Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

Good Instinct

He then went to the smaller outlying towns, going through them as systematically as he had done in Indianapolis. Then, in Irvington, he struck pay dirt. A man who had rented a house in October remembered Holmes because his manner was so rude and abrupt. And he recalled that a boy had been with this irascible short-term tenant. Relieved and certain that he was at the end of the trail, Geyer proceeded to the rental property.

Alice & Howard Pitezel
Alice & Howard Pitezel

There was no disturbance in the floor of the cellar that he could find, which discouraged him at first, but there was a trunk in a small alcove, and near it some disturbed dirt. Geyer dug into the area but found nothing. In a barn, he found a coal stove, and remembering Holmes' earlier purchase of a large stove which he'd then abandoned, Geyer suspected that this was a clue. On top were stains that looked like dried blood. By telegram, Mrs. Pitezel identified the trunk as her's.

Geyer left the place but returned when he heard there was news. A doctor who had poked around showed him pieces of a charred bone — part of a skull and a femur — that he said had belonged to a male child. They had found it in a pipe hole in the chimney. Geyer dismantled the chimney and found more human remains — a complete set of teeth and a piece of jaw, identified by a dentist as being from a boy seven to ten-years-old. "At the bottom of the chimney," Geyer recorded, "was found quite a large charred mass, which upon being cut, disclosed a portion of the stomach, liver and spleen, baked quite hard. The pelvis of the body was also found." Plenty of witnesses had seen Holmes back in October when he was there and identified him from the photograph that Geyer carried. One man even recalled helping him to install the stove.

Convinced he had finally, albeit tragically, found Howard Pitezel, and having it confirmed by other clues, Geyer "enjoyed the best night's sleep" that he'd had in two months. The search for truth had finally reached satisfaction. It was now August 27, fully two months after he'd left on this journey, and five weeks since he'd found Howard's unfortunate sisters.

On September 12, Holmes was indicted by a grand jury for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. He entered a plea of not guilty and his trial date was scheduled for October 28. Even as he adopted a pretense for the court, people were learning much more about him in Chicago. Holmes, it seemed, had quite a list of murders to his name.