Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

A Shift in the Tale

Pinkerton Detective Agency
Pinkerton Detective Agency

Holmes admitted to police in December 1894 that rather than substitute a cadaver in a con with Pitezel as he'd originally said, the corpse had actually been Pitezel, but he had not been murdered. According to the story Holmes now told, Pitezel and two other men, along with Pitezel's wife, were in on the scheme. Pitezel had rented the house at 1316 Callowhill, equipping it with bottles of chemicals as part of the appearance of a man having an "accident." That was all well and good, but Holmes noticed how much Pitezel was drinking and one day found him lying dead on the floor. Pitezel had apparently grown depressed and used chloroform on himself. Holmes arranged the body and proceeded with his plan to make it difficult to identify, destroyed a letter Pitezel had written (supposedly a suicide note), and staged the scene to look like the result of an accidental explosion. He then went out of town to await a newspaper item that indicated that the body had been found. He left the account like that, and several more months passed without any word of the children. Holmes had indicated to Carrie Pitezel that they were with a guardian, Minnie Williams, in England.

On June 3, 1895, Holmes was tried for conspiracy to defraud an insurance company, and because the sentence would be light his attorneys advised him to plead guilty, which he did. The sentencing was delayed for a later date, but even the papers were now pressing for information about the Pitezel children. They seemed to have disappeared and reporters wanted to know where they were. So did Carrie Pitezel. Some one had to act.

Detective Frank Geyer was assigned to the job and he went later that same month on a highly publicized expedition to find the missing Pitezel children or their remains, whichever turned out to be the case. He later penned a book about his international trek. Even after his mission was accomplished he did not yet know exactly what kind of monster he was dealing with. He simply knew he had a job to do — a potentially unpleasant one — and he did it.

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