The body of notorious serial killer Dr. Henry H. Holmes, also known as the Devil in the White City or H.H. Holmes, is being exhumed following accusations that he faked his own death and allowed another prisoner to be executed in his place, according to the Chicago Tribune.
In the early morning of May 7, 1896, H.H. Holmes, a pharmacist in Englewood who was born Herman Webster Mudgett, was hanged at the high stone walls of the old Moyamensing Prison in South Philadelphia, where thousands of people congregated to watch H.H. Holmes’ execution.
H.H. Holmes was sentenced to death by hanging for the murder of his business partner, Benjamin Pitezel, whom he burned to death in an effort to collect $10,000 in insurance money. Recent reports indicated that three years before H.H. Holmes’ execution, the Devil in the White City confessed to killing 27 people, but it was rumored that H.H. Holmes killed at least 200 people in his Chicago home, which was dubbed the “Murder Castle.”
H.H. Holmes’ last words before his 1896 execution were as follows.
“Gentlemen, I have very few words to say. In fact, I would make no remarks at this time was it not that by not speaking I should acquiesce in my execution. I only wish to say that the extent of my wrongdoing in the taking of human life consists in contriving the killing of two women that have died at my hands as a result of criminal operations.
“I wish to also state that there can be no chance of misunderstanding my words hereafter, that I am not guilty of taking the life of any of the Pitezel family, of the three children or of the father, Benjamin F. Pitezel, of whose death I was convicted, and for whose death I am now to be hanged. That is all I have to say.”
After 20 minutes of hanging from a noose and twitching uncontrollably, prison guards pronounced H.H. Holmes dead, but was it really the Devil in the White City who hung lifelessly on a noose, or was it another prisoner hanging in H.H. Holmes’ place?
Rumor has it that H.H. Holmes paid prison guards to “hang a cadaver or an unsuspecting prisoner” in his place while he made an escape and hid in South America.
For almost 121 years, mystery surrounded H.H. Holmes death until one of his descendants recently requested to have H.H. Holmes exhumed from his unmarked grave at the Holy Cross Cemetery, just outside of Philadelphia, to find out if the White City Devil was hanged and buried in 1896 or if he faked his own death.
Holmes’ great-great-granddaughter, Jennifer Saber, says that she wanted to have H.H. Holmes exhumed to put an end to “these conspiracy theories.”
“Not that he deserves to rest in peace, maybe, either — according to some people — because he was a horrible person. He killed a lot of people,” Saber said.
Adam Selzer, the author of H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, proclaims that the rumors of the Devil in the White City faking his own death are “absurd,” as well as having H.H. Holmes exhumed.
A report from 1896 claims that “the atrocities of which he was convicted are almost unparalleled in the history of crime — shocking alike for their enormity and the cold-blooded, deliberate way in which they were committed. He attributed his natural relish for crime to the fact, as he put it, ‘He was born with the devil in him.'”
Jack Russick, vice president for interpretation and education at the Chicago History Museum, explains why the world is fascinated by the Devil in the White City and why people are eager to have H.H. Holmes exhumed in a bid to find out if his remains are at the Holy Cross Cemetery, where H.H. Holmes was buried.
“Part of it is the morbid curiosity in his crimes, but part of it is the effort to confirm that he is dead and was not actually able to outwit the law. There is the desire to confirm that legend is not true,” said Russick.
The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Anthropology contrives to conduct DNA analysis on the Devil in the White City’s remains, but the team may have difficulties exhuming H.H. Holmes. During the time of his execution, H.H. Holmes requested to have his “body encased in several barrels of cement, weighing around 3,000 pounds, in an effort to “ensure his body against the vandalism or scientific curiosity of ghouls.”
Erik Larson, the author of The Devil in the White City, says that after having H.H. Holmes exhumed, they will uncover that the remains at the Holy Cross Cemetery belong to the notorious serial killer.
[Featured Image by Wikimedia Commons Public Domain]