Tuesday, April 18, 2017

H.H. Holmes: A Man for Our Times

Selzer's Biography of Holmes

Dr. Henry H. Holmes was the most notorious criminal of late nineteenth century America.  Adam Selzer, who has spent years separating out Holmes the historical character from Holmes the myth, has put together a near-500-page biography of Holmes which came out just this month. Holmes comes across as a ruthless entrepreneur who did in his victims as part of swindles, scams and cover-ups. A pitiless killer, many of his business practices make it sound as though he could succeed even in the very competitive New York real estate market of today.

1. One means by which Holmes made his fortune was  by constructing buildings and then refusing to pay his laborers. He would often cite something wrong with the workmanship, not pay, and let the companies sue him.

When Aetna Iron and Steel sued Holmes in 1888 for non-payment, Holmes responded to the suit alleging that "one of the steel beams provided was slightly too short, negating the entire contract." A. Selzer, H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil. loc. 775, Kindle, 2017, Skyhorse Publishing.

2. Holmes put together famous buildings in or at the border of major cities (Chicago, Fort Worth). In fact, the Holmes Castles (often referred to as hotels or "murder castles") became some of the best-known real estate in America. Truly, he was ahead of his time at branding his name.

A Holmes hotel promised a certain quality of lodging experience.

3. Holmes would often denounce the lying press of his day. This would occur both when the press invented a story, such as accusing him of murdering someone who was still alive, or when the press correctly quoted him. The latter would follow a pattern: Benjamin Pitezel committed suicide. I murdered him. How dare you say I murdered him? He died in an accident. Benjamin Pitezel is still alive. He's in Paraguay.

After several confessions, Holmes claimed to have murdered no one.

4. Holmes had diversified businesses. Although he never claimed to run a university, he had at various times and often simultaneously: a clinic for alcoholism, a glass-bending business, a printing company and a company marketing printers, an invention for making gas from water, a pharmacy, landlord at a boarding house, sold real estate, and a second-hand furniture business where he bought furniture on credit (and never paid) and sold it.

5. Holmes married three times. A master of efficiency and juggling, he was married to all three at once and, until his arrest, none of his wives knew of the others' existence. It is possible he faked marriages on other occasions to get the women to sign over properties before their untimely deaths or strange disappearances.

6. Holmes was a loyal Republican. When Holmes was in prison, accused of, among other crimes, having murdered three children, he claimed these victims were still alive and in the care of a confederate, Minnie Williams. In reality, Holmes did kill the children, along with the children's father and Williams and her sister. Nevertheless, he claimed that Williams could be contacted using a New York Herald personal ad and the following code:

The Republican Code. From: The Holmes-Pitezel case; a history of the greatest crime of the century and of the search for the missing Pitezel children by Geyer, Frank P.,1896

Other Holmes' posts at my site:

The Mystery of H.H. Holmes
Holmes at the University of Vermont Medical School
Holmes at the University of Michigan, Part One
Holmes at the University of Michigan, Part Two
The Twenty Seven Murders of Holmes, A Series
Criminality in the Hair.
Holmes in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Holmes Doomed to Misfortune

And some related to Trump:
The Strange Case of Donald Trump and Mr. Hyde
Did The Apprentice Kill NBC?
Those Whom Trump Called Racist.

A 1947 comic book with the story of H.H. Holmes.

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, Rook's Page Publishing.

Back page blurb of A Predator's Game.

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,  available from Rook's Page Publishing.

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 mdhillortiz@gmail.com.


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