A few months ago, I was excited to see that Erik Larson’s book Devil in the White City is in development to be made into a motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Larson’s book reads like a novel, but it is, in reality, a nonfiction piece. Every event that occurs in the book, including the dialogue, is the result of Larson’s in-depth research.
The devil in the title refers to H. H. Holmes, slated to be played by DiCaprio. Holmes is one of the United States’ first serial killers. The White City refers to the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair being constructed by famed architect Daniel Burnham.
With Halloween almost here, this seems like the perfect time to meet the real H. H. Holmes.
Dr. Henry Howard Holmes was one of the many aliases of Herman Webster Mudgett. Born in New Hampshire, he killed animals as a child. Later, he went to medical school where he often sold bodies to make false insurance claims.
When he moved to Chicago, he assumed the H. H. Holmes alias and ingrained himself into the community.
He built a home specifically with chambers for torturing, killing and cremating victims, later nicknamed the Murder Castle. The construction workers were routinely fired so none could learn the true nature of the building.
He married three times and was engaged to a fourth woman, but never divorced any of the previous wives; he had two children.
During the World’s Fair, he opened his home to the public as the World’s Fair Hotel. Many hotel patrons, especially young women traveling along, became his victims.
But it wasn’t the Murder Castle that got Holmes caught. It was his persistent insurance schemes. When the authorities were notified, Holmes fled Chicago and traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada. He was eventually arrested in Boston.
Holmes admitted to killing 27 people, although police could only prove nine. Historians estimate he may have killed as many as 200 people.
He is quoted as saying, “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing. I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”
He was executed in 1896.
Some, including his own great-great-grandson, believe Holmes also was Jack the Ripper. In his book Bloodstains, Jeff Mudgett claims a handwriting expert examining notes written by Jack the Ripper and by Holmes verified that the handwriting has a 98 percent probability of coming from the same person. Holmes was in London in 1888 during the killings.
Have you read the novel Devil in the White City? Leave a comment below.
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