Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion


However, Holmes said, the chloroform apparently also had the effect of depriving the tissues of alcohol, so that no one would know that Pitezel had been in a drunken state. At any rate, Pitezel was still recognizable.

More bizarre, Holmes says that three weeks later he visited the grave where Pitezel was buried and pretended to be acquiring samples for microscopic analysis. He said he found that cutting into the corpse with a knife was inordinately satisfying.

As for young Howard Pitezel, Holmes also had a story to tell. He had every intention of murdering the three Pitezel children, so he hid them in a hotel until he could find a way that would not draw suspicion. After a week, he poisoned the boy and then cut him into pieces small enough to go through the door of a stove he had purchased. He felt nothing about these acts, only the pleasure he gained from killing another person. He then took the girls to Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. There, Alice and Nellie Pitezel met their fate. They were the "twenty-sixth and twenty-seventh" of his victims. He made them believe they would soon be reunited with their mother (whom he had also brought to Toronto in some diabolical game), while he plotted how he would be rid of them. He compelled them both to get inside a large trunk and closed them inside, leaving an air hole. Then he returned and pumped gas into the hole to kill the girls, even as their mother was traveling on to New York. He dug shallow graves, removed their clothing, and dumped them without a thought. He considered that "for eight years before their deaths I had been almost as much a father to them as though they had been my own children."

He had a plan to end Mrs. Pitezel's life, along with those of her two remaining children, with nitroglycerine, but he was arrested in Boston before he managed to achieve this. He closed his confession by saying that his last public utterance would be of remorse for these vile acts. He did not expect anyone to really believe him. And Geyer later says in his book that Holmes' account, published in many papers on April 12, 1896, was so inconsistent with the facts that they had gathered about the Pitezel children's demise that it was "at once discredited in police circles."

Then, in one quick move, according to Geyer, Holmes recanted the confession, and in fact it was learned that several of his "victims" were not dead at all or had died in ways clearly unassociated with him. When told by police that his tale was untrue, he supposedly said, "Of course it is not true, but the newspapers want a sensation and they got it." Nevertheless, police did believe what he had said about the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. Geyer found it vile that Holmes would not tell the truth even as he stood on the "brink of eternity."

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