Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

Close Encounters

Minnie Williams
Minnie Williams

Holmes continues in his memoir with a "poor me" fashion, describing the ills that befell him and the hardships he endured before meeting Ben Pitezel in 1888. They fell into a partnership that involved various pursuits that financially benefited them both. Holmes also speaks about some of the missing women associated with him so that he can assure readers that they did things such as announcing they were going to leave and disappearing on their own. He also indicated that many young women were alive and well, and better off for having known him.

As for Minnie Williams, who had disappeared without a trace, Holmes offered a story of a woman who had fallen into difficult times, had an illegitimate child, and was suicidal. She had an abortion, felt terribly ashamed, and left everyone she knew. She served as his secretary for a time, and often ate meals in his building — which he claimed would account for any bone remains that might be found in the furnace. Her sister Nettie arrived (also referred to as Nannie) and, in short order, died. It seemed that Minnie had decided that Nettie fancied Holmes, so she struck her with a stool and killed her (having often suffered from bouts of mania, she was quite without restraint in such matters). Holmes helped Minnie to place the body in a trunk and dump it into Lake Michigan.

"But from my sight it has never passed," writes Holmes about the incident. "Nor has there been a day, an hour, since that awful night that I would not have given my life if by doing so that of Nettie Williams could have been returned." Holmes then broke everything off with Minnie. She went away and he burned the clothing she left behind, or gave it to Pitezel. No one heard from Minnie again...except for Holmes, supposedly, who said he helped her to handle her land investments in Texas.

He also describes how he first met the Pitezel family and the business ventures into which he entered with Benjamin Pitezel. In the end, he insists that he had no motive to kill anyone, and says that he was always quite generous, so that even avarice would not count, as it was inconsistent with his character. He also did not have a bad temper and had made no dishonest transactions. He also did not believe he was insane, having no mental illness in his family and no finding of it from doctors who had examined him thus far. Of the Pitezel situation, Holmes said that Pitezel was worth more to him alive than dead, so why would he have engaged in murder?

"In conclusion," he writes, "I wish to say that I am but a very ordinary man ... and to have planned and executed the stupendous amount of wrongdoing that has been attributed to me would have been wholly beyond my power." He asked the general public to withhold judgment of his guilt or innocence until he could disprove them at his trial. He would also work to bring justice to those "for whose wrong doings I am today suffering."

However, this publication was so transparently self-serving that readers preferred the more lurid tales provided in newspapers. No one really believed Holmes' "own story," although it is an interesting collector's item for criminologists.

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