If you were staying at the World’s Fair Hotel — more commonly known as the H.H. Holmes house, or “murder mansion” — you might run up a flight of stairs and find that it led to nowhere.
You’d open doors and see only solid brick. You’d enter a bedroom, hear hidden pipes quietly come alive, and smell the gas seeping in. You’d try to run and realize you were locked in. And even if the door opened, you probably couldn’t find your way out.
Only H.H. Holmes himself ever knew all of the castle’s secrets — including how many people died within its walls.
One of history’s most infamous serial killers, Holmes came to Chicago in 1886.
Born Herman Webster Mudgett, he had changed his name to escape previous scandals.
Like in college, when he worked in the anatomy lab and mutilated cadavers to defraud life insurance companies. Or when he was the last person to have been seen with a missing little boy in New York. Or when he worked as a pharmacist in Philadelphia and a young customer died after taking pills that he had provided.
Mudgett skipped town after all of these incidents and eventually became Henry Howard Holmes, who — soon after his arrival in the Windy City — got a job in a drugstore on 63rd Street.
Holmes was fashionable, bright, and charming. He was so likable, in fact, that at one point in his life he was married to three unknowing women at once.
In 1887, he bought the empty lot across the street from the store, where he worked as a clerk, and began construction on a three-story building, which he said would be used for apartments and shops.
The structure was ugly and large — containing more than 100 rooms and stretching for an entire block.
The first floor was for storefronts, the third floor held apartments, and the second floor and basement hid the elaborate horrors for which the H.H. Holmes house is now famous.