If someone was to tell you that a man in the late 1800s built a three-story castle dedicated to kidnapping and killing people, would you believe it?
You should, because that’s what we’re talking about today.
Herman Webster Mudgett, more commonly known as Dr Henry Howard Holmes, was one of America’s first documented serial killers. Before he was known as a serial killer, though, he was a conman that specialized in swindling people out of their money. Nothing too violent, mainly just shady business transactions.
Herman graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School. However, Herman stole bodies from the school’s laboratory, mutilated them, then claimed that the people were accidentally killed, which allowed him to collect insurance money. Gruesome – yes – but nothing on the scale of mass murder. Not yet, anyway.
So let’s dig into Herman’s past and see what happened:
Herman traveled to Chicago in 1886. It was there that he found Dr E.S. Holton’s drugstore. Holton was suffering from cancer, so Holton’s wife ran the drugstore. Herman received a job at the store and proved to be an outstanding employee. With Holton’s wife grieving for her husband’s pain, Herman charmed her into selling him the store; however, Herman did not have enough money to purchase the store, so he used his outstanding previous record to convince Holton’s wife to loan him money. She agreed.
Oddly, though, when Holton died of cancer, Holton’s wife disappeared. Herman told inquisitors that she was visiting relatives in California. If people continued to ask, Herman said that she loved California so much that she decided to stay out there.
Herman then built his three-story castle on a lot of land across from the drugstore. The castle’s first floor housed Herman’s relocated drugstore, while the other floors were rented out as hotel rooms.
Here’s where it gets really, really strange:
The upper floors contained over one hundred windowless rooms. A large number of doorways opened to brick walls, stairways to nowhere, or impossibly angled hallways. Some doors only opened from the outside of a room. Nearly every room had a secret entrance. Herman repeatedly fired builders and hired new ones, so only he knew the castle’s layout. (Reminds me of the Winchester Mansion.)
When the hotel was finished, Herman selected mainly female guests to stay within the rooms, some of which were his past lovers or employees. He then tortured and killed them. According to Wikipedia, “Some were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that let him asphyxiate them at any time. Some victims were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near [Herman's] office where they were left to suffocate.”
Truly horrifying things, but it doesn’t end there.
The deceased bodies were dropped down a chute to the basement. It was in that basement that Herman stripped flesh from bone, dissected body parts, and crafted skeletal models. Those skeletal models were then sold to medical schools. Herman’s previously connections with medical schools made it very easy for him to sell his crafted skeletal models. Herman also owned two large furnaces for cremating bodies, along with a pit of acid, bottles of poisons, and a stretching rack. These aren’t Halloween props – this guy really owned a pit of acid.
So, next time someone tells you about a three-story murder castle, tell them to back off, you already know about it.