Holmes Sweet Holmes

On the outside, H.H. Holmes,

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 18 | Posted Oct. 29, 2003

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During the Castle years, Holmes acquired a second wife--though he wasn't divorced from the first one--and pursued several other romantic entanglements. If they didn't resolve to his liking, or if a girlfriend got too needy, the woman in question would disappear.

One of his relationships was with Minnie Williams, who was a Texas heiress. Minnie's sister, Nannie, came to visit for the Exposition, but they both vanished in 1893. Detectives would later find Nannie's footprint in the Vault, which Holmes admitted was made "in the violent struggles before her death." Minnie's will left everything to Holmes' personal assistant, Benjamin Pitezel, who lived nearby with his wife and four children.

When Holmes and Pitezel went to Texas to try to collect on Minnie's will, they were almost arrested, so they left town. Holmes was soon picked up in St. Louis for stealing from a drugstore, but was released shortly thereafter.

For reasons unknown, Holmes chose Philadelphia as the site for his next venture. He insured Pitezel for $10,000 and made Pitezel's wife, Carrie--who'd stayed behind in St. Louis--the beneficiary. The plan was to fake Pitezel's death, collect the money from the insurance company and split the profits between them.

He installed Pitezel in a fake patent dealership at 1316 Callowhill St., which was right in front of the city morgue. Pitezel hung a sheet of muslin that read "BF PERRY PATENTS BOUGHT AND SOLD" outside the building to make it look legitimate. (Holmes had an apartment at 1905 N. 11th St., which is now on Temple's main campus.)

A patent-seeking carpenter named Eugene Smith came to the office one day in September 1894 looking for the man he assumed was named Perry. No one was in, but the door was open. The Holmes-Pitezel Case: A History of the Greatest Crime of the Century, by Detective Geyer, says Smith "hallooed" several times but didn't get a response.

When Smith went upstairs, Geyer writes, "His gaze met a sight that chilled his blood." It was a man lying on his back, his face "disfigured beyond recognition by decomposition and burning." It seemed there'd been some kind of explosion, and the rigid body was singed on one side--including half his mustache. There was, according to Geyer's book, "a considerable quantity of fluid" spreading out for more than a foot around the body.

The only person who knew the true identity of the corpse was H.H. Holmes, and he was more than happy to come forward to identify it as Ben Pitezel's. He even brought Pitezel's daughter, Alice, with him from St. Louis to seal the deal. Pitezel's wife, Carrie, still believed it was all a scheme, and that Ben was hiding out and waiting for her.

In his confession, Holmes said he'd been planning to kill Pitezel from the moment he met him, and that everything he did with the man, for seven years, led up to that very moment. Such a long-term investment, wrote Holmes, "furnishes a very striking illustration of the vagaries in which the human mind will, under certain circumstances, indulge," and compares the anticipation of Pitezel's murder to "the seeking of buried treasure at the rainbow's end."

The reality of Pitezel's death was far worse than what Eugene Smith saw. Holmes wrote in his confession that he went to 1316 Callowhill and found Pitezel drunk and passed out, as he expected. (Holmes had earlier forged a series of hurtful letters from Pitezel's wife, which caused Pitezel to start drinking--all part of the plan.) He bound Pitezel's hands and feet, and then he wrote, "I proceeded to burn him alive by saturating his clothing and his face with benzine and igniting it with a match. So horrible was this torture that in writing of it I have been tempted to attribute his death to some humane means--not with a wish to spare myself, but because I fear that it will not be believed that one could be so heartless and depraved."

After he collected the money, Holmes went to St. Louis and convinced Pitezel's widow to lay low too. He offered to place her children with his cousin, whom he called "Minnie Williams," until she and Ben could come out of hiding.

Geary writes, "Through the man's unimaginable powers of persuasion, Carrie agreed to surrender two more of her children." There was no pragmatic reason for Holmes to take the children. But as he wrote in his confession, he chose Pitezel as a victim "even before I knew he had a family who would later afford me additional victims for the gratification of my bloodthirstiness."

And so began the horrible journey of Alice, Nellie and Howard Pitezel.

A letter to Carrie Pitezel from Alice Pitezel, dated Sept. 20, 1894:

Just arrived Philadelphia this morning ... I am going to the Morgue after awhile ... We stopped off at Washington, Md., this morning, and that made it six times that we transferred to different cars ... Mr. H says that I will have a ride on the ocean. I wish you could see what I have seen. I have seen more scenery than I have seen since I was born ... You had better not write to me here for Mr. H. says that I may be off tomorrow.

A letter to Carrie Pitezel from Alice Pitezel, dated Sept. 21, 1894:

I have to write all the time to pass away the time ... Mama have you ever seen or tasted a red banana? I have had three. They are so big that I can just reach around it and have my thumb and next finger just tutch. I have not got any shoes yet and I have to go a hobbling around all the time. Have you gotten 4 letters from me besides this? ... I wish that I could hear from you ... I have not got but two clean garments and that is a shirt and my white skirt. I saw some of the largest solid rocks that I bet you never saw. I crossed the Patomac river."

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Comments 1 - 18 of 18
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1. Bart said... on Feb 22, 2009 at 03:31PM

“Scary stuff...and amazing this was only about 100 years ago. ”

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2. Anonymous said... on Oct 10, 2009 at 11:11AM

“I am fascinated by this story. I have been told at work at the local hospital where I work that one of our Dr.'s is a decendant of Mudgett's. Did he have any children of his own?”

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3. Cat said... on Oct 31, 2009 at 07:33AM


Yes, he did. One daughter.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Nov 5, 2009 at 10:33AM

“He also had a son and I think maybe another daughter. If you are interested in more you should check out Harpers Magazine, the article is The Master of the Murder castle. It has links to actual articles from the time the murders took place. Also the book "Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson is pretty good and gives a vivid if not very detailed account.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 03:31PM

“he had a daughter her name was LUCY.”

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6. Jake said... on Jan 3, 2010 at 11:44PM

“This is just a wonderful article. A treat to read.”

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7. Mike said... on Jan 28, 2011 at 05:25AM

“Heard in another story that in fact his neck did not snap from hanging, and that it took some 15-20 minute for him to die. Which would be a bit closer to justice. Amazing story, truly frightening”

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8. Sean McDue said... on Jul 6, 2011 at 09:15PM

“Has anyone heard of the documentary Burke and Hare the Body Merchants? I would like to see it and was wondering if it was similar to the recent Burke and Hare (2010) movie.”

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9. Dr. Kevin Still said... on Jul 16, 2011 at 02:39PM

“This is a photograph of the place where Pitezel was murdered. The sign reads "BF Perry, Patents Bought & Sold". He was killed on the second floor within months of this photo being taken. http://shar.es/HkpX5”

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10. Sharon said... on Nov 11, 2011 at 04:30PM

“Facinating story. I am currently reading Devil In The White City. Can't wait for the movie to come out!”

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11. Mart said... on Nov 17, 2011 at 06:40PM

“If you like Devil in the White City you will love Bloodstains written by Jeff Mudgett the Great Great Grandson of H. H. Holmes, talk about great reading!!! he really draws you into his great great grandfather's horror. I believe his book is website purchase only to keep the book affordable for everyone, I got my copy at www.Bloodstainsthebook.com this guy is working with London yard on some stuff great book. He also has a facebook page for Bloodstains the book and the author has a page as well. Mart”

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12. Carley said... on Apr 16, 2012 at 12:35PM

“Great article...a lot of good information and pretty scary stuff.”

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13. Historybuff said... on Apr 18, 2012 at 01:00PM


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14. Philly History Buff said... on Apr 18, 2012 at 01:09PM

“The shell game of his burial place goes on beyond this article. Family of a Catholic priest, who was present at the cemetery for the burial, said that HH is actually burried in another unmarked grave in the same cemetery. There us a body burried as the article states but is the remains. Of an unnamed homlesss man. HH still confounds and confuses even from the frave.”

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15. TempesT_817 said... on May 10, 2012 at 08:30AM

“Holmes was a genius,!! the way he would have a contractor come in and start working only to be fired after finishing half a stair case or a wall or two, so no one would really know the layout... too bad it burnt down it would of been awsome to check out”

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16. Anonymous said... on Feb 13, 2013 at 02:18PM


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17. Anonymous said... on Jan 5, 2014 at 04:01PM

Holmes actually had 25 children, it was stated in the book Bloodstains By Jeff Mudgett”

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18. Anonymous said... on Feb 19, 2014 at 07:28PM

“It would medically be interesting study to see how the 25 children turned out. More research & testing needed to analyze the cause of a serial killer. It's a malfunction due to a few specifics or many influences as why one turns into a serial killer.”


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