H. H. Holmes and the Murder Hotel

Summer is just around the corner, and many of us have already started making plans for summer travel. Many of us will stay at a hotel while on vacation, and we’ll consider things like location and amenities when choosing a place to stay. The thought of getting murdered in a hotel room is probably not something that crosses the minds of many of us. For those who were unfortunate enough to check in to Henry Howard Holmes’ World’s Fair Hotel in 1890s Chicago, perhaps safety should have been more of a consideration.

Born Herman Webster Mudgett, the mastermind behind the murder hotel had been a criminal for years before he came to Chicago in 1886. In fact, he had changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes to escape punishment from his previous crimes, which included bigamy and stealing cadavers from a medical school.

1q5krviw73e3rlh854lufacx.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com
1q5krviw73e3rlh854lufacx.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com

Shortly after arriving in the Windy City, Holmes began constructing his hotel. It was meant to house visitors to Chicago’s World’s Fair, which was scheduled for 1893. Rather than simply installing the latest conveniences to please his guests, Holmes set about designing accommodations that would enable one of the most gruesome series of murders in American history.

Holmes served as his own architect for the project, and his horrific creativity knew no bounds. He fitted the house with trap doors, doors that opened onto brick walls, and hidden staircases. Some of the rooms locked from the outside and could be used as prison cells. All the guest rooms were soundproofed, and some were fitted with gas lines or blowtorches. The doors were also rigged with alarms, just in case one of his victims tried to escape. Holmes was able to have all this constructed without notice because he regularly fired his contractors over alleged incompetence.

The hotel was finished in time for the Fair, and Holmes set about placing ads to lure guests to the lodgings. He also obtained several female victims by offering jobs in classified ads in small towns. The women were instructed that the job and the company name were secret, and many came to Chicago without telling anyone where they were staying. They then fell victim to Holmes.

Once someone checked in to the World’s Fair Hotel, Holmes would murder them in creative ways. He would seal some of them up in rooms to let them die of starvation. Others fell prey to the gas lines he had installed, and would be killed in rooms that functioned as gas chambers. He also had a hanging room, where he would strangle victims. Once they were dead, his guests would be sent down a chute to the building’s basement, where he would dissect them and sell their body parts to the medical community. What he didn’t sell he attempted to obliterate in acid baths, lime pits, and furnaces.

Holmes left Chicago and his hotel of horrors after the fair ended. He was later implicated in the murder of a business partner and was arrested in Boston in 1894. At this point, authorities were able to trace his previous whereabouts to Chicago and connected his hotel to the disappearance of at least 50 people.

Upon investigating the hotel, police found human bones, bloody clothing, vats of acid, lime pits, and his dissecting table covered in blood. Holmes eventually admitted to killing 28 people. The police were only able to connect him to nine victims, but it is now estimated that he may have been responsible for fifty or more deaths.

Holmes was found guilty of murder and was hanged in May of 1896. His last request was that his coffin be encased in cement so that no one would dig him up and dissect him, as he had done to so many. The hotel he built was partially destroyed by fire in 1895, and it was finally torn down completely in 1938 to make way for a new post office.

Though you can’t visit the World’s Fair Hotel anymore, you may recognize parts of its story from season 5 of American Horror Story, aptly titled “Hotel.” The murderous hotel owner in the series was partially inspired by H. H. Holmes himself.

Next Article
ADVERTISEMENT
  • The Coronation of the Corpse Queen

    Most people like a good love story. But this macabre true tale of a Portuguese royal romance can satisfy both fans of romance and horror stories at the same time. In 1340, Ines de Castro came to Portugal as a lady in waiting for the Princess Constanca of Castile, who was set to marry Prince...

    Read More
  • Rare Ship Burials Discovered in Iceland

    Archaeologists have recently discovered a series of Viking burials in a fjord in North Iceland. So far, a total of four burials have been uncovered, with two being ship burials. Boat burials are often associated with Viking funerals in the popular imagination, but they are actually quite rare. This is because they were reserved only...

    Read More
  • The Mystery of the Mary Celeste

    On December 5, 1872, the crew aboard the British ship Dei Gratia saw another ship floating in the water. No crew was visible on the other boat, which was recognized as the Mary Celeste, so the captain ordered that the Dei Gratia see if the people on the other ship needed help. What the boarding...

    Read More
  • Conjoined Porpoise Twins Found in North Sea

    The phenomenon of conjoined twins is well-known among humans and other animals. There are often news reports of life-saving surgeries undertaken to separate and save conjoined children. And oddity museums like Ripley’s usually contain pictures or models of conjoined animals like two-headed calves. A recent discovered instance of this condition is even more rare and...

    Read More
  • French Fries Can Kill You

    The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition just released some really depressing news. According to a recent study, French fries can be deadly. In fact, they are so bad for you that they can double your risk of an early death if you eat them as often as two times per week. And it’s not just...

    Read More
  • The Impostor Princess

    On a spring day in 1817, in the small town of Almondsbury in Gloucestershire, England, a local cobbler encountered a confused and disoriented young woman. Although she was English in appearance, she was wearing strange clothing, including a turban, and she did not speak or understand English. No one knew who she was, and she...

    Read More
  • America’s Most Haunted House

    When most people think about San Diego, they imagine beautiful beaches, cultural attractions like their world-famous zoo and Balboa Park, and endless sunshine. But the city has a darker side, including what has been billed as America’s most haunted house. Located in the area now called Old Town, it was once at the heart of...

    Read More
  • Eastern State Penitentiary’s Strangest Prisoner

    On August 12, 1924, Eastern State Penitentiary got its most interesting inmate. The prisoner, named Pep, went down for murder and was sentenced to life without possibility of parole. It all sounds like a normal prison story but for one detail: Pep was a dog. At the time of his incarceration, newspaper headlines claimed that...

    Read More