|H.H. Holmes Murder Castle on the corner of Wallace and 63rd streets in Chicago. This is the 63rd Street View. (unknown date)|
|This is a cabinet photo of the H.H. Holmes Murder Castle looking northwest towards 63rd street in Chicago. This location is now the Englewood Post Office. This photo was taken on the Wallace Street side of the building, note the tracks on Wallace. (unknown date)|
Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore where he built his three-story, block-long hotel building. Because of its enormous structure, local people dubbed it “The Castle”. The building was 162 feet long and 50 feet wide. The address was 601-603 West 63rd Street. It was called the World’s Fair Hotel and opened as a hostelry for the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, with part of the structure devoted to commercial space. The ground floor of the Castle contained Holmes’ own relocated drugstore and various shops, while the upper two floors contained his personal office and a labyrinth of rooms with doorways opening to brick walls, oddly angled hallways, stairways leading to nowhere, doors that could only be opened from the outside and a host of other strange and deceptive constructions. Holmes was constantly firing and hiring different workers during the construction of the Castle, claiming that “they were doing incompetent work.” His actual reason was to ensure that he was the only one who fully understood the design of the building.
|Note the 4th floor has been removed.|
|CLICK ON ILLUSTRATION FOR A FULL-SIZE VIEW|
One victim was his mistress, Julia Smythe. She was the wife of Ned Conner, who had moved into Holmes’ building and began working at his pharmacy’s jewelry counter. Holmes began an affair with Smythe. After Conner had found out about the affair, he quit his job and moved away, leaving Smythe and her daughter Pearl behind. Smythe gained custody of Pearl and remained at the hotel, continuing her affair with Holmes. In 1891, Smythe told Holmes that she was pregnant with his baby, and demanded marriage. Holmes agreed to marry her but told her that they could not have a child. He then suggested performing an abortion, and she agreed. The abortion was planned for Christmas Eve. Holmes murdered Smythe by overdosing her with chloroform and later killed Pearl too. When confronted by a tenant in the building, who questioned the whereabouts of Smythe and her daughter, Holmes said that they had left for Iowa to attend a family wedding.
After Christmas, Holmes hired a man named Charles Chappell to articulate Smythe’s skeleton. Holmes introduced himself to Chappell as “Henry Gordon” and took him to one of the rooms on the second floor to show him the body. After some discussion, they agreed that Chappell would put the arms in a bag and take them home to articulate them, and Holmes would do the rest of the body. After Chappell had arrived home with the weapons, Holmes and another man (possibly Pitezel) showed up at the door and gave him the rest of the body, which was cut into two pieces. Holmes later hired Chappell again and took him to the same room to process the body of a victim. The third job was for the body of another woman. After Chappell had finished the third skeleton, Holmes refused to pay the money he owed him, due to some financial trouble; Chappell then refused to give the bones back to Holmes and kept them in his home. After Holmes was caught and his crimes became public, Chappell cooperated with the police and gave them the skull for examination. The room where Holmes kept the three bodies was later identified by investigators as “the room of the three corpses.”
Holmes met a railroad heiress, named Minnie Williams, while on a business trip in Boston. He introduced himself to her as “Henry Gordon”. They started dating and then entered into a relationship. Although Holmes had to return to Chicago, he kept in touch with Williams and sent her love letters. In February 1893, she moved to Chicago and contacted Holmes. He offered her a job at the hotel as his personal stenographer, and she accepted. After rekindling their relationship, Holmes was able to persuade Williams to transfer the deed to her property in Fort Worth, Texas to a man named Alexander Bond (an alias of Holmes). In April 1893, Williams transferred the deed, with Holmes serving as the notary (Holmes later signed the deed over to Pitezel, giving him the alias “Benton T. Lyman”). After proposing to Williams, Holmes encouraged her to invite her sister Annie to Chicago, and she accepted the invitation. Holmes eventually started a friendship with Annie Williams and even gave her a personal tour of the hotel. While working in his office, Holmes asked Annie to go inside his office vault to get a file for him. While she was inside the vault, Holmes locked her inside and turned on the gas line that led to the vault, killing her. About the same time, Minnie Williams also mysteriously “vanished”.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.