H.H. HOLMES AND THE DAY LITTLE HOWIE MET HIS MAKER

Herman Webster Mudgett, more commonly known as H.H. Holmes was a notorious swindler, serial killer and designer of the infamous ‘Murder Castle. A three story monstrosity built to accommodate guests during the 1893 World’s Fair. It was a labyrinth-like structure which covered the entire block at 63rd & Wallace in Chicago. Over 100 legendary rooms of horror awaited his unsuspecting guests replete with trapdoors, chutes into acid vats, staircases to nowhere and a even a giant stove to accommodate their bodies. After committing countless dastardly deeds, the heat was on so Holmes hit the road, zigzagging through various states and ending up in the quaint little town of Irvington, Indiana.

Founded in 1870, this little suburb of Indianapolis is so charming the town’s founders, Sylvester Johnson and Jacob Julian couldn’t help but notice it’s resemblance to legendary Sleepy Hollow and decided to name the idyllic spot for the books author, Washington Irving.

Holmes arrived in Irvington on Friday, October 5th, 1894 and rented a house in the 5800 block of Julian Avenue. Just five days later, he would kill 8 year-old Howard Pitezel in that house. Little Howie was the son of Ben Pitezel, Holmes’s former business partner. Holmes killed Ben after the pair concocted a scheme to defraud an insurance company to the tune of 10 grand. The plan was to use a substitute corpse to play the part of Ben, however in the end Holmes actually killed his partner in crime, no body double necessary. The late Ben and his wife Carrie had five children but after her husband’s untimely death, distraught Carrie would bequeath three of them (Alice, Nellie and Howard) to the care of H.H. Holmes! Gee thanks, mom.

By the time Holmes and Howie arrived in Irvington, H.H. had already killed Alice and Nellie by forcing them into a trunk that had a hole drilled into the lid where he placed a hose that was attached to a gas line, thereby asphyxiating them. He would bury their nude bodies in the cellar of a rented house in Toronto.

With one remaining Pitezel in tow, it seems Holmes’s babysitting days were numbered, he decided October 10th would be the day little Howard would meet his maker. He first poisoned then strangled the boy inside the house in Irvington. Fragments of Howard’s bones and teeth would eventually be found in the home’s fireplace. Once again Holmes decided he should get outta dodge, so he hit the road.

By this time, mother Carrie had a moment of clarity and hired Philadelphia detective
Frank Geyer to find her kids, while it was too little, too late for her children, Geyer would, eventually, locate all of their remains.

The story of H.H. Holmes has as many twists and turns as a staircase in his notorious murder castle and I will suffice it to say he was eventually arrested in Boston on November 17, 1894. Soon after he was tried in Philadelphia for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, he was sentenced to death. Incidentally he would also confess via written testimony to 27 other killings, though many believe the number closer to 200. Fianlly on May 7, 1896, Holmes walked to the gallows at Moyamensing Prison in Philly reportedly asking the hangman to not “bungle” his execution. Hey, not everyone is as talented as H.H. Holmes, right? It was reported in newspapers worldwide that it would take a full 10 minutes for his body to stop twitching.

Rumor had it that the Irvington, Indiana house where Holmes killed young Howie was destroyed, but according to Irvington Historical Society Executive Director Steve Barnett it still stands to this day. You see back in 1910 the house and surrounding property were purchased by William Clarence Brydon.
He decided to subdivide the large plot of land into eight seperate lots. In order to do so, he had the house lifted from it’s foundation and moved to an area that was then referred to as lot 4 of Brydon’s subdivision. When the house was placed onto lot 4, it was also turned to face a different street. If you look into the original permits for the subdivision you can see this story is corroborated as seven new building permits were issued and one permit to remodel an existing structure.

So there you have it, due to it’s reorientation Irvington’s own little murder house had a new address; just another twist in the tangled tale of America’s first serial killer.

SOURCE CITATIONS

Hunter, Al. What Really Happened to the H.H. Holmes House The Weekly, October 19, 2017

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