Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

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H.H. Holmes, aka Herman Mudgett
H.H. Holmes, aka Herman

A murder in Philadelphia in 1895 implicated a man named H. H. Holmes, whose real name was Herman Mudgett.  He passed himself off as a doctor and in his wake there were numerous deaths.  Arrested for the Philadelphia murder, Holmes sat in jail while detectives in Chicago went through his three-story "hotel" there.

Not far from the site of the "White City," the name by which the 1892 Chicago World's Fair was known, Holmes had used his "castle" to let rooms to young women arriving in town to attend the fair.  The building included soundproof sleeping chambers with peepholes, gas pipes, sliding walls, and vents that Holmes controlled from another room.  Investigators found secret passages, false floors, rooms with torture equipment, and a specially equipped surgery.  There were also greased chutes that emptied into a two-level cellar, and a very large furnace.  Holmes would apparently place his chosen victims into the special chambers into which he then pumped lethal gas and watched them react.  Sometimes he'd ignite the gas to incinerate them, or place them on the "elasticity determinator," to see how the human body would stretch.  When finished, he presumably slid the corpses down the chutes into his cellar, where vats of acid and other chemicals awaited them.  He would deflesh them and sell the bleached skeletons to medical schools.

Holmes' Own Story
Holmes' Own Story

To exonerate himself, Holmes decided to pen a book about his innocence, Holmes' Own Story, but no one believed him.  He then wrote a confession, paid for by the Hearst newspaper syndicate, admitting to 27 murders.  He insisted that he could not help what he'd done.  "I was born with the Evil One as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world," he lamented.  Yet he expressed no remorse. 

At trial, Holmes used his intelligence and charm to defend himself during the first day, but proved unable to establish saw the jury.  Convicted and sentenced to death, Holmes went to the hangman's noose on May 7, 1896.  Even there he changed his story, and he claimed to have killed only two.  No one knows how many people he actually murdered, but the number may top one hundred.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson

Several books were written about Holmes, but Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City, a 2003 bestseller, sold film rights to Paramount, in part because he describes the development of the World's Fair as well — the "white city" - giving the story a larger cultural context.  Kathryn Bigelow is attached to the project, for Cruise/Wagner films, according to media reports.

For those who can't wait for it, other movies about clever serial killers are already available.


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