HH Holmes is one of America’s most notorious serial killers, but he was also a mastermind con artist, swindler, and fraud! Check out our list of fascinating facts about this wildly bizarre man below. Did we miss a fun fact that you’d like to share with the class? Leave your suggestion in the comments below!
Real Name: Herman Webster Mudgett
Born on May 16, 1861 in Gilmanton, NH.
Died at age 34 on May 7th 1896 in Philadelphia, PA; death by hanging.
- HH Holmes allegedly began his fascination with medical science by experimenting on small animals.
As a child, Holmes allegedly designed traps to catch small animals, dissect them and practice surgeries on them. Initial explorations began with small reptiles and rodents, but eventually moved on to larger mammals like rabbits and dogs. (And eventually, human cadavers!) Rumor has it his fascination with life-and-death may have also led to him killing a childhood friend (or two) as early as age 11, but many accounts suggest their deaths were labeled as “accidental deaths.”
- HH Holmes was a very clever and intelligent man, with early accounts of his childhood denoting his bookish smarts.
Several accounts suggest he was also bullied for his academic prowess. He graduated high school at age 16, and enrolled in University of Vermont by age 18. After just one year, he was dissatisfied with his education and left University of Vermont, later enrolling in University of Michigan’s Medicine and Science school.
- Holmes was an expert con artist and enacted a plethora of money-making scams in his 30ish years on earth.
Among his many schemes and wheeling-and-dealing, Holmes had concocted a scam in which he stole and mutilated human cadavers, and staged accidents to defraud insurance companies. In addition, he also created fake names/persons, took out life insurance policies in their names, and listed himself sole beneficiary in their nonexistent “deaths.” An expert womanizer, Holmes managed to confess many mistresses into naming him as beneficiary to their life insurance policies and fortunes and concocted elaborate tales of their romance and breakups. He also managed to convince a work colleague to fake his own death to defraud yet another insurance company. In later years after he was apprehended for other crimes, Holmes also confessed to murdering a classmate for insurance money. The list of his fraudulent dealings is very, very long!
- His real name was Herman Webster Mudgett and operated under eight different aliases over the years, most notably Henry Howard Holmes (H.H. Holmes.) Before moving from Philadelphia to Chicago, after a death of a young boy at the pharmacy where he practiced, he changed his name to HH Holmes so victims of his many scam-artist schemes could not destroy his reputation in the new city.
Other listed aliases include:
- Henry M. Howard
- Henry Gordon
- Alexander Bond
- O. C. Pratt
- D. T. Pratt
- A. E. Cook
- G. Howell
- HH Holmes was a noted bigamist.
In 1878, he married his first wife, Clara A. Lovering and they had one child, Robert Lovering Mudgett, in 1880. In 1887, he married Myrta Z. Belknap. Shortly after his bigamous marriage to Belknap, Holmes petitioned for divorce from Lovering, citing a case of infidelity on her part, but the divorce with Lovering was never finalized. Belknap gave birth to their daughter Lucy Theodate Holmes in 1889. In 1894, he also married Georgiana Yoke, despite still being married to both Lovering and Belknap. In addition, he also began a side relationship with his lover Julia Smythe, wife of his business associate Ned Connor; Smythe was eventually murdered by Holmes. None of the women knew about each others’ existences, and were all victim to another one of Holmes fraudulent schemes and alternate lives. (We’re sure glad he didn’t have access to online dating, yikes!)
- Holmes was paid money for his confession, admission of guilt, and personal account of his stories.
Holmes sold his life story to the press and was paid $7,500-$10,000 by the Hearst Corporation, publisher of the sensationalist Chicago Examiner. It was later discovered that he had fabricated most of the stories with nonsensical accounts.
- In 1887 he began construction on “The Castle,” an incredible feat of architecture featuring maze-line corridors, hidden chambers, and secret rooms which he used to murder his victims, perform secret surgeries and experiments, and hide the corpses from prying eyes.
Holmes created the hotel to capitalize off of the tourism surrounding “The World’s Fair” and also use it to lure in new victims for his perverse pleasure. Initial construction stopped at 2 floors; Holmes refused to pay the architects/builders and was sued. The first floor of The Castle contained retail stores and a pharmacy, while the second and third floors contained about 100 apartments as well as Holmes offices of operations. The “hotel” portion of the building was never completed. The building was torn down in 1938.
- Holmes initially admitted guilt to 27 murders.
Although he admitted to 27 murders, he was only convicted and charged for the murders of his former business associate Benjamin Pietzel and Pietzel’s children. Later accounts suggest Holmes admitted to around 130 murders, but experts and investigators believe it may have been upwards of 200.
- When he was apprehended in 1895, Holmes gave several different accounts as to what happened, and as to what motivated him to commit the murders, including claims that he was possessed by Satan.
Noted to be a chronic liar, officials then and researchers now have had significant challenges discerning what Holmes actually believed to be true and what may have been an act and show for his unwitting audiences. Written ramblings from Holmes during his imprisonment suggest he felt his appearance was resembling the devil himself, and that it was the result of all his evil deeds and murders.
- Holmes made a very bizarre last request for his own cadaver’s burial.
Fearing that others may dig up his cadaver and experiment it, as he had done to so many, Holmes requested his body be encased in concrete upon his death. His strange request was initially denied but eventually obliged. In 2017, his body was exhumed by a team of researchers at University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology after allegations that Holmes may have escaped and someone else executed in his place. Strangely once the body was exhumed, the clothes he was wearing were relatively tact considering their age as were partial remains of his mustache. (Tests reveled it was in fact Holmes, and his body was reburied.)
List compiled by Ellen Avigliano
Instagram: @imaginariumarts @thejackalopes.warren
(Information on this post has been collected from various printed resources, books, collective public knowledge, and research papers online, and recounted to the best of our abilities)