Essay Example on the Harsh Childhood of H.H. Holmes, America's First Serial Killer

Paper Type:  Biography
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1170 Words
Date:  2023-04-24


Herman Webster Mudgett, commonly known as H.H. Holmes was born in 1961 in New Hampshire America to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodate Page (Jerrod, et al. 2019). Holmes parents were Methodists who demanded total obedience from him. His father was an alcoholic and a strict disciplinarian who used harsh disciplinary methods like food deprivation and prolonged isolation resulting in physical abuse. During this time of abuse by his father, Holmes used to stay in the forest near his home, and this is where he started dissecting animals making him develop interest of both live and dead animals. Perhaps this interest is the one that motivated him to pursue medicine.

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Holmes was a very intelligent loner but was traumatized by the abuse he underwent under his parents. Therefore he was not able to make any meaningful relationships with other people. Moreover, Holmes was also bullied and abused in school due to his good performance. He studied medicine at a school in Vermont but dropped out before completion. He later joined the University of Michigan Medical School. Holmes stole corpses from the medical school laboratory, burnt them and then planted to make it look like an accident. He aimed to take out insurance policies on these people before planting the bodies and would collect money ones the bodies were discovered.

At this time, Holmes was married to Clara Lovering, but they got separated as the relationship was violent. Clara returned to New Hampshire with their son Robert. After rumors started to spread that a child he had been seen with went missing, he relocated to Philadelphia. Again, rumors spread that a child had died after taking medicine Holmes had blended. Herman Webster Mudgett freed to Chicago and changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes. In 1884, Holmes passed his medical examinations and moved to Chicago where he got a job at a pharmacy under the name Dr. Henry H. Holmes (Jerrod, et al. 2019).

The World's Fair Hotel

While in Chicago, Holmes took a job in a drug store that he eventually ended up purchasing. When the owner of the drug store passed away, the window was left to run the store however Holmes convinced her to sell him the store. The window later went missing and Holmes claimed that she relocated to California. Eventually, he purchased an empty lot and constructed a two-story building that had retail space on the ground and his living apartment above. In 1888, Holmes had not paid the steel suppliers and the architect and thus they took him to court. The construction resumed in 1892, a time when Chicago was preparing to host the World's Columbian Exposition which is commonly called the 1893 World's Fair. Holmes decided to add another floor to his building and turn it into a hotel. Holmes named his hotel after the 1893 World's Fair and continued his insurance scams and defaulting on bills.

Holmes required all his fiances, workers, wives and hotel guests to have a life insurance policy in which he paid the premiums as long as they listed him as a beneficiary. Many of his fiances, employees, and quests suddenly disappeared. The neighbors reported that they saw many women enter the castle but could not see them get out. The first floor of the castle had over 100 rooms most of which were soundproof and also equipped with gas lines (Abate, 37). Throughout the building were also trap doors, stairways that led nowhere and peepholes. Some chutes led directly to the basement which was designed to act as Holmes' private lab. The lab had a large dissecting table, crematory, and a stretching wrack. In some cases, Holms would strip the victims off fresh and sell the human skeletons to medical schools. In other cases, Holmes would cremate the bodies or dump the bodies in pits of acid.

Holmes' Murders

One of the first murder victims to die under Holmes was his mistress Julia Smythe. Julia was killed because she knew so much about Holmes's activities. In 1889, Julia Connor and her husband Ned Conner moved into Holmes building and began working at his pharmacy (Abate, 37). A month later, Julia and Holmes were engaged in a love affair which led to Ned quitting the job and filling a divorce. Julia entangled herself more with Holmes's financial affairs and she was even listed as a co-founder in several Holmes businesses. They also took several debts in her name. In 1891, Julia and her daughter disappeared and their bodies were never discovered (Abate, 40).

Holmes started the Warner Grass-Bending Company, though he intended to build a furnace in the basement. After completion of the furnace, more young women from Holmes's circle disappeared more frequently. When captured, Holmes confessed killing 27 people although only nine were confirmed. The total number of victims killed in the Murder castle, however, ranged up to 200 people. His killing methods were outrageous and ranged from leaving the victims in the vault to die for hunger, hanging and suffocating them.

One of Holmes's alliances in the insurance scam was Benjamin Pitezel, a carpenter whom he had met during the construction of the hotel. Together, they scammed an insurance company $10000 by faking Benjamin's death (Frost 173). Later Holmes killed Benjamin, three of his kids and took all the money for himself. Additionally, another alliance he worked with was Marion Hedgepeth. Holmes planned to collect a pay-out from insurance cover by faking his death. Hedgepeth later told investigators about Holmes's insurance fraud scheme.

Holmes' Arrest and Death

Holmes was arrested in November 1894 after several weeks of evading authorities. He was charged with killing Pitezel and his three children. During his time in custody, he confessed to killing 27 people and was sentenced to hang in 1895 (Jerrod, et al. 2019). He died in May 1896, when he was hanged for murder and was buried in Philadelphia. As stated by Frost 2019, Holmes' actions are a case of insanity because while in custody, he claimed to be possessed by satanic spirits and also his hotel burned down mysteriously while he was in prison.


Brown, Jerrod, et al. H.H Holmes: One of America's First Recorded Serial Murderers., 2015. Accessed 15 March. 2020.

Frost, Rebecca. Words of a Monster: Analyzing the Writings of HH Holmes, America's First Serial Killer. McFarland, 2019.,+Rebecca.+Words+of+a+Monster:+Analyzing+the+Writings+of+HH+Holmes,+America%27s+First+Serial+Killer.+McFarland,+2019.&source=bl&ots=K1PVziMmwU&sig=ACfU3U3MgJbs5a_DjQPwjp-SsCYJHUyBoA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjlxfOHnJ_oAhXCz4UKHWf7AKYQ6AEwBXoECBAQAQ#v=onepage&q=Frost%2C%20Rebecca.%20Words%20of%20a%20Monster%3A%20Analyzing%20the%20Writings%20of%20HH%20Holmes%2C%20America's%20First%20Serial%20Killer.%20McFarland%2C%202019.&f=false Accessed 15 March. 2020.

Seltzer, Mark. Serial killers: Death and Life in America's wound culture. Routledge, 2013.Abate, Michelle Ann. "Taking The Hidden Staircase to the Murder Castle: The Nancy Drew Mystery Series and the First Serial Killer in the United States." Clues: A Journal of Detection (McFarland & Company) 37.1 (2019).

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Essay Example on the Harsh Childhood of H.H. Holmes, America's First Serial Killer. (2023, Apr 24). Retrieved from

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