Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

Family Affairs

Holmes made a point to affirm the "Christian character" of Minnie Williams and he retracted many of the statements he had made about her regarding her state of mind and her alleged murder of her sister. She was never in an asylum or secreted away to protect her reputation, he now said. He'd first met her in 1888 in New York, and then encountered her five years later in Chicago. He persuaded her to give him several sizable sums of money and then maneuvered her to invite her sister to Chicago so he could get a bead on their property in Texas. Nannie/Nettie assigned her worldly goods to him (he said).

"After that," Holmes writes, "she was immediately killed in order that no one in or about the Castle should know of her having been there save the man who burned her clothing." To his chagrin, she did leave something behind — her footprint on the door of the vault, which she produced during an unsuccessful struggle to survive. (This was how Chicago authorities hoped to prove she was murdered.)

Holmes told Minnie that her sister had given up her journey north. He then secured Minnie's property in his own name and killed her, as well. He poisoned her and buried her in the cellar of a house that he owned. He tried to implicate her as the murderer of her sister and the Pitezel children, which he was now repudiating: "This is the saddest and most heinous of any of my crimes," he commented.

Next, he turned his attention to Pitezel. Holmes indicated that from the first hour they met, he knew that he would kill the man. Everything he did for Pitezel that seemed to be a kindness was merely a way to gain his confidence. Pitezel "met his death" on September 2, 1894. Holmes wrote fake letters from Mrs. Pitezel to show him, which precipitated a bout of drinking. Holmes watched and waited until he was able to come upon Pitezel in a drunken stupor in the middle of the day. He packed his bags in readiness to leave and then went to where Pitezel lay in bed, bound him, saturated his clothing and face with benzene, and lit a match. He literally burned his former accomplice alive. Apparently Pitezel cried out and prayed for mercy, begging Holmes to end his suffering with a speedy death, "all of which had on me no effect." When Pitezel finally expired, Holmes extinguished the flames, removed the ropes, and poured chloroform into his stomach, to make the death appear to be accidentally brought about by an explosion. That way, the insurance company would quickly pay the full amount of the claim. He left the body in a position that exposed it to the sun for however long it would be before someone had found him — presumably to further deform it for difficulty in identification. "I left the house," he wrote, "without the slightest feeling of remorse for my terrible acts."

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