Sunday, March 27, 2016

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

Part Three of Four. Continuing in my effort to compare Holmes's confessions of whom he murdered with the facts and newspaper reports of the time.

The Twelfth Victim.

    "The victim was a very beautiful young woman named Rosine Van Jassand, [other newspapers referred to the victim in this section as Anna Van Tassaud. The description matches a missing person named Emily Van Tassel] whom I induced to come into my fruit and confectionery store, and, once within my power, I compelled her to live with me there for a time, threatening her with death if she appeared before any of my customers. A little later I killed her by administering ferro-cyanide of potassium. The location of this store was such that it would have been hazardous to have sent out a large box containing a body, and I therefore buried her remains in the store basement...b"

    Sixteen-year-old Emily Van Tassel worked at Wilde's at 1151 Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago, near Holmes's Glass Bending Factory. According to her mother she met with Holmes on four occasions, the first being a family outing for ice cream. She disappeared on June 1, 1892. Frank Wilde was alleged to be an alias of Holmes or else Benjamin Pitezel.

    On April 17, 1896, after Holmes's confession, a portion of the basement of the store was excavated. No human bones were found.

    Perhaps one reason Holmes maintains his legendary status is that he is responsible for at least one of each sort of crime that stirs up the imagination: Killing the young woman in the confectionary shop, the maid, the bride-to-be, the waif, the trusting associate, the innocent child . . .

Summary: Victim Twelve

Emily Van Tassel
Employee at a candy shop.
Motive: Unspecified.
Method: Poisoned.
Site: At the confectionary store.
Time: Approximately June 1, 1892
Confirmation of murder: Strongly suspected.
Emily Van Tassel

 The Thirteenth Victim.

    "Robert Latimer, a man who had for some years been in my employ as janitor, was my next victim. Several years previous, before I had ever taken human life, he had known of certain insurance work I had engaged in, and when, in after years, he sought to extort money from me, his own death and the sale of his body was the recompense meted out to him. I confined him within the Secret Room and slowly staved him to death. Of this room and its secret gas supply and muffled windows and doors, sufficient has already been printed. Finally, needing its use for another purpose and because his pleadings had become almost unbearable, I ended his life. The partial excavation in the walls of this room found by the police was caused by Latimer's endeavoring to escape by tearing away the solid brick and mortar with his unaided fingersb."

    Robert Latimer was among those victims claimed to still be alive25. The Chicago Daily Inter Ocean contended the authorities had encountered someone else by that name, a Robert Latimer who worked as a flagman at a nearby railroad crossing26. In Holmes' Own Story, he included Latimer among those still living.

Summary: Victim Thirteen

Robert Latimer Janitor at Castle.  
Motive: Revenge for Attempted Blackmail.  
Method: Starvation. Gas?  
Site: At the Holmes Castle in the Secret Room.  
Time: Unspecified. Confirmation of murder: Unconfirmed

The Fourteenth Victim.

    "The fourteenth case is that of Miss Anna Betts, and was caused by my purposely substituting a poisonous drug in a prescription that had been sent to my drug store to be compounded, believing that it was known that I was a physician, I should be called in to witness her death, as she lived very near the store. This was not the case, however, as the regular physician was in attendance at the time. The prescription, still on file at the Castle Drug Store, should be considered by the authorities if they still are inclined to attribute this death to causes that reflect upon Miss Betts' moral characterb."

    On February 8th, 1892, twenty-four-year-old Virginia Anna Betts died suddenly in her home, one block from the Holmes Castle. Her death certificate is presented in Adam Selzer's Three Confessions of HH Holmes26. Cause of death is listed as apoplexy with the complication of heart disease which had lasted for four days. The only hint of a motive given by Holmes is wanting to see her die.

    In Holmes' Own Story he says he was accused of killing Betts to cancel a debt owed to an unnamed Chicago businessman. Holmes denied this saying the debt had already been settleda.

    This story is reminiscent of the unspecified victim in Philadelphia poisoned before Holmes moved to Chicago. If Holmes did regularly poison select individuals through his pharmacy, his death toll could be greater than previously realized.

Summary: Victim Fourteen

Anna Betts
Client at the pharmacy.
Motive: To see her die? To cancel a debt?
Method: Poisoning.
Site: At her home near The Castle.
Time: February 8, 1892
Confirmation of murder: Probable.

Prodigy in Crime
Headline, Rock Island Argus,
List of His Murders Lengthens
July 28, 1895

The Fifteenth Victim.

    "The death of Miss Gertrude Conner, of Muscatine, Iowa, though not the next in order of occurrence, is so similar to the last that a description of one suffices for both, save in this case Miss Conner left Chicago immediately, but did not die until she had reached her home at Muscatineb."

    Twenty-two-year-old Gertrude Conner was the sister-in-law of victim Julia Conner. Her brother Ned introduced her to Holmes who employed her as a secretary. Ned claimed Holmes was making passes at her which she didn't appreciate. Ned also accused Holmes of "ruining her" and said that she died just 48 hours after returning home.

    In a letter to the editor of Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, Gertrude's father, Chandler R. Conner, wrote from Muscatine, Iowa. He asked several errors in their newspaper's story to be corrected. Gertie Conner worked for Holmes for only three weeks. She was escorted home by her brother. She did not die soon after returning, but, rather seven weeks later. He finishes, "You also state that her brother discovered that Holmes had ruined her and gave medicine which caused her death. It can be proved that no man ruined her and that her death was caused by neuralgia of the heart and not by any medicine27."

    Interestingly, Holmes links this case with the previous one, both being poisonings, both deaths in the victims' homes. Is it possible that Holmes compounded a pill or drew up a potion which she did not take until much later? A lot of young ladies died around Holmes before their times.

Summary: Victim Fifteen

Eva Gertrud Conner
Associate, relative of victim.
Motive: Jealousy?
Method: Poisoning.
Site: At her home near The Castle.
Time: July 18, 1892
Confirmation of murder: Timing makes it unlikely but possible.

Survivors, Myths and Anonymous Folk

    The next four alleged victims included two who outlived Holmes, along with two with insufficient information to prove or disprove their murders.

The Sixteenth Victim.

    "The sixteenth murder is that of Miss Kate Gorky [Note: the description refers to Kate Durkee], of Omaha, a young woman owning much valuable real estate in Chicago, where I acted as her agent. ... I caused Miss Kate Gorky to believe that a favorable opportunity had come for her to convert her holdings into cash, and, having accomplished this for her, she came to Chicago and I paid her the money, taking a receipt in full for same, and thus protected myself in the event of an inquiry at a later date. I asked her to look about my offices and finally to look within the vault, and, having once passed that fatal door, she never came forth alive. She did not die at once, however, and her anger when first she realized that she was deprived of her liberty, then her offer of the entire forty thousand dollar in exchange for same and finally her prayers are something terrible to rememberb."

    Kate Durkee of Omaha engaged in a number of business dealings with Holmes. After learning that she was counted among Holmes victims, she declared, "I was never killed by Holmes or anyone else28."

     In this case Holmes' Own Story was correct. "Miss Kate Dunkee [sic] [is] acknowledged by the Philadelphia authorities to be alivea."

Summary: Victim Sixteen

Kate Durkee
Business associate
Motive: Money.
Method: Locked in the vault. Suffocation.
Site: Holmes Castle.
Time: unspecified
Confirmation of murder: Victim still living.

The Seventeenth Victim.

    "The next death was that of a man named Warner, the originator of the Warner Glass Bending Company, and here again a very large sum or money was realized, which prior to his death had been deposited in two Chicago banks, nearly all of which I secured by means of two checks, made out and properly signed by him for a small sum each. To these I later added the word thousand. ... It will be remembered that the remains of a large kiln made of fire brick was found in the Castle basement. It had been built under Mr. Warner's supervision for the purpose of exhibiting his patents. It was so arranged that in less than a minute after turning on a jet of crude oil atomized with steam the entire kiln would be filled with a colorless flame, so intensely hot iron would be melted therein. It was into this kiln that I induced Mr. Warner to go with me, under pretense of wishing certain minute explanations of the process, and then stepping outside, as he believed to get some tools. I closed the door and turned on both the oil and steam to their full extent. In a short time not even the bones of my victim remainedb."

    The story, so reminiscent of Poe, alas, was not true. While Warner did start the Warner Glass Bending Company which some suspected Holmes used as a crematorium, Warner was still alive at the time of confession. He had become a traveling novelty salesman.

Summary: Victim Seventeen

L. Warner
Business associate
Motive: Money.
Method: Burned alive in the basement kiln.
Site: Holmes Castle.
Time: unspecified
Confirmation of murder: Victim still living.

The Eighteenth Victim.

   "In 1891 I associated myself in business with a young Englishman ... it became necessary to at once raise a large sum and this was done by my partner enticing to Chicago a wealthy banker named Rodgers from a North Wisconsin town in such a manner that he could have left no intelligence with whom his business was to be. To cause him to go to the Castle and within the secret room under the pretense that our patents were there was easily brought about, more so than to force him to sign checks and drafts for seventy thousand dollars, which we had prepared. At first he refused to do so, stating that his liberty that we offered him in exchange would be useless to him without his money, that he was too old to again hope to make another fortune; finally by alternately starving him and nauseating him with the gas he was made to sign the securities. ... I would only consent to this [the killing] upon the condition that he [the Englishman] should administer the chloroform, and leave me to dispose or the body as my part or the workb."

    In this account Holmes introduces yet another accomplice, an unnamed Englishman who did the actual killing. The Englishman was never sought primarily because this story was not believed. No evidence supported it and there were no disappearances of wealthy men from North Wisconsin towns.

    Holmes seemed to have had a stammering problem in regards to the name, "Rodgers." Along with victim eighteen, victim number five, the West Virginia man, went by the single name of Rodgers. In Holmes' Own Story when he needed to prove [twenty-fourth victim] Benjamin Pitezel was suicidal, Holmes noted: "...he had made an effort to take his life at the hotel of Henry Rodgers, at Perkinsville, Alaa."

    When Holmes tried to prove the two Pitezel daughters [victims twenty six and twenty seven] were still alive during a crucial time period, he stated, "Mr. Rodgers has several times stated that this occurred quite early before working hoursa."

Mr. Rogers
Mr. Rogers - not a victim

Summary Victim Eighteen.

Business associate
Motive: Money.
Method: By chloroform.
Site: Holmes Castle.
Time: unspecified
Confirmation of murder: unconfirmed and highly suspect.

The Nineteenth Victim.

    "The nineteenth case is that of a woman, whose name has passed from my memory, who came to the Castle restaurant to board. A tenant of mine at the time immediately became very much infatuated with the woman, who he learned was a widow and wealthy. This tenant was married, and his wife occasionally came to the restaurant when this boarder was there, which did not tend to decrease a family with disruption. Finally he came to me for advice, and I was very willing to have him in my power in order that I could later use him in my work if need be. I suggested that he live with the woman in the Castle for a time, and later, if his life became unpleasant to him, we would kill her and divide her wealth. Soon, he suggested it was time to take his companion's life. This was done by my administering chloroform while he controlled her violent struggles. It was the body of this woman within the long coffin-shaped box that was taken from the Castle late in 1893, of which the police were notifiedb."

    Not enough information is given to confirm or deny these events. The incident regarding the coffin-shaped box had not been otherwise noted.

Summary: Victim Nineteen

Anonymous female
Motive: To gain control over accomplice.
Method: By chloroform.
Site: Holmes Castle.
Time: late 1893.
Confirmation of murder: insufficient information to confirm or refute.

The End Game.

    The remaining eight alleged victims consist of three from the Williams family, one anonymous, and four from the Pitezel family. After the murder of his next two victims, Holmes was on the road, marrying again, in and out of jail, and always scheming to get more money.

Continued in Part Four, The Last Chapter.

References, Notes and Citations

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.

25. Holmes List of Victims. Rock Island Argus, April 14, 1896.

26. Among Illinois papers, the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean printed the confession. While rival newspapers assailed the credibility of the confession, the Daily Inter Ocean defended it. The April 15, 1896 headline read: Envious Rivals Attack Holmes Confession. [We] Cannot Find a Flaw.

27. Miss Gertie Conner's Death. Neuralgia of the Heart Was the Cause of Her Demise. Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, July 22, 1895.

28. Alive and Kicking. Miss Kate Durkee Nails One of Holmes' Lies. The Wichita Daily Eagle, April 15, 1896, Page 2. Originally alleged to be a victim, by the time of Holmes confession, Kate Durkee's murder had long since been refuted. The Chicago Daily Inter Ocean would have been aware of this and in this section, they ran Holmes' confession naming only Kate --- of Omaha. The next day, their paper defended the confession saying it never claimed Kate Durkee was dead.

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

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.

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.


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