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Killer Countdown Day 6: H.H. Holmes -- Chicago's Most Brutal Killer

OCTOBER 24, 2015  —  By Mike Cahill  
Mike Cahill

Mike Cahill

Mike is ViralNova's resident Editor of the Weird. If it makes you say "OMG! That's terrible!!!" then Mike probably wrote it. Despite the subject of his articles Mike is surprisingly well adjusted. When he's not writing, he's making music, performing, and producing podcasts.

We'll be profiling 13 serial killers over the course of the 13 days leading up to Halloween. Today, we take a trip to late-1800s Chicago. Have any suggestions for our list? Send them to me at mcahill@viralnova.com

When you think of the World's Fair, you probably think of elaborate exhibits designed to impress the world at large. But during the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, there was a secret exhibit that was designed to be deadly. The designer of this attraction was H.H. Holmes, and he eventually became one of the most sadistic killers in American history.

In 1886, a young H.H. Holmes moved to Chicago from Massachusetts. Holmes was not his given name, but he changed it before moving to escape a troubled past.

He found himself a job at a drugstore. He quickly moved up the ranks and offered to buy the store from the original owner after her husband died. She agreed, and they had the papers drawn up. Oddly enough, the old owner was never seen again after she sold the store to Holmes.

Holmes later purchased a vacant lot across from the drugstore and used the plot to build a hotel.

Construction was completed in time for the 1893 Chicago World's Fair. Holmes relocated the drugstore to the hotel's ground floor and built an office for himself. The upper floors were filled with windowless rooms and winding hallways. Each room was designed to confuse guests. For example, there were doors that opened to brick walls, staircases to nowhere, and winding hallways that got narrower the farther you went.

During this time, Holmes befriended Benjamin Pitezel. Pitezel was a fellow criminal who quickly became the killer's right-hand man.

Once the murder palace was completed, Holmes began killing guests and female employees.

When Holmes hired his female employees, he made them all take out life insurance policies for which he was the sole beneficiary. He then started killing them in a variety of sick, twisted ways. He suffocated some with gas in soundproof rooms. Others were locked in a room with iron walls that was fitted with a blowtorch. The rest were taken to the so-called "secret hanging chamber."

With so many people checking in to the hotel and never checking out, Holmes had to come up with elaborate systems to dispose of the corpses.

With so many people checking in to the hotel and never checking out, Holmes had to come up with elaborate systems to dispose of the corpses.

Getty Images

After Holmes was done with them, they were placed in metal chutes and dumped into the basement of the building. He even donated some bodies to a local medical school. Other corpses were dissolved in tubs full of corrosive acid.

In late 1893, Holmes fled Chicago with Pitezel to escape his creditors. As they traveled the country, the two concocted an insurance fraud scheme in Philadelphia.

The idea was that Pitezel would fake his own death and Holmes would collect his life insurance money. Instead, Holmes killed Pitezel and abducted his wife and family to help him collect the insurance money. With two of Pitezel's children in tow, Holmes traveled briefly to Canada, at which point he killed the children. However, Holmes was being followed by detectives who knew about the scam. In 1894, police finally arrested him in Boston.

Initially, Holmes was just arrested for insurance fraud, but an investigation quickly uncovered evidence of his most heinous crimes.

When presented with that evidence, Holmes confessed to committing 200 murders. However, police were only able to charge him with nine counts of homicide. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Today, the location of his castle in Chicago is the site of a post office, but the property attracts tourists to this day.

(via H.H. Holmes: The Film)

That's some seriously twisted stuff. It's hard to believe that someone so remorseless could even exist. I can't wait to see how Leonard DiCaprio interprets Holmes in the movie next year.