Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

Long Journey

On June 26, Detective Geyer set out by train into the Midwest, with Alice's and Nellie's letters to orient him, along with photos of the children and of Holmes, and an inventory of items and clothing associated with them. No one in the D.A.'s office expected to find any evidence at this late date and believed that Holmes had killed them and would have been careful to dispose of the bodies. Yet, the insurance company had readily provided funds for the trip, because it would not have to pay out for Pitezel's suicide, so Geyer agreed to make the effort.

In Cincinnati, he showed photographs and asked around in various hotels for anyone who might have seen Holmes or the children, and he finally found someone who remembered the small group of travelers under the alias "Alex E. Cook." It was a name Holmes had used in business matters before. That clerk pointed Geyer in another direction and through much questioning, he came across a woman who had seen Holmes and a boy together in a house to which a large stove had been delivered. But Holmes had then given her the stove, apparently because he'd noticed that she had been watching him. Geyer now felt that he "had firm hold of the end of a string which was to lead me ultimately to the consummation of my difficult mission." He went from there to Indianapolis, Holmes' next destination, according to the letters.

In this city, Geyer found a trail that gave him a good sense of where the children had been. Larson points out that it was an exceedingly hot day, which made the investigation more burdensome. Finally, however, Holmes' odd game became clear: He was moving his wife (one of three, all of whom were unaware of the others) and the three children about in the same city without any party being aware of the other. Geyer could not understand why, if Holmes intended to kill the children, he would go to such effort and expense to move them so often. The puzzle deepened, and the fate of the children seemed darker still.

Geyer then went to Chicago and Detroit, the town from which Alice had written the last of her letters to her mother in which she expressed dismay that they were not together. He also learned to his surprise that Holmes had added a third party to his game — Mrs. Carrie Pitezel and her other two children. He had placed her three blocks from where he roomed the three children in his care, but had not allowed them to realize it or see one another. But, Alice also wrote something from that location to her mother that made Geyer's blood run cold. "Howard is not with us now."

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