Inside The Incredibly Twisted Murder Hotel Of H.H. Holmes

Published April 29, 2017
Updated October 17, 2019
Published April 29, 2017
Updated October 17, 2019
Floorplan Of H.H. Holmes House

Illinois State Historical LibraryAn old newspaper floor plan of the H.H. Holmes house.

Influx Of Unconnected, Transient Workers Provided Fresh Boarders At Holmes’ World’s Fair Hotel

Though the mansion didn’t look inviting in the least, it’s unlikely that any of the victims were dragged into its depths. They entered on their own volition, likely enchanted by the owner’s flattery and apparent affluence.

Often they were his employees. During his two short years in the castle, Holmes hired more than 150 women to work as his stenographers.

A few of those were known to be his mistresses as well. Most of them came from wealthy families and some of them never saw those families again.

Holmes sometimes photographed his favorites. They were young, beautiful, and trusting of this gentleman in the big and unfamiliar city.

As a city on the rise and centrally-located nationally thanks to its railway hub, there was a fresh flow of people coming in and out of Holmes’ murder mansion.

Despite the well-connected women who went missing under his employment, suspicions of murder weren’t what eventually led to Holmes’ demise.

Sketch Of The White City

Wikimedia CommonsA sketch of the opening of Chicago’s Columbia Expedition, also known as the world’s fair, in 1893.

People come and go all the time in a big city, often without notice, so the disappearance of the young women working under Holmes could always be excused as young women moving on or heading back home.

Rather, theft and financial schemes gone wrong caused his arrest in Boston on November 17, 1894.

After decades of criminal activity (the scale and complexity of which you really need a book to fully grasp), H.H. Holmes was behind bars.

While in jail, connections between him and at least one murder were revealed and a pile of financial charges were obscured by the more sinister accusations.

Though he boasted of committing at least 27 murders, he gave three different confessions while imprisoned — all with contradicting numbers.

The true amount of victims was impossible to corroborate because the mansion was specially equipped for Holmes to disintegrate leftover body parts in acid baths or to burn them in a human-sized stove. (In one pile of ashes, investigators found a small gold chain from a woman’s shoe.)

The Devil In The White City

Worlds Fair Chicago 1893 Painting

Boston Public Library/FlickrA painting of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The 750,000 attendees provided H.H. Holmes with a constant supply of new victims.

“I was born with the devil in me,” Holmes would later explain. “I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”

As recounted in Erik Larson’s book The Devil In The White City, H.H. Holmes began his two-year long murder spree at a moment in history where an unprecedented throng of unknown, unaccompanied strangers were flooding the streets of Chicago, looking for temporary housing.

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair was one of American history’s most attended cultural events, with millions of people attending over duration of the fair.

Chicago Worlds Fair Columbian Exposition

Smithsonian Institution Archives/PicrylA picture taken of “The White City,” as the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 would come to be called.

Noting the thousands of people who went missing during the World’s Fair, some papers suggested the actual count of Holmes’ victims stretched into the 200s.

For the most part, Holmes represented himself at his trial — displaying his classic grace and a “remarkable familiarity with the law,” according to one paper of the time.

His charm wasn’t enough for the jurors, though, and he was unanimously sentenced to hanging.

Very familiar with what could be done to a body after death, Holmes requested that his be encased in cement within his coffin.

HH Holmes Sketch

Illinois Historical SocietyAn illustration of H.H. Holmes in a newspaper from the time.

Before his death in 1896, H.H. Holmes had suggested that he was turning into the devil. Even his face, he said, was taking on a demonic look.

Indeed, when the floor was dropped beneath him, his neck didn’t snap like it was supposed to. He lay twitching for 20 minutes before being pronounced dead.

Later, strange fates befell the people connected to the case.

The man who had initially tipped off the police to H.H. Holmes’s illegal dealings was shot by a Chicago police officer. The warden at the prison where Holmes had been held killed himself. The office of the district attorney (who argued the famous case) caught on fire. The only item to survive the blaze intact was a photo of Holmes.

Patrick Quinlan

Library of CongressArticle on the suicide of mansion caretaker Patrick Quinlan from The Ogden Standard in 1914.

Patrick Quinlan — the former caretaker of the castle who, after Holmes, knew the most about the haunted building — committed suicide in 1914.

He left a one-sentence note:

“I could not sleep.”

After this tour through the H.H. Holmes hotel and his gruesome murders, read about the hospital serial killer who was known as “The Angel of Death”. Or discover the tale of “Lobster Boy,” the circus act turned murderer.