectionable, and cordially invited my inspection. I was not permitted to enter the cell, nor was I able to make certain measurements of value, but the grating of the door allowed me to study very satisfactorily the details of my subject's physique, while the freedom of our conversation was such that I could inquire systematically concerning all those characteristics which criminology consider vital. I shall not report here the conversation, but I shall refer to it and quote from it as may be necessary in my examination of the accused's traits for the prosecution of which I have employed not only his own statements, and my personal inspection, but also a great bulk of matter bearing on his individuality which I have gathered from all those who are best fitted to know the man in his criminal, social, and domestic life.

It may be stated at the outset that Holmes does not possess in any marked degree the apparent physical peculiarities which are popularly connected with criminality. His head is seemingly well-shaped, his countenance open and pleasing, his eyes gentle and meeting one's gaze fairly, his ears, nose, mouth, chin and figure are in no wise singular. In fine, [sic] he is a man whom you would pass and repass in the street without especial attention, and one who, in casual conversation, would impress you favorably rather than otherwise. He has none of those external deformities such as Homer attributed to the evil Thersites, of pointed head and general ugliness, and, indeed, a professor of physiognomy would be likely to describe him as a young man of mild and gentle disposition.


". . . all physical departure from the normal, as Nordan points out, is a symptom of degeneracy."

Concerning the cranial and cerebral characteristics, an examination at once shows that Holmes possesses neither the oxycephalic nor its opposite, the flat-roofed skull, distinctly both of which are common among criminals. The skull receded somewhat from the brows, however, and the crown of the head is almost a straight line to the point of descent, while a careful inspection reveals the fact that the general contour is singular rather than round, but this, while a departure from the normal, is insignificant in itself. Tenchini asserts that the front crest is often prominent in criminals, and this is verified by other investigators; but such prominence is not found in the case of Holmes. In general configuration the shape of the head closely follows that of those given by Dr. Van S. Clarke in his sketches of criminals. On the other hand, such a type is also found among the non-criminal and only becomes significant when joined with other like characteristics as a species of cumulative proof.

Criminology has discovered that those who are guilty of deeds of violence more commonly have a remarkably well developed lower jaw, to such an extent that its undue size is at once apparent to the ordinary observer. Experiment on dead criminals has demonstrated that while the average weight of the lower jaw is 80 grammes, in murderers it is nearly 94. The receding chin is common among petty thieves and rascals, and a light lower jaw is frequent among the insane. Instances in the other direction do, however, occur. Holmes' lower jaw is not light, but the chin recedes, and it is therefore, to a limited degree, abnormal with an indication of possible insanity, rather than excessive violence. Weakness is not shown by it.


"All the authorities unite in giving to a majority of criminals large or projecting ears."

When I saw Holmes the restraints of prison had had their effect. It showed in his sunken cheeks, but in spite of the prominence of the cheek bones which resulted, they were not such as to make one think him one likely to be dominated by sexual impulses, which have been found to be the case in criminals with conspicuous zigoma.

"As to the teeth, I found that they are crowded and slightly overlapping from above. This is obviously abnormal, and all physical departure from the normal, as Nordan points out, is a symptom of degeneracy. Yet no scientific classification of criminals has yet been made, and I do not desire now to give the results of my own studies.

All the authorities unite in giving to a majority of criminals large or projecting ears. Holmes' ears are noticeably long, although not projecting and their shape is of the sort condemned by Lombroso as 'ad ansa.' Of itself it is important, as an index of character, which is seldom at fault, although this abnormal formation is found often among ordinary persons, in whom other qualities were in the ascendant, but in whom we must believe peculiar tendencies toward evil must exist. Holmes' nose is of a type so common it can scarcely be considered as an indication of character. Ottolenghi states the criminal's nose is more often rectilinear, rarely undulating, with horizontal base, neither long nor short, and rather large. This would not describe Holmes' nose. On the other hand, a careful study of outline plates of criminals' heads will reveal a type of those similar to Holmes of great frequency, or it would be unjust, however, to place much dependence upon any conclusion drawn from this, in view of the probability that a like study of non-criminals heads would reveal a preponderance of the Holmes type.


When I saw Holmes in his cell the pallor of his skin was remarkable, but he was of good complexion when arrested, and the affirmation of Polemon L'Ingegniri and the moderns, that a pallid skin is characteristic of criminals, is in Holmes' favor. The same may be said also of the wrinkles in his face, which are, and especially were not at the time of his arrest, such as to be considered abnormal. Criminologists have agreed, however, that wrinkles are earlier and more abundant in the criminal than in the non-criminal.


"Among the insane, baldness is frequent."

Dark hair is the more common among criminals, and dark, almost black, is the color of Holmes' hair and beard, and luxurious hair is often asserted to be characteristic of criminals, but Holmes has scant hair and heavy beard. I do not from my own investigations, however, agree with my fellows in criminology. On the contrary, I believe that the man who follows such a life of scheming as he has led will have a strong tendency toward baldness, while heaviness of beard is a result of race and climatic conditions. My own opinion, justified by extended researches, is that Holmes' hair and beard are what might properly be expected, whether he be merely the bold swindler, or, in addition, a calculating murderer. Among the insane, baldness is frequent.

All agree in giving the criminals an unusual amount of hair upon other parts of the body, and in this respect Holmes is remarkable, as his hands display a thick growth.

It may be added that the proportion of those having dark hair among the insane is ten out of every twelve.


Of Holmes' eyes I observe that they possess that orbital prominence which Lombroso condemns, emphasized by the arches and frontal sinuses. The eyes are not deep set to any noticeable extent and the glance is clear, gentle and pleasant. There is none of that hardness which is common in the gaze of criminals. It would be of great interest to observe them when the accused should be putting forth an effort of strength. Lombroso asserts that in his tests, made in that manner on criminals, the eyes of that murderers never fail to show that gleam which burns in the eyes of the beast watching its prey while crouching for the spring or afterward in the ferocious struggle. Lombroso also declares that this feline and cruel look alternates often with one of almost womanly softness. The latter is that which I found in Holmes' eyes. Whether occasion should change that gentleness to cruelty, I had no opportunity to determine.

Holmes' worst feature is his mouth which is disfigured by a heavy and hinging underlip, the significance of which all men know. Passing to a review of other essentials, in a thorough study of the man Holmes, I found that his arms were rather long, rather than short, which is usually the case among criminals. It is worthy of particular attention that criminals as a rule are feeble in the muscle development. They are capable of great effort and extraordinary liveliness, yet lacking in certain physical requirements, and their activities are always intermittent. Investigations in the Elmira reformatory prove that the chief physical deficiency is in the respiratory apparatus, and about half of the total of deaths were the result of pulmonary diseases. Holmes is hollow chested and rather round shouldered. Indeed, his sunken breast, joined to his thickness and pallor, as I saw him in the prison, gave him a consumptive appearance, although he is not tainted by disease. He does not now show any physique which would be likely to endure protracted strain. In my investigation of his past life, I was baffled. On one hand I found evidence that he indulged in logn periods of rest; on the other, I was assured that he was a ceaseless toiler. My own opinion, drawn from his appearance, is that he must have indulged in frequent pauses for rest from the fatigues incident to his enervating plots.


"Lombroso considered a typical criminal was without perception of pain when pricked by a needle, and similar tests with the electric current has shown like insensibility, a matter which is of vast importance in the consideration of electrocution."

No one peculiarity of criminals has attended the notice of scientific investigators more than the physical insensibility to pain, in which they often closely resemble idiots. Lombroso also insists upon the importance of this characteristic, and with much justice, since it forcibly illustrates the abnormal condition of the offender. Criminals submit to the painful process of tattooing more frequently than the savages, who are trained to it, although latterly its usefulness as a means of identification has made the more intelligent shun it. One whom Lombroso considered a typical criminal was without perception of pain when pricked by a needle, and similar tests with the electric current has shown like insensibility, a matter which is of vast importance in the consideration of electrocution. It is by an appreciation of this quality in offenders that we come to understand their cool behavior on the eve of execution, and at other times when their predicament is such that the normal mind is amazed at the indifference of the person most concerned.

The same characteristic is shown in another fashion by the criminal's abnormally speedy recovery from wounds and injuries in general. In the case of Holmes, I was only able to question, but the result was notable. I learned from him that he was once severely injured on the head by a brick, but the amazement of his physician he retained consciousness. In addition, for a considerable length of time he remained awake, stubbornly refusing to receive the quiet of slumber, as he himself says, lest while he slept delirium should unlock his lips and he should chatter of his secret schemes. Such self-control exerted upon the body is most extraordinary, and is evidence at once of dominant will power and, too, of a certain lack in the physical perception of pain.


"In another [lie], his whole tale rests upon the discovery of the fragments from a broken bottle."

Closely allied to this is the moral insensibility which is indicated chiefly by an absence of remorse. This to the normal man is altogether astonishing and alarming, and is clearly revealed in the personality of Holmes. He confesses that he is a criminal, that his life has been one long series of outrages upon the rights of others, yet he expresses no sorrow for his shameful acts. He even refers with pride to the fact that his confessed crimes were never the robbery of the poor, but always the wealthy, but he is complacent over his domestic virtues in having contributed to the support of a number of families. Another damaging characteristic of Holmes is that he is what may be termed a genius for deception. He is a liar so colossal that Ananias seems a pigmy and the Baron Munchausen a failure. He recounts a long tale which minutes describes every imagined detail in some one of the tragedies wherein he was concerned, and at its conclusion calmly says: "You go there and look in that alleyway and you will find that old hat which I threw away on my way to the station." In another, his whole tale rests upon the discovery of the fragments from a broken bottle. His stories seem to depend for their proof upon evidence similar to Mark Twain's statement concerning the legend of the Seven Sleepers; he knows it to be true, because he has seen the cave where they enjoyed their slumbers. Holmes does not claim that he is habitually truthful nor do any of those engaged in his defence. Such a habit of lying is undoubtedly significant of criminality.


Vanity is a conspicuous feature in the individuality of the criminal, and of this quality Holmes gave me an illustrious example. When I visited him he was dressed comfortably in undershirt and trousers, something in no wise remarkable, as the weather was warm and the hour later than that at which visitors are ordinarily admitted. Holmes, however, apologized for his appearance, and did it profusely. He referred to it more than once, and not only that, but after I had left him I received a message through his attorney, of reiterated regrets that he was not apparelled as for a stroll in Fifth avenue. One might regard this as merely the natural act of a gentleman in such circumstances, but a gentleman would surely make but the slightest reference to his dishabille. Or one might say that it was no more than an evidence of bad taste. Unfortunately, the exaltation of a matter so insignificant in itself to such importance by one whose condition is so deplorable, whether guilty of murder or not, is evidence of something more than bad taste. It is the revelation of one with an ill-balanced mind who dismisses with carelessness the awfulness of his estate, while mourning over the inelegant arraying of his body.

I learned, too, that he is proud of the ability which his confessed crimes reveal, although he does not boast of them.

As to the possible taint of heredity in Holmes, he told me that one uncle had become insane, and he denied that there was any possibility of madness as the motive of his deeds. "I am willing," he said, "to stand on my own acts and take the blame for all that I have done. I don't depend on any plea that my deeds are caused by the faults of my ancestors." But all criminologists assert that insanity in an ancestor is most common among criminals.


What shall we think, then, of this man Holmes? He stands accused of the most horrid series of assassinations. His dwelling place was a sepulchre for those whom he had slain. Ten times, his accusers declare, he was guilty of meditated murder. Perjury, theft, bigamy and the minor crimes he freely confesses. He boasts that he did not seduce, although he betrayed innocence by illegal marriages. He is confident of his virtue because he eschewed lewd women and took to himself wives unlawfully. This man Holmes, whose real name is Mudgett, born amid the granite hills of Vermont, in a spot free from corrupting temptations, yet manifested from his youth an unruly and evil disposition. He early fled from his home. [note: the biographical information is not altogether correct]

While a student in Burlington, Vt., he married his first wife, only to desert her almost immediately. He won an unenviable reputation in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he completed his medical studies, and from that time his life was one startling career of crime. One of the women he married describes him as a dog of patience when he sought revenge. Another declares that his one passion was to dominate all with whom he came in contact. He himself declares that his love for Mrs. Howard is the mainspring of his life; that if she withdraws from his support he will at once destroy himself. He declares that he has no belief in another life; that he will end all when her love for him ends; that he has knowledge enough to escape the vigilance of his captors.

Is he ignorant of the fact that this beautiful woman is now aiding the commonwealth in its endeavors to fix crimes upon him? Or were his assurances merely the vain boastings of a coward? He is a man of educated mind, an expert reasoner, of temperate habits, not a user of tobacco or liquor, by his own statement. He is in the prime of life. He has not the air that sentiment attributes to the assassin. But beautiful women, saintly seeming men have not hesitated to drop poison in the cup or to hire the ruffian's knife. The gentle eye, the pleasant features, are not sure exponents of the soul. This young man confesses that he is a criminal, denies that he has slaughtered his fellows, admits that for gain he poured the explosive liquid into a dead man's mouth and blew the head open; denies that he first slew him. This man now rests under the burden of public execration. Before him looms the scaffold; he knows that men think of him with a curse on their lips and hatred in their hearts. In his cell he is confronted with the ghastly horrors of his foul life, with the terrifying possibility of a hideous and shameful death. None of those whose blood he shares come to comfort him, to weep with him, within the shadows of his prison. Is he, then, in the thrall of woe? Is he overwhelmed by anguish? Does he curse his mad folly? Does he cry out for sympathy? No, I found him distressed over his clothes, proud of his mental powers, cheerful, glad to chat with me, confident that my investigation would be in his favor. Was it, or was it not?

As printed in: New York Herald, August 4, 1895. Section 3, page 4.

April 21, 2016: Updated to include a sketch of Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia which was very weird (and continued on in existence until 1968). As I described it in the opening to A Predatory Mind:

A monstrosity of conflicting architecture, Moyamensing Penitentiary was part crenellated English castle, part Egyptian City of the Dead. Gun towers filled its turrets; a trapezoidal arch formed its entryway.

Moyamensing Prison as it looked in the 19th Century

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

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

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


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, features Nikola Tesla as detective.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Crime of the Century

THE CRIME of the century occurs every few years, once the fervor generated by the previous candidate has dissipated enough to permit the media to dust off and reuse the phrase.

During the decade of the 1890s several murder cases captured the public's imagination to compete for the title of the crime of the century. Many of the most notorious are relatively forgotten, including Eleanor Pearcy, Amelia Dyer and Joseph Vacher.

Some are still well-remembered: the killing of the parents of Lizzie Borden; the murderous career of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream and the infamy of Dr. Henry H. Holmes.

One newspaper article which catalogued these names, now seems cryptic. ". . . [Since Lizzie Borden,] remarkable murder trials in the United States have been multiplying at a rapid rate. New York contributed two celebrated cases--Carlyle W. Harris and Dr. Buchanan, both within two years. Then came the Durrant case in San Francisco, and the Holmes case here. The trial of the actor Gentry for the murder of Madge York will also prove notable in criminal annals." [Philadelphia Inquirer, November 3, 1895, p. 6]

One crime, however, had the whole world talking about it. As was first reported in the December, 1893 edition of The Strand Magazine, Dr. Moriarty and by extension, the author Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed Sherlock Holmes.

Never had such a cruel or more wanton act of literary savagery ever been conceived of and enacted upon. While within novels, heroes died noble, tragic deaths, authors did not kill off their popular creations that had survived so many dangers, for Holmes, at that time, twenty-six adventures.

Having debuted a mere six years back, Sherlock Holmes was internationally famous and well-loved. Chiefly as a result of Sherlock's success, Arthur Conan Doyle popularity had reached that of Kipling, Stevenson, and Hardy. Considering the pay given to the author, it seemed to be an act of financial suicide.

Holmes's death inspired obituaries.


Sherlock Holmes is no more. He dies with his name ringing in men's ears. The police of the world are left with their inferior resources to deal with crime as of old. [South Wales Daily News, December 14, 1893]

As for the murderer? Dr. Arthur Conan Doyle claimed justifiable homicide.

"I have come to take you in custody for the killing of Sherlock Holmes," I [the reporter] said, as soon as we were seated.

 "Ah, but I did it in self defense," he [Conan Doyle] replied. "And if you knew the provocation you would agree with me that it was justifiable homicide. When I invented this character I had no idea he would give me so much trouble. But when Holmes' Adventures began to appear in the Strand Magazine, its circulation went up by leaps and bounds until it reached the phenomenal figure of 400,000. No sooner had one story appeared than I was set upon for another, and such considerable sums of money were offered by the publisher, indicating a popular demand so imperative and so flattering, that I was tempted repeatedly from other work which I greatly desired to finish. I went on from one case to another until, as you know, there are now two volumes of "The Memoirs and Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." At last I killed him, and I had not done so I almost think he would have killed me." [The Press, New York. June 10, 1894, Part IV, p. 1]

The press accused him of murder by melodrama.

"Is it the artistic termination to a career like that of Sherlock Holmes . . . he should topple into "a boiling pit of incalculable depth" formed by raging waters beneath? I think not. [A Great Detective. The Leeds Times, December 16, 1893, p. 4]

"The truth is that Dr. Doyle's ingenuity, so brilliantly exemplified in many a story of adventure, has proved unequal to the final catastrophe of his hero." [Exit Sherlock Holmes, Guernsey Star, December 21, 1893, p. 1]

The killer showed some remorse:

"Yes, it is a case of cold-blooded murder," said Dr. A. Conan Doyle, in conversation with a Post reporter at the Burnet House, "and when I killed Sherlock Holmes I killed my best friend." [Pen Picture, The Cincinnati Post, October 17, 1894, p. 2]

The Ghost.

The career of Sherlock Holmes did not need to wait for his resurrection in order to continue. A popular song of the day had the ghost of Holmes solving crimes.

Sinners shake and tremble
Wherever this bogie roams,
And people shout, 'He's found us out,
It's the ghost of Sherlock Holmes'

The man who plots a murder, when
He sees me flit ahead,
Forgets to murder anyone,
And 'suicides' instead.
An anarchist with lighted bomb
To cause explosive scenes,
Sees me and drops the bomb, and blows
Himself to smithereens!

From: The Ghost of Sherlock Holmes, Richard Morton (lyricist of Tra-la-la Boom-de-Ay).

Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls.jpg
Sherlock Holmes fighting Moriarty at the brink of Reichenbach Falls. Sidney Paget, illustrator.

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

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

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


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, features Nikola Tesla as detective.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The One Year Anniversary of this Blog: A Look Back.

One year has passed. I've made 128 posts which work out to be better than one every three days. I've gotten about 24000 hits: not bad.

A lot of effort has gone into these posts (sometimes I feel I could have written three novels for all of the energy I've put into this). It is my philosophy to create posts that are more than just, huh, this is my opinion. My posts involve research. I also strive to make available resources, the kinds that amplify a subject or make your life easier by compiling information you need to know or links you may enjoy.

Below is an informal index highlighting some of the better posts.

First, the literary news. In the past year, I have had two novels published.

Never Kill A Friend, Ransom Note Press, is a thriller set in urban Washington, DC. The premise I began with was this: Instead of a locked-room mystery which made a murder impossible, what would happen if the crime pointed to the one survivor? And then, while the suspect was in jail, the same crime was repeated, this time with the detective being the one person who could have done it.

"The fast-moving plot tells the story of a strong young woman trying to stay true to herself while dealing with powerful, corrupt people and her own conflicting loyalties. This has the makings of a strong series." --Barbara Bibel, Booklist

I'm about 90% finished with the second draft of its sequel.

The cover my then six-year-old son designed (without my prompting).

 (I added the type)

A Predator's Game, Rook's Page Publishing, is set in 1896 Manhattan. The inventor Nikola Tesla fills the role of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle acts as Watson, and Dr. Henry H. Holmes as Moriarty. One of the absolute joys of researching this book is the way the perfect setting always appeared with a little bit of digging. I wanted to find a skyscraper that represented both the growth of the city and the danger of technology. The perfect one popped up. For a moment the tallest in the city, the American Tract Society Building had a colorful history and a way of killing people.

Or else there was the perfect character. Humpty Jackson, a hunchback, poetry-loving gangster who ran his gang from his perch atop a gravestone of a cemetery. (This brings up a good question: are there some real people you shouldn't write about in fiction because readers will think they are too made-up?)

Looking Back: Top Subjects.


I analyzed the the nature of the mystery novels voted all-time best by the Crime Writers' Association of Britain, the Mystery Writers of America, and the Mystery Writers of Japan. Here are the novels which made all three lists.I have also tried to divine which are the most acclaimed mystery novels that have come out after these lists were produced.

Short novels predominated, the writers were mostly men, a plurality of the protagonists were amateur sleuths, and many were written by authors in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Here I present the top novels ranked by word count, fewest to most.

I suppose I undertook the word count analyses because I don't know if I can write a long novel (I've yet to break 65,000 words). My writing style cares little for extraneous material or diversionary subplots. I love those short punchy mystery novels of yesteryear.

I analyzed the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers from 1960 to the present. Male authors once dominated, now female authors are in the lead. I looked at ages of the authors. The word count of the books have changed over time. It peaked in the 1980s and now it is not unusual to have short bestsellers (especially due to James Patterson and Janet Evanovich). I also looked at what genres predominated.

I also analyzed word count advice for middle-grade fiction and found it is a bunch of crock. Part One. Part Two.

I compiled an extended series of lists from mystery writers who selected their favorite books. Here is the 13th entry in that series but, by scrolling down, you will find links to the first twelve.

I performed an analysis which looked at how often writers followed Elmore Leonard's ten rules of writing. Part One and Part Two.

I assembled links to the all of the stories (over 100) available online from the Best American Crime Reporting series. This is the last entry, but has the other pages linked.


I researched slavery to a fair degree when composing my epic, sixty-two page long poem, Two Mistakes. I include some of that research online, dispelling some myths about slavery. (Although I titled the series Ten Myths. I didn't comment on all ten presented. Something to do.)


Mystery Short Stories, Audio.

I made a post that has links to the podcast of mystery short stories in Alfred Hitchcock's and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazines. In contrast to their webpages, this has the audiocast in order of author.

Best Short Stories.

I made a link to 39 out of 40 short stories that were available on-line (legally) from the book which Stephen King declared to be his all-time favorite. I rescued one of these from a poorly scanned version.

I also ran a two part series on the history of short stories and looked at those included in a 1914 New York Times article as being selected as the best short stories in the English language.

Historical Research.

I've undertaken a fair bit of research regarding the inventor Nikola Tesla, the author Arthur Conan Doyle, and the multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes. These three individuals are characters in my recently released A Predator's Game.

The most effort has gone into researching Tesla. While I have some esoteric information interesting for Tesla addicts only (such as a comprehensive list of his business addresses), I have also produced some general interest topics.

My posts regarding the murderous career of Dr. Henry H. Holmes is less topic-driven and tells a complete and, I believe, fascinating story.

Conan Doyle has had fewer posts. In my defense, I did write a scholarly piece about him which I have sent off for publication. Here is a brief look at his 1894 American speaking tour.

Arthur Conan Doyle Versus the Evil Holmes

And, for all of my wailing about opinions, here is one post, Men Are Hormonal, that I am proud of, but it is opinion.

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

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

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


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, features Nikola Tesla as detective.