Flush with the insurance cash from Pitezel’s death, Holmes took off on his own. In Boston, he met a railroad heiress, Minnie Williams, who became his mistress and stenographer—a position held by many of Holmes’ lady friends who never made it out of the castle alive. Minnie was different, though. Some say she acted as his accomplice. A few months into her stay at the castle Minnie invited her younger sister, Anna, to join her. Anna left Texas at the end of June, 1893, and on July 4th, she wrote home, telling her aunt, “Sister, Brother Harry (meaning Holmes), and myself will leave in a few days for Europe, where I might remain to study art. Brother Harry says you need never trouble any more about me, financially or otherwise; he and sister will see to me.”
At the time she didn’t know how right she was…no one ever heard from Anna Williams again.
Later, Holmes would claim that Minnie killed her sister in a fit of jealously. In his version of events Minnie beat Anna to death with a stool and he assisted Minnie in stuffing the body inside a trunk, weighting it down with lead, and dumping it into Lake Michigan, three miles offshore. This theory could never be proven or disproven, though it seems unlikely since Minnie disappeared shortly after.
Holmes later claimed Minnie was hiding out with the three missing Pitezel children.
During the spring and summer of 1893, while Minnie was still very much alive, at least two other young women vanished after arriving at the castle—supposedly they were Holmes’ mistresses, too. Police believe there are many more whose remains they never recovered. All the girls were beautiful, and many held the position of stenographer. Another of Holmes’ “creative outlets” was photography. In his words, “[he] liked to get a nice, green, young girl fresh from a business college.” More than once he showed photographs to house guests while the model decomposed in the basement.
It’s estimated that he hired more than one-hundred-and-fifty women as notaries to legitimize his fraudulent documents or as “typewriters”—faux directors in his numerous corporations. He told them this was a “badge of merit” when in reality, he was sealing their fate. To all his victims, including the young women, he represented himself as wealthy. In truth, they were usually the wealthy ones, which is what enticed Holmes in the first place.
Eventually Holmes convinced Minnie to sign over the Fort Worth property, worth over $40, ooo., to O. C. Pratt (another of Holmes’ alibis). When she did Holmes sucked it clean of equity in preparation of building on the land. But the creditors lined up before he had the chance. Holmes, being the crafty, manipulative master that he was, lured the Murder Castle’s caretaker, Quinlan, to Texas, then disappeared, leaving Quinlan to face the irate creditors alone.
In what some describe as the most remarkable flight in criminal history, Holmes went into hiding with Georgiana Yolk (his third wife, and perhaps the only woman he truly loved), his mistress, Mrs. Carrie Pitezel, and her two remaining children. The truly fantastic part of this journey—and a testament to the craftiness of H. H. Holmes—is that neither Georgiana nor Carrie knew the other was anywhere near the vicinity, even while on the same train. When they reached a new city Holmes set up Carrie Pitezel in one rooming house, her children in another, and Georgiana in a third—all while using half a dozen forwarding addresses in correspondence in order to keep Mrs. Pitezel’s suspicions about her husband at bay. The numerous schemes, lies, and affairs were so intertwined that even Holmes himself might have had a problem constructing an accurate timeline, never mind investigators ever having a shot of figuring it out.
The Pinkerton Detective Agency was known for chasing criminals from one end of the country to another. They were also the innovators of the mugshot. “We never sleep” was their motto, which would be put to the test with H. H. Holmes when the insurance company that paid the benefits to Mrs. Pitezel hired them to track the widow, as well as Holmes.
In a bizarre twist of irony, the insurance company who hired The Pinkerton Detective Agency because they believed they had been swindled, when in reality they hadn’t (Benjamin Pitezel was in fact dead), would become Holmes’ undoing.
Tracking Holmes’ trail to Toronto, Canada, Detective Frank Geyer found the decomposed remains of the three Pitezel children—one girl was stuffed inside the stove at 16 St. Vincent Lane, a property Holmes rented, and the other was buried in the cellar. Nellie’s feet had been removed to prevent the identification of her club foot. Geyer followed Holmes to Indianapolis, where he’d rented a cottage. Before the murder of his co-conspirator, Pitezel, Holmes had visited a local pharmacy to purchase chloroform and swung by the repair shop to sharpen the knives he used to chop up Pitezel’s son before burning his corpse. Geyer found the boy’s teeth and bits of bone in the chimney at 16 St. Vincent Lane.
How did he kill the two girls?
By forcing them into a large trunk, locking them inside as he drilled a hole into the lid, and then stuck one end of a hose through the opening, filling the trunk with poisonous gas, asphyxiating them to death. What a horrible way to die!
In his haste to allude authorities once Pitezel’s manner of death was changed to homicide, Holmes made one fatal error. He never sent Hedgepeth the $500 finder’s fee. Still in prison, Hedgepeth contacted the warden and informed him of the insurance scam as well as several of Holmes’ more sinister activities that he’d shared during Holmes’ brief stint in jail.
In Boston, Detective Geyer tracked down the elusive H. H. Holmes and arrested him for first degree murder and fraud.
One year later, the police would enter the Murder Castle and discover the horrors inside. Among the chains and numerous death devises they found piles of human and animal bones, bloody undergarments, and a dissection table saturated with dried blood. Chicago police were inundated with reports of people missing from the World’s Fair. Fifty were eventually traced to the castle. But because of the heiness nature of how they were killed it made it difficult to ID them. Most of the bones were crushed into fragments.
The world now dubbed Holmes the Monster of 63rd Street, Torture Doctor, and Modern Bluebeard. Overnight he’d transformed into “The Mighty Murderer,” a nickname dubbed by a journalist. He was more widely known than Jack the Ripper. The Murder Castle piqued people’s curiosity so much that a businessman bought it in order to turn into a morbid tourist attraction. Days before the “museum” was set to open the castle mysteriously burned to the ground.
Obviously someone, probably a family member of one his victims or a neighbor, didn’t want the castle to draw this type of attention.
Now behind bars, Holmes wrote an autobiography entitled Holmes Own Story to appeal to the public for a “fair trial.” He was desperately trying to convince them he was innocent.
In October 1895, a trial date was set. The trial of the century, filled with manipulation and theatrics, would shock spectators for years to come. Holmes dismissed his counsel in an attempt to control the courtroom.
On the third day of trial, Mrs. Carrie Pitezel took the witness stand, recounting the insurance fraud and Holmes’ taking her three children across the country, never allowing her to see them again. The entire courtroom cried with her, even the judge and the detectives who worked the case…everyone except H. H. Holmes, who seemed indifferent as he doodled on a notepad. The letters she’d written to her parents, the ones Holmes intercepted and police later found in his custody, gave the prosecutor a perfect timeline of events.
With the cards quickly stacking against him Holmes hired a new attorney to take over.
As the days roll into weeks the courthouse crowd grew. Georgiana Yolk took the stand. By the mere sight of his wife, Holmes fell apart, sobbing uncontrollably. Georgiana told all she knew about her husband, but unfortunately, she wasn’t privy to the darker side of his personality.
Holmes’ new attorney offered no witnesses. Holmes made no statement of his own.
Not one juror looked him in the eye when they entered the courtroom to read the verdict. Guilty on all counts.
Now behind bars, William Hurst offered Holmes a large sum of cash in exchange for the confession of every crime he’d ever committed, and Holmes accepted. It’s here where authorities learn the true details of Pitezel’s horrifying death. Holmes bound his hands and feet, then burned him alive with Benzine, igniting him with a match.
On those final days while Holmes awaited his hanging he believed he was literally morphing into the devil himself, with an elongated face and horns protruding through his scalp.
On May 7th, 1896 @ 10:25 a.m. H. H. Holmes was hanged…nine days before his 35th birthday. Right before he died he recanted his confession and said his autobiography was a complete fabrication. Because he was concerned his body would be dug up by “medical men” he requested his grave be filled with concrete, which it was. No one knows for sure how many victims Holmes killed during his reign of terror, but speculation puts the number in the hundreds if not thousands, at the height of the World Fair.