America’s First Serial Killer

I found a YouTube channel last week that I absolutely love. They research important and famous people from history and make a video about them. After watching one about Elizabeth Bathory, I decided that I wanted to watch more of their videos.

Since I was fascinated by Bathory and the atrocities that she committed in Europe in the early 1600s, the title “America’s First Serial Killer” captured my attention. Serial killers are fascinating, to begin with, but this particular murderer was not only a monster, but he was an intelligent one.

Herman Webster Mudgett

Herman Mudgett was born in 1861 in New Hampshire and was raised in an affluent family. Mudgett showed signs of high intelligence early in his life. From a young age, he was fascinated with skeletons and death. His interest in medicine led him to “practice” surgery on animals from a young age. There are also rumors that he might have killed a childhood friend, but it was never confirmed.

Beginning of Criminal Career

Mudgett officially began his criminal career in medical school, where he used to steal bodies to make false insurance claims and steal the money from them. The scam included signing up for insurance under that person and then staging it as if the person died recently. Then, when the insurance money came in, he would pocket it. Some sources state that Mudgett also used the bodies for experiments and enjoyed dissecting them to “study.”

After graduating from medical school, Mudgett was hired to work in a pharmacy under the alias H.H. Holmes. How Mudgett became the owner of the business varies based on the source. Some sources claim that the owner died and left the business to his wife, who later disappeared. Other sources say both husband and wife disappeared, and yet another source says that Mudgett convinced the couple to sell him the business and retire.

Murder Castle

Mudgett bought the lot across from the pharmacy and began to build his “Murder Castle,” which he disguised as a house and later a hotel. To keep his plans secret, he hired and fired multiple construction companies, so they were unaware of everything being put into this building. It included trap doors, soundproof rooms, doors locked from the outside, and even gas lines so Mudgett could asphyxiate his guests when he wanted to.

His basement was set up as his laboratory, where he would take the bodies and dissect them. Sometimes he would cut down to the skeleton and sell them to medical schools, while other times, he would put them in the kiln to burn the bodies and get rid of the evidence.

Mudgett would advertise his “castle” as a place for women to lodge, but after his victims entered the castle, they didn’t leave. Witnesses saw multiple women enter the building but never saw them leave. He also was engaged and married multiple times–sometimes at the same time as other marriages–but his fiancés and wives always seemed to disappear. Any woman who worked at the “Murder Castle” would disappear, and he would explain to anyone who asked that the missing women went to Europe to be married.

The Pitezel Scheme

After being thrown in jail for a different scheme, Mudgett met and confided in Marion Hedgepeth, another inmate. Mudgett disclosed information on a scheme that he was planning with a friend that included a big payout. The plan was to help Benjamin Pitezel fake his own death, and then they would split the $10,000 life insurance payout. Though he used yet another alias when talking to Hedgepeth, Hedgepath would later help authorities discover that Mudgett and Holmes were the same person.

When Pitezel started rethinking the whole scheme, Mudgett killed him. He convinced Pitezel’s widow that her husband had owed him money. Then, depending on the source, Mudgett either convinced the widow to allow him to travel with three of her five children, or he kidnapped them. As he was traveling with the children, the authorities started tracking him. Afraid that the children were slowing him down, he killed them and continued to evade the police.

The Arrest

After weeks of outrunning the police, Mudgett was captured and arrested in November of 1894. During his time in custody, he admitted to killing 27 people. Even with this confession, authorities were unable to determine the number of victims. The range is anywhere between 20 people and 200 people. Herman Mudgett, also known as H.H. Holmes, was hanged on May 7, 1896 for the Pitezel murder.

Learn More

If you are interested in reading more, I have linked all of my sources within the post above. I also linked the YouTube video about H.H. Holmes above, and you can find the whole YouTube channel here. I like learning about people in history, so I will be watching more videos from this channel and researching them. Have a wonderful week, and as always, happy learning!