H.H. Holmes | Biography & Facts (2024)

American serial killer


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Also known as: Herman Mudgett

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John Philip Jenkins Distinguished Professor of History, Baylor University. Author of A History of the United States, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in America, Synthetic Panics: The Symbolic...

John Philip Jenkins

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Last Updated: Article History

H.H. Holmes

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Byname of:
Herman Mudgett
May 16, 1861?, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, U.S.
May 7, 1896, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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H.H. Holmes (born May 16, 1861?, Gilmanton, New Hampshire, U.S.—died May 7, 1896, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) was an American swindler and confidence trickster who is widely considered the country’s first known serial killer.

Mudgett was born into a wealthy family and showed signs of high intelligence from an early age. Always interested in medicine, he allegedly trapped animals and performed surgery on them; some accounts of his life even suggest that he killed a childhood playmate. Mudgett attended medical school at the University of Michigan, where he was a mediocre student. In 1884 he was nearly prevented from graduating when a widowed hairdresser accused him of making a false promise of marriage to her.

Britannica QuizFamous Serial Killers

In 1886 Mudgett moved to Chicago and took a job as a pharmacist under the name “Dr. H.H. Holmes.” Soon afterward he apparently began killing people in order to steal their property. The house he built for himself, which would become known as “Murder Castle,” was equipped with secret passages, trapdoors, soundproof rooms, doors that could be locked from the outside, gas jets to asphyxiate victims, and a kiln to cremate the bodies. At the reputed peak of his career, during the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, he allegedly seduced and murdered a number of women, typically by becoming engaged to them and then killing them after securing control of their life savings. Mudgett also required his employees to carry life insurance policies naming him as beneficiary so that he could collect money after he killed them. He sold the bodies of many of his victims to local medical schools.

In 1893 Mudgett was arrested for insurance fraud after a fire at his home, but he was soon released. He then concocted a scheme with an associate, Ben Pitezel, to defraud an insurance company by faking Pitezel’s death. After Pitezel purchased a $10,000 life insurance policy, he and Mudgett traveled to Colorado, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas, where they committed other acts of fraud (along the way, Mudgett also married). Returning to Missouri, Mudgett was arrested for fraud and briefly jailed in St. Louis. While in jail he met Marion Hedgepeth, a career criminal who agreed to help Mudgett in the insurance scheme with Pitezel. Meanwhile, Pitezel moved to Philadelphia and opened a fake patent office to swindle inventors. After his release from jail, Mudgett traveled to Philadelphia and killed Pitezel. He then convinced Pitezel’s widow, who had been aware of her husband’s involvement in the insurance scheme, that her husband was still alive, later giving her $500 of the money he collected. Worried that some of Pitezel’s five children might alert the authorities, Mudgett killed three of them. Insurance investigators were alerted to the fraud by Hedgepeth, and Mudgett was arrested in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1894. He was tried in Philadelphia for the murder of Pitezel and was sentenced to death by hanging.

Mudgett confessed to 27 murders (he later increased the total to more than 130), though some researchers have suggested that the real number exceeded 200. Mudgett sold his story to the Hearst Corporation for $10,000.

John Philip Jenkins The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica

H.H. Holmes | Biography & Facts (2024)


What are some interesting facts about HH Holmes? ›

Henry Howard Holmes, is one of America's first noted serial murderers. He killed at least 27 women during the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition (e.g., World's Fair) in Chicago. In addition to murder, Holmes enjoyed performing extreme forms of torture and mutilation on those he lured into traps.

How did HH Holmes change the world? ›

Impact on society

After the H.H. Holmes murders, law enforcement in Chicago became noteworthy. Doctors were more heavily vetted, and people took greater care in trusting recommendations, as well as letting loved ones know where they were. Those simple precautions took Chicago from a dangerous city to a safer haven.

Who did HH Holmes confess to killing? ›

“Holmes Writing His Confession.” The Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday April 12, 1896. Holmes admits to murdering two young women in a row, Miss Anna Betts and Miss Gertrude Conner, solely so he might be called to witness their deaths. That's really the entire story.

Did HH Holmes have a child? ›

Personal life. On July 4, 1878, Holmes married Clara Lovering in Alton, New Hampshire. They had one son, Robert Lovering Mudgett (February 3, 1880 – November 3, 1956), who was born in Loudon. Robert went on to become a certified public accountant and served as city manager of Orlando, Florida.

Who was the first serial killer in history? ›

Today, though, those achievements can only be seen in the shadow of the secret life he led as the perpetrator of more than a hundred gruesome child murders, a rampage which made him arguably the first serial killer in recorded history. The early life of Gilles de Rais was marked by tragedy.

How many kills did HH Holmes do? ›

During his time in custody, he gave numerous stories to police, once admitting to killing 27 people. Convicted in 1895, Holmes appealed his case but lost. Estimates of the total number of people Holmes killed range from 20 to as many as 200 victims.

How did Holmes get caught? ›

In 1894, Marion Hedgepath, who was angry that he did not receive any money in the initial scam, told police about the scam Holmes had planned. The police tracked Holmes, finally catching up to him in Boston where they arrested him and held him on an outstanding warrant for the Texas horse swindle.

How tall was H.H. Holmes? ›

H. H. Holmes
Height5 ft 8 in (173 cm)
Spouse(s)Clara Lovering ( m. 1878) Myrta Belknap ( m. 1886) Minnie Williams ( m. 1893) Georgiana Yoke ( m. 1894)
Conviction(s)First-degree murder
Criminal penaltyDeath by hanging
12 more rows

Who is the serial killer in the castle? ›

Jerry Tyson
Jerry Tyson
Vital Statistics
AKAThe Triple Killer 3XK
8 more rows

Is there a movie about H.H. Holmes? ›

Did H. H. Holmes have blue eyes? ›

H. H. Holmes Quotes in The Devil in the White City. He had dark hair and striking blue eyes, once likened to the eyes of a Mesmerist.

Could Jack the Ripper be H. H. Holmes? ›

However, attorney Jeff Mudgett, Holmes' great-great-grandson, claimed that it was indeed H. Holmes, who was never caught, who turned out to be Jack the Ripper.

What happened to H. H. Holmes' first wife? ›

During that time, he married his first wife, Clara Lovering in 1878. They had one son together but in 1884 Clara left Holmes and returned to her parent's home due to reported abuse. They never reconciled, but also never divorced.

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