Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

H. H. Holmes: Master of Illusion

Matters of Deep Concern

The Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City

Larson describes Geyer as a "big man with a pleasant, earnest face," sporting a walrus mustache. Geyer's wife and daughter had died recently in a fire, so his loss weighed heavily as he went in search of children who possibly had been murdered. Holmes had offered no clues to assist, except to say that the children had been left with a guardian, with one female child posing as a boy. He even shed tears at the idea that someone should accuse him of killing innocent children, and Geyer said of him, "Holmes is greatly given to lying with a sort of florid ornamentation." The man, he believed, was an actor and accomplished con, so nothing he said could be trusted. (Especially in light of the fact that this so-called guardian of the children, Minnie Williams, was also missing, along with her sister, Nettie, and both had once been closely associated with the suspect.)

Holmes had kept up with the news each day as papers were delivered to him, and had shifted the details of his story as the situation demanded. Geyer noticed this and noted how it fit Holmes' pattern of treatment of others: He played games and adjusted his strategy to whatever seemed necessary to move them around like pawns in some game he played to please himself. Such a manner of man made the detective uneasy. No one could know from what he said what was true... or what he might be planning next.

Yet, Holmes did admit to having had Alice Pitezel, 15, in his custody (after she had helped him to identify her father's corpse for the insurance payoff) and to picking up Howard, eight, and Nellie, 11, and taking them with him. Alice and Nellie had written letters to their mother documenting their daily journey, which Holmes had collected but had never mailed (and which were found in his possession upon his arrest). He told their mother that they were in the care of Minnie Williams, a woman of means in England. This woman had likely kept back their letters, Holmes had suggested, in the interest of her own safety. Yet Geyer had found no trace of Minnie Williams or the children where Holmes had said she would be. In fact, the street name that Holmes offered for where to find her did not exist in London. Instead of going to England, where Holmes clearly was trying to direct him, Geyer focused his efforts on North America.

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