Murder Castle: The Maze-Like Lair of the World’s First Serial Killer


Image: Postdlf

“Like the man-eating tigers of the tropical jungle, whose appetites for blood have once been aroused, I roamed about this world seeking whom I could destroy.” H.H. Holmes.

The first documented serial killer, H.H. Holmes, holds a dubious and gruesome record that few serial killers in history have broken. This devil incarnate committed over 27 murders. Before forensics and CSI were invented, this man made an infamous mark on the 19th century.

Born Herman Webster Mudgett in 1861, and described as an unruly school boy who enjoyed being cruel to and even killing animals for fun, Holmes was also amazingly smart. It was this high intelligence that would serve him well in luring so many unsuspecting victims into his murderous lair.

Image: via Sorcerers Skull

This image is the blueprint of the building constructed in 1893 and fittingly called ‘Murder Castle’ by so many of those in law enforcement – though no record of the hotel’s actual name was ever recorded. It was to this hotel that Holmes used an advertisement to lure unsuspecting people going to Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition in 1893. As lodging was difficult to obtain in those days, particularly with the flood of tourists going to the event, Holmes had no shortage of victims.

Back then, one could easily open a drugstore without any experience or education. Holmes had been in the pharmaceutical business all of his life (to learn more, go to Prairie Ghosts). There was a drugstore located on the first floor of the long, extravagant three-story building. There were also various shops on that floor. This made the place inviting, the perfect place to to entice people into a trap.

According to construction plans, the upper two floors “contained his [Holmes’s] personal office and a maze of over one hundred windowless rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways to nowhere, doors openable only from the outside, and a host of other strange and labyrinthine constructions.” However, no one really knows what the inside of the building looked like because builders kept being changed so as to throw the police off the scent. Additionally, few people ever escaped this building and lived to tell the tale.


Image: The Chicago Crime Scenes Project

Holmes selected mostly blond, female victims, who were put through chilling torture rituals. They were brutalized and then incinerated in Holmes’s own crematorium on the building’s grounds, and the victim’s families never knew exactly what happened to their missing loved ones. Holmes sold some skeletons of his victims, for he was one of history’s best con artists. Because of his charm and good looks, no one ever suspected anything awry about Holmes until it was too late.

Investigators learned long after the execution of Holmes in 1896 that victims were locked in soundproof bedrooms fitted with gas lines that allowed him to asphyxiate them at any time. Some were locked in a huge soundproof bank vault near his office where they were left to suffocate. The victims’ bodies were dropped by secret chute to the basement, where some were meticulously dissected, stripped of flesh, crafted into skeleton models, and then sold to medical schools. Holmes also cremated some of the bodies or placed them in lime pits where they disintegrated. Holmes had two giant furnaces, as well as pits of acid, and even a stretching rack on which he placed skeletons and organs – which he later sold with ease.