Well officially it is closed for a “staff training” day but we lovers of strange Chicago history know better! Born Herman Webster Mudgett and made a household name by Erik Larson’s Book “The Devil in The White City”, he graduated from the University of Michigan College of Medicine in 1884 and thereafter moved to Chicago and took up the alias Dr. H.H. Holmes.
Many have labeled Holmes a “serial killer” and yes he did kill or was responsible for the deaths of multiple persons he did not seem driven by an urge to kill but seemed more of a sociopathic con-man who would kill if it could make him money first and foremost and secondly would kill if someone became useless in his life or started to learn too much about his swindles to keep them around safely.
Some interesting tidbits of info on Holmes that I had “dug up” in the research for my latest book “Chicago History – The Stranger Side” is that two of Holmes’s swindle victims were men of some repute. Henry J. Rogers was a very well known and loved business man from Appleton, Wisconsin who managed to get involved with one of Holmes’s phony companies and was left holding a huge bag of debt. Rogers’ home “Hearthstone Historic House Museum” is a historic landmark in itself being the first home in the world to be lit by a Central Edison Hydro-electric station and designed by William Waters who also designed the Wisconsin Building for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. In Holmes’ “confession” he recounts how he and an associate tortured Rogers until he signed over money to them and then murdered him by asphyxiation. Of course Holmes, along with other things, was a compulsive liar and Rogers was never killed although he died only a few months after Holmes was executed.
Thomas B. Bryan who was a Commissioner-At-Large for the Columbian Exposition, lawyer, real estate entrepreneur, first President of the Graceland Cemetery Association and honorary member of the Union League Club of Chicago was also a victim of Holmes’ swindles. He was first introduced to Holmes by a friend named Fred Nind who borrowed money from Bryan to purchase stock in Holmes’ bogus A.B.C. Copier Company. In fact Bryan was listed as an officer of the company in its incorporation papers. Bryan was taken for upwards of $9,000 and stated after Holmes’ arrest that he was “unimpressed by Holmes”.
The swindle that eventually led to Holmes’ demise was that of the insurance swindle where he would convince someone to take out an insurance policy (Usually for $10,000) naming Holmes as beneficiary. He usually did this with women but it was when he convinced his confederate Benjamin Pitezel to take out an insurance policy that his house of cards started to fall. Holmes convinced Pitezel that they were going to fake his death and split the profits of the insurance policy only Holmes figured it would be better financially to take all of the money and actually bump off Pitezel. He was later convicted of the murder of Pitezel and executed by hanging at Moyamensing Prison on May 7, 1896.
So “Happy H.H. Holmes Execution Day!” and enjoy your day off ahem…I mean staff training day Chicago Public Library Staff!
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