Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

In the Game

Holmes' attorneys attempted to get his trial continued, but were unsuccessful. In addition, there was a struggle between Chicago and Philadelphia authorities, says Blundell, as to who would get to try him first, but he remained in Philadelphia. The trial commenced as scheduled on October 28. It lasted five days.

On the first day, Holmes tried to defend himself but proved unable to establish points in his favor. The best account of the trial comes from the speech, reprinted in Geyer's book, from the District Attorney, George S. Graham, who recounts it in detail. Yet, he does not include some of the more interesting events. For example, from a distance, a phrenologist, John L. Capen, made an analysis of Holmes, which was published during the trial in the New York World. He described the "repulsive" face and pointed out that great murderers "have blue eyes." Holmes's expression, Capen said, was cruel and inhuman, and his ears, twisted out of shape, stamped him as a criminal. This was all evidence of devilry and vice. In other words, Capen convicted a man not yet found guilty based on appearances alone.

Judge Arnold
Judge Arnold

At the trial, also described in detail by Schechter, Holmes requested to defend himself. Judge Arnold allowed it, stating, "It is your constitutional right to try your own case." Holmes questioned prospective jury members, at which point his team of attorneys left the courtroom. Holmes demonstrated the coolness with which he handled stress and tried rejecting each person who said he had read the papers, but the judge pointed out that this was not considered a cause for challenge. In any event, this all occurred well before the Supreme Court would rule about the unfairness of pretrial publicity. The jury was seated and the trial proceeded.