Victorian Criminologist’s HH Holmes Data Discovered

In the middle of researching HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, a podcaster asked me if I’d found everything, or if research was just for completism. If I remember right, I said I was mostly looking for minor details at this point, but you never know what you might find.

Only days later, I made a find that went almost beyond my wildest dreams.

In picking out local Philadelphia coverage of Holmes’ imprisonment as he awaited execution, I ran into several articles about a noted criminologist named Arthur MacDonald (or, in some articles, Alexander MacDonald). He made the news by applying for permission to have Holmes be strapped to a kymographion – a device that measure’s one breathing rate – while he was being hanged.

The application was denied, but MacDonald was allowed to visit Holmes in prison, where he subjected him to all of these wonderful toys:

Dr. MacDonald's wonderful toys - he was well respected in his time, but it mostly looks like Victorian junk science today.

Dr. MacDonald’s wonderful toys – he was well respected in his time, but it mostly looks like Victorian junk science today.

Most of the data he gathered by subjecting Holmes to these was utterly useless today – they’re barely a step above throwing Holmes in the water and saying he was a witch if he floated.  However, in a couple of the articles about him, MacDonald claimed that he he had been in touch with more than 200 of Holmes’ old associates asking for anecdotes about his character. Now, those, if they were still extant, would be something to see!

Digging deeper on MacDonald, I found that he had published all or part of about 30 of the letters in a book entitled Man or Abnormal Man, in a chapter called “The Case of H.” He didn’t mention Holmes by name (though it’s absolutely obvious that it’s him), which is probably why nothing written about Holmes before seems to use them as a source. Turning the pages and seeing just how many letters there were, my eyes got wider and wider, and I got so excited that I could barely contain myself. This was the kind of find you dream of making!

And, as a source, they’re an absolute treasure trove. The bulk of the letters came from old colleagues and professors from medical school, and give us a much clearer picture than we had before of his college days, his aptitude as a student, his living situation, and his relationship at the time with his firs wife, Clara, and their son, Robert, who lived with him in Ann Arbor for a while. We learn that his college nickname was “Smegma,” details about a breach of promise suit, what his professors thought of him, a lot about his domestic life, and some gruesome anecdotes about his prowess in the dissecting room.

There was also, perhaps most importantly, a letter from Clara Lovering-Mudgett herself, the clearest comment I’ve ever seen from (there were only a few quotes from her in newspapers, and many of them I don’t really buy as reliable). Elsewhere were letters from Marion Hedgepeth, his old cellmate, a childhood neighbor, Carrie Pitezel’s father, a castle resident, and more.

Of course, 30 letters is not 200. Perhaps MacDonald was exaggerating, but perhaps there are another 170 out there yet. I’ve checked with a university library that has his archives, but the search came up empty.

I wound up quoting them at length and referring to them frequently in HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, but it was too big a find to simply sit on and refer to. Hence, I’ve included all of them (with notes on who the anonymous writer was, when I could identify them) as an appendix in Very Truly Yours, HH Holmes, a new ebook collection of Holmes letters, writings, confessions, affidavits and more. It’s sort of a supplement to the official book, containing 150k words (about 700 pages!) of data, all either primary source material on Holmes or an important contemporary document that helped the legend grow (such as the New York World’s phony version of his forthcoming confession). Most of them have not been republished in over a century, and many of the cross-examinations, legal statements, and affidavits have never been publicly available at all. Check it out!


Podcast: She Dreamed of a Skeleton

Listen above, at or check out the podcast on iTunes!  

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Chicago papers published a number of articles about how many ghost stories there were on Sheridan Road. One of them came up just a bit in my HH Holmes research – the legend of a woman who dreamed for several nights that a body was buried in the Evanston Woods, near murderer Holmes’ old house in Wilmette. Upon sending her husband to dig in the spot, a skeleton was found.

I’d never given the story too much though, but further research today finally dug up some news stories from when the skeleton was first found in September, 1896. And checking the microfilms for Chicago papers back then blew the whole story wide open. Give a listen to the podcast to see what happened!

Chicago’s Newest Ghost: Rose Hill Pedro!

(listen to the podcast above, or see us on iTunes!)

So, here’s a tale for you all:

In the winter, I drive for Lyft, one of those “taxi alternative” apps. And I love it – I always had this secret dream of being a cab driver, living like a character in an early Tom Waits song. Which is exactly what the job is like. I drive strippers to job interviews, get medical students liquored up before their first cadavers, and, fairly often, turn the ride into a historical tour. I end up one on my ghost tour route all the time, and frequently bring passengers to buildings that I talk about on my architecture tours. I have a “passenger notebook” where people add drawings and plug their bands – check out its Twitter page. 

On the evening of Sunday, Jan 14, 2017, I picked up a young woman in Rogers Park, on Ashland just above Pratt. A guy who looked like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite got in with her, sitting behind me. As we drove along I made basic small talk (“So, you two live in Ravenswood? How do you like it?”), and noted that I seemed to be ended up around Rose Hill Cemetery a lot when we passed over the road that leads to the gate. She asked if I’d ever been there, and I talk about how I actually give walking tours there as the GPS took me along a road right beside the gate. It was a very pleasant ride all around.

When I pulled over at the Ravenswood address, she got out of the car – and no one else did.

“Wasn’t there someone else in the car with you?” I asked.

“No!” she said with a laugh. “I wondered why you kept saying ‘you two!'”

This is the sort of thing that can happen in the dark – I must have thought a guy on the sidewalk was getting in with her, but he didn’t. I was focused on looking ahead of me or at the map for the most part, not behind me. I’d brush it off as just pure silliness except that, well, we DID drive right by Rose Hill Cemetery!   I immediately pulled over and tweeted out the story – it appeared that we had a new hitchhiker in town to compete with Resurrection Mary: Rose Hill Pedro! If you believe in Rose Hill Pedro, all your wildest dreams will come true…

Now, I’m hesitant even to tell this story, because, having worked in the ghost tour biz for a decade and having written numerous books on ghostlore, I’m the LAST guy you should consider a reliable source – it’s in my direct financial interest to see a ghost. Also, I assume it wasn’t really a ghost – the woman in the car didn’t see anyone else there, after all, and I’m not the sort of person who thinks he can see things that other people can’t (unless I’m talking to people who didn’t like the movie Sing Street, in which case I obviously can). And I’m not holding this up as serious evidence of the paranormal – it’s far more likely this was just the result of my brain playing tricks on me in the dark – except that I’m pretty sure I DID look in the rear view mirror and see the guy once, shortly before we came to Rose Hill.

So, I’m 100% sure that I did not give a dead person a ride home.

Well, 95%.

And, honestly, having investigated ghost stories for years, I’d say that if I’d collected the same story from someone else, it would be in my top 5% of ghost sightings. It gives me some first-hand insight of where some of these stories come from. Even after figuring out what must have really happened, I’ll admit that I felt spooked for a bit when I got home! If I wasn’t as skeptical as I am, or not as familiar with this sort of thing, it could easily have grown into a much wilder tale, first in my mind and then in my eventual retellings.

So Rose Hill Pedro now joins the ranks of Resurrection Mary and The Vanishing Flapper among Chicago’s vanishing hitchhikers. Welcome to the club, Rose Hill Pedro!


“I Keep the Tavern Like Hell and Play the Fiddle Like the Devil”


Mark Beaubien, Chicago’s original musician, taken from an oil painting that may not still be extant.

In 1880, the Calumet Club held their annual reunion of early Chicago settlers. Now approaching a population of a million, half a century before Chicago had been little more than a mud-hole, where, one settler remembered, a typical sunday consisted of taking champagne to church to drink the preacher’s health, then hanging around the church door shooting pigeons and prairie hens.

Midway through the reception, a club member informed Mark Beaubien, a settler who was then nearly eighty years old, that someone had requested that he play his violin. Beaubien replied with something to the effect of “I never played the violin. I played the fiddle.”

But one of his old fiddles was produced, and Mark tuned it up, spit on the strings, and played a tune, tapping a table with his foot, while 80 year old men danced reels, just as they had in his tavern nearly half a century before.

At the previous year’s reception, Mark had played them a tune called “The Devil’s Dream,” which seems particularly appropriate, given that his most famous quote is “I keep the tavern like Hell, and I play the fiddle like the Devil.”

This fiddle-playing took place well before there were any theaters or music halls in town – just the tavern attached to Beaubien’s Sauganash Hotel at what is now the corner of Wacker and Lake, just beside the Chicago River. It was, by some accounts, Chicago’s first frame house, but it wasn’t exactly the height of luxury. Anyone who asked for a mattress to sleep on would have been laughed at – Mark rented blankets for fifty cents per night. According to one account, Mark would rent someone a blanket, wait until that person fell asleep on the floor, then take the blanket and rent it to someone else, repeating the trick several times per night.


Beaubien’s Sauganash Hotel, Wacker and Lake (then Market and Lake).

But it was the fiddle that people remembered. Long into the night, as some danced and some gambled (and some tried to sleep on the floor beneath their rented blankets), Mark would play songs like “Money Musk,” “Indian Solo,” and “Believe Me If All those Endearing Young Charms.”  Notably for the time, the dancers often included people of multiple races. He was particularly friendly with the local Potawatomie Indians.

Long John Wentworth, an early mayor, remembered that Mark was always available for parties, and if his strings all broke (as they sometimes did), he could just hum the dance music.” Wentworth also noted that Beaubien particularly enjoyed singing satirical songs making fun of General Hull, who had ordered the evacuation of Fort Dearborn in 1812. He had been present when Hull surrendered Detroit to the British.

Beaubien died in 1881, survived by just a few of his twenty-three children. The Chicago Historical Society still has a fiddle said to have belonged to him, and a 1930s Tribune article notes than when their museum at North and Clark first opened, there was a recreation of the Sauganash Hotel set up inside of it, featuring a recording of period music made using the Beaubien fiddle and a flute from Fort Dearborn.

The exact provenance of this fiddle is hard to determine – a few early sources state that Beaubien only ever owned one of them, which he bequeathed on his deathbed to Long John Wentworth, who then gave it to the Calumet Club. But that fiddle was burned up in a fire in 1893. The one currently in the museum was one reportedly given to one of Beaubien’s nephews around 1860.

A rare photo of Beaubien from late in his life. Source uknown.

A rare photo of Beaubien from late in his life. Source uknown.

HH Holmes “Murder Castle” Architect’s Diagram Discovered

I’ve been sitting on the above photo for quite a while, but now that advance copies of my book, HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil, are going around and they include it, I figure it’s time to release this one to the wilds of the internet.

The initial construction of the building now known as the HH Holmes “Murder Castle” took place in 1887 – at the time, it was just a two story building, with retail on one floor and apartments on the next. The third floor, which was ostensibly to be used as hotel rooms, was added in 1892.

The details for both phases of construction are well documented for one simple reason: Holmes didn’t pay his bills. In 1888, he was sued by Aetna Iron and Steel, who provided materials and labor. The architects sued him as part of the same lawsuit. Later suits with suppliers, investors, and insurance companies give excellent insight into more details.

Though I’ve found about 60 Holmes-related lawsuits in the legal archives, Aetna Iron and Steel vs Lucy T. Belknap (Holmes’ mother-in-law), is probably the one with the best info. Dragging on for over a year, Holmes filed affidavits telling the story of building the place, personally cross-examined a couple of workers, and more. There’s a ton of exciting data folded into the suit.

But nothing is quite as cool as the castle diagram, drawn by architect Edward Gallauner on a large sheet of very thin paper:

The Murder Castle architect's diagram, unfolded in the legal archives in Chicago, where it was folded into old lawsuit paperwork.

The Murder Castle architect’s diagram, unfolded in the legal archives in Chicago, where it was folded into old lawsuit paperwork.



It shows only the front portion that will face 63rd Street, and doesn’t have anything as lurid as, say, “torture equipment here,” (the bits about torture gear in the castle wouldn’t become part of the story until the 1940s), but it does give the exact dimensions of the front of the place. Other descriptions of it vary a little bit as to exactly how wide the place was.

Just for some perspective to help you see what we’re looking at here, here’s the diagram with the famous New York World diagram of the second floor overlaid:

The NY World diagram of the castle overlaid on the original architect's diagram

The NY World diagram of the castle overlaid on the original architect’s diagram

I’ll be covering more of the suit in a couple of upcoming blog posts, and transcribing some of the most important bits in Very Truly Yours, HH Holmes, a supplement to HH Holmes: The True Story of the White City Devil, which will include over 120k words of Holmes’ letters, statements, articles, confessions, affidavits, and more, many of which have never been published, and many more of which haven’t seen print since the 1890s.

In the mean time, here’s another plug for HH Holmes: The True History of the White City Devil,

New Master List of HH Holmes Victims

I spent much of the last year digging through thousands of sources working on my new book, H.H. Holmes: The True History of the White City Devildue in April 2017 from SkyHorse. Over the next few months, I’ll be putting up a few major Holmes posts that I’ve been sitting on, including the newly-discovered architect’s diagram of the first floor of the “castle,” a lengthy post establishing whether he could have possibly been Jack the Ripper, and more.  To start with, here’s my master list of Holmes victims.

The commonly-repeated figure that Holmes killed as many as 200 people was first suggested in 1940. Before that, the high estimate had been 27, the number he confessed to. But a great many of those people were still alive, apparently fictional, or known to have died of natural characters. The actual agreed-upon figure stands at nine, and even five of those are murders for which he probably couldn’t have been convicted.  Beyond that, newspapers, letters, and legal documents introduce a host of other names, some of which were quickly debunked, and some of which were never fully investigated.

Here, then, is my list:


Ben Pitezel, 1894

Howard Pitezel, 1894

Alice Pitezel, 1894

Nellie Pitezel, 1894

These four, a father and his three children, were killed throughout North America in autumn, 1894. In all cases, the bodies were recovered and identified (Howard’s body was too badly destroyed to be identified, but there was no doubt that the charred remains were his). He was convicted only of Benjamin’s murder, but sure would have been convicted of the others if he’d stood trial for them.








Though bones found in the “castle” basement were likely Pearl’s, forensics were not good enough at the time to be sure. Though Julia, Emeline and the Williams sisters disappeared, their bodies were never recovered, and rumors that Holmes sold their skeletons to medical reehools didn’t hold up to any fact-checking in 1895. Holmes was relatively consistent in saying that Julia and Emeline died during illegal abortions, and told one of his attorneys that he’d killed Julia. However, no bodies were ever positively identified, and it’s unlikely that Holmes would have been convicted in court of these ones. That said, there’s no real reason to doubt that he killed them.


These are victims who were mentioned in the press, or by Holmes himself in his various writings, between 1894-1896. In most cases, the stories were not investigated in enough depth to be confirmed or denied, but in most cases they were probably just talk. Many were probably still alive, others likely never existed at all.   (The story that over fifty missing World’s Fair patrons could be traced to the “castle” was invented by Herbert Asbury, the same writer who first suggested that the total number of victims could be in the hundreds).

Emily Van Tassel (alias Edna Darby, also referred to as Rossine van Jassand, Anna van Tassaud, and Roma Van Tassaud) – suggested by her mother as a possible victim; police seemed to take stories about her more seriously than other rumors. As late as 1897, her name was cited in a list of suspected victims that Chief Badenoch used to justify having kept the Quinlans in the “sweat box” when they tried to sue him.[i] Inspector Gary said she was still alive in 1896, though he gave no further information, and her mother still believed she was missing, at the very least.

KITTY KELLY – a few late July papers stated that Quinlan had told the police about a drug store clerk or stenographer by this name who’d been missing since 1892; likely a miscommunication about Mary Kelly, who was alive. Never really investigated.

HARRY WALKER – rumored insurance victim said to have met with Holmes (under the name Waldo Bankhorn or Manford Petzle) in Indianapolis, taken a job working for him, and then vanished. He may have been one of the unnamed victims in the 1896 confession; attorney Duncombe remembered Holmes being involved with an Indiana man in some capacity. It may be worth noting that there was a Harry Walker among Holmes’ classmates at the University of Michigan.

GEORGE H. THOMAS (or THOMAS GREGSAN) – rumored victim of Holmes and/or Pitezel in Mississippi, late June 1894. The affidavit Myrta allegedly filed about this case may still exist someplace, but the story was never fully investigated, as the judge who claimed to have the affidavit in late 1895 is not known to have made the contents public. Newspapers used enough actual names and dates to make the story seem rather credible, though.

JOHN DuBREUIL – a wealthy early investor in the “castle” property, along with his lawyer, F.A. Woodbury, who later represented Holmes for a while. DuBreuil collapsed in the castle drug store in April, 1891, and died shortly after Holmes poured a black liquid down his throat, according to a witness. Foul play was not suspected, but when a creditor of Holmes dies in this manner, it’s worth noting. It was also said in 1895 that DuBrueil’s life had been insured, though there’s no indication that Holmes profited from it.

ELIZABETH DuBREUIL – John’s wife, who died in 1892, and who had inherited her husband’s position as Holmes’ creditor. Her life was said to be insured as well, but, again, foul play was not suspected, and Holmes does not seem to have gotten out of the debt; her children’s names start appearing on “castle” property records after her death.

“MRS. GILBERT” – in some northeastern towns it was often said that a young man named Charles Brace, a photographer and former associate of Holmes, was the real “Hatch,” the man Holmes said was the real killer of the Pitezel children. He deserted his wife at one point and moved to Chicago, where he operated as Charles Gilbert, and married a 19-year-old woman who worked for Standard Oil. The first Mrs. Brace suggested that the young woman could have become a Holmes victim, as she didn’t know what had become of her. Little is known of Brace, and the story has not been investigated, though more than one 1895 newspaper spoke of local rumors that Charles Brace was Mr. Hatch. [ii]

HARRY GRAHAM – supposedly Myrta Belknap’s first fiancé, whom she was said to believe had been killed for his insurance money. Reported in a few papers in 1894, and confirmed as a real person by Minnesota sources, but never fully investigated.

MR BECK – a relative of Holmes who committed suicide in the 1870s; rumors that Holmes was once suspected of murdering him were denied by his father, but the idea can’t necessarily be disproven.

MABEL BARRETT – An 18-year-old Boston woman whose parents left her a large estate, Mabel was said to have been lured to New York by Holmes and Minnie Williams in July, 1893, based on pictures identified by her friends, and vanished.  The story was never pursued at length, and Holmes was likely too preoccupied in Chicago in July of 1893 to make a Boston trip of sufficient length to lure a woman away and kill her.

KATE GORKY – a widow, roughly 30 years old, reported in July, 1895, to have been a swindling victim of Holmes while running the castle restaurant from Summer, 1892 to Spring, 1893. When she got sick, Holmes gave her medicine. Castle resident Maurice Lawrence spoke about her; he had heard that she had left to keep house on Halsted Street, but hadn’t kept enough track of her to be sure.

KATE GORKY’S DAUGHTER – Same story as above. Ms. Gorky and her daughter were not found alive and interviewed by newspapers, so far as is known, but also were never confirmed to be dead. Holmes mentioned them in his confession.

“MR. CLARK” (or Chasey), patient of Holmes in Mooers Forks during his stint there in the mid 1880s, alleged father of one of his sweethearts there, whose death was later said to have been “strange.”1


MARY BRUNSWIGGER  – the above two were mentioned by Holmes in a letter to Robert Corbitt, the amateur detective, asking him to find evidence that they were alive or had died of natural causes, as he’d apparently heard rumors that he was accused of their murders. 2 No record of either person ever existing has been found.

MARY STEVENSON – a domestic mentioned as a possible victim in the letter to Corbitt.

ROBERT PHELPS – said to be Emeline Cigrand’s fiancé; occasionally listed as a victim, or an alias of Ben Pitezel, but almost certainly a fictional character.

R.B. PHILLIPS – One July 29th, 1895 paper in Philadelphia said that George Chamberlain had told Inspector Fitzpatrick that a man by this name was killed by Holmes and Pitezel around 1891 in the castle. The only article yet found on it is confused a bit as to certain known facts, and probably isn’t particularly reliable, though it’s probably just a reference to the likely-mythical Robert Phelps. [iii]

PETER VERRETT – a supposed customer of Holmes alcoholism cure suggested to have been the man Emeline Cigrand married before her disappearance. A neighbor stated that he was a real person and lived in the castle in 1893 (too late to be Emeline’s husband), but the story was never followed up.

“MRS. LEE – a wealthy widow whom Albert Phillips, father of Clarence, said came to the castle for a while, then disappeared. He called her “A handsome brunette, tall and stately, and well dressed.”3 This would have been in late 1892 or early 1893. No one else reported a “Mrs. Lee” to be missing, and her name is common enough that the story is impossible to investigate.

MARY HARACAMP (or Horacamp or Havercamp) – mentioned in the confession, thought to be a fictional character.

CARRIE SANFORD – mentioned in a letter to Robert Corbitt and listed by Corbitt as a possible victim. Sanford wrote Holmes a letter in Jan, 1893, suggesting that he’d promised to find her a job. It’s a common enough name that she’s hard to trace, but there doesn’t seem to have been any reason to suspect Holmes killed her, or even that she disappeared, beyond the fact that Holmes apparently knew her in 1892 and she didn’t comment on the case publicly in 1895.

ROBERT LEACOCK – a colleague of Holmes in Ann Arbor whom Holmes claimed to have murdered in his confession. Leacock died in Canada in 1891, but there seems to be no indication that foul play was ever suspected.

“ROGERS” – Holmes confessed to killing two men name named Rogers in his confession. One was likely a lie (see “debunked victims”), the other is unclear.

ANNA BETTS – On more than one occasion Holmes spoke of killing Anna Betts, and said that the press had frequently charged him with it. However, as far as can be found, they hadn’t. The fact that he thought he’d been accused of killing her seems suspicious. In early accounts he said she was rumored to have died during an abortion; in the confession he says he gave her poison medicine. A death certificate for a young woman named Virginia Anna Betts states that she died of apoplexy, and Chicago papers in 1886 spoke of an “Anna Betz” who was found to have died after an abortion. Which of these he meant isn’t entirely clear.

LATTERMAN – The St. Louis Chronicle stated on July 27, 1895 stated that a castle employee, formerly in charge of tending a basement engine, had long since vanished. The Chronicle was not a particularly reliable source; it was roughly the St. Louis equivalent of the Chicago Mail. This was probably a misnomer for Robert Lattimer (see below).[iv]

UNDERWOOD – The same St. Louis Chronicle article stated that Mr. Underwood, Latterman’s successor, had disappeared following a row with Holmes. [v]

Unknown Boy – an article or two[vi] stated that when Holmes left Mooers’ Fork, NY around 1885, he was accompanied by a small boy later believed to have been his first victim. Sources were sketchy at best, and it may well have been his son, Robert, who was certainly not killed.



These names were spoken of as victims by Holmes or others, but were eventually disproven entirely (in many cases, they’d been disproved long before Holmes confessed to them). Many, however, are still often listed as victims in books!

It’s worth noting, though, that I have my doubts about one or two. Gertrude Conner’s family, for instance, was quite insistent that she’d died of heart failure, but it may have been because they didn’t like people thinking Holmes had “ruined” her.

KATE DURKEE – Myrta’s friend was often spoken of as a victim in the press, and Holmes confessed to killing her. But she was alive in Omaha, and sort of a badass.

HENRY ROGERS – a veteran of several lawsuits against Holmes; probably the banker named Rogers Holmes confessed to killing. Rogers was still alive at the time, though he died shortly thereafter.

JOE OWENS – briefly suggested as a victim in the press, but soon found alive.

CHARLES COLE – may have been the “Cole” Holmes confessed to killing in the incinerator, though he may have meant Wilford Cole. Charles Cole was alive in 1895.

WILFORD COLE – another possible identity of the “Cole” Holmes confessed to killing. The source suggesting him as a victim, J.C. Allen, was not reliable enough to take seriously, and Allen himself denied knowing a Wilford Cole at one point.

ROBERT LATIMER – Former janitor of the castle whom Holmes confessed to killing. Was still alive and working right near the castle. Some said it wasn’t the same Latimer, but his comments on Holmes a year later indicate that it was.

DR. HOLTON – Usually said to be an old man killed by Holmes in later retellings of his story, but Dr. Holton was actually a young woman, Dr. Elizabeth Holton. Not really suggested as a victim until long after the investigation was over, when writers pieced together threads of data and filled in the blanks with a story plausible enough that it was afterwards repeated as fact (again, the chief culprit here is Herbert Asbury). Dr. Holton died in 1933, having outlived Holmes by nearly four decades.

Mr. HOLTON – Since Dr. Holton’s spouse is often said to be a victim as well, it should be noted that Mr. Holton died in 1910. He and his wife are buried at Oak Woods cemetery, not far from the castle site.

BALDWIN H. WILLIAMS – often spoken of as a victim, including in Holmes’ 1896 confession. Baldwin was Minnie and Anna’s older brother; his official cause of death was injuries sustained from an accident in the Arkansas Valley Smelter, and stories that  the death was not an accident can’t be totally ruled out, though there’s little reason to believe them. Even those who suggested murder tended to suggest Benjamin Pitezel was the killer, and court records show that Holmes was certainly in Chicago around the time of the accident.

L.W. WARNER – A traveling salesman and namesake of the Warner Glass Bending Factory; Holmes confessed to murdering him, but he was still alive and quickly confirmed as such. In 1897, while living in Newton, Iowa, he told a reporter he believed Holmes was still alive, too. Little more is known of him.[i]

MARY CRON (or Kron) – a 55-year-old woman who lived near Holmes’ Wilmette house and was brutally murdered on Nov 4, 1893, when two or three robbers broke in, beat her to death, and burned the house down. One of the robbers, “Lion Jack,” (also known as “Young Divine” and “Jack the Liar”), was shot and killed as he ran away.[ii]  Police managed to “sweat” a confession out of one Charles F. Goodrich, but, in a rare move, the confession extracted under torture was thrown out, and he was convicted only of manslaughter. In July of 1895, papers and neighbors began to implicate Holmes in the killing for no particularly good reason.

JENNIE THOMPSON – Castle employee that the press reported police were looking for. Found alive and living on May Street, a few blocks from the castle.

EVELYN STEWART: an alias of Jennie Thompson (see above). Why she was known by two such different names was never clarified.

LODOSKY POWER – Logansport, Indiana girl reported missing after being traced to a house near the castle, found alive in November, 1895.5

CHARLES WHITNEY – A Chicago man who worked as a traveling salesman and died in Saratoga, NY in November, 1894. People at the newspaper office there said that it was Holmes and Pitezel who placed the obituary, but no record of his death was found by reporters. His wife confirmed that he was dead, but said it was a “private matter” and denied that Holmes had placed the notice. Pitezel had been dead for two months by then, so it’s to be assumed that the people at the office were mistaken.6

MARY KELLY – sometimes suggested as a victim by people who hadn’t seen her lately, but she was alive and talking to reporters in 1894-1895.

HORACE A. WILLIAMS – name used on promissory notes, and suggested as a victim by Minnie’s attorney, but he was probably confusing Horace A. with Baldwin H. Horace A. Williams was probably just a Holmes alias the was used in real estate transactions involving Minnie.

ELLA QUINLAN – wife of Patrick suspected to have been a victim briefly. Turned up alive.

CORA QUINLAN – daughter of Patrick rumored to be a victim; a particularly wild Times-Herald story suggested that she’d been killed for insurance money and the girl formerly known as Pearl Conner had taken on her identity. She was found alive in Michigan.

GERTRUDE CONNER – Julia’s sister-in-law; died several weeks after returning from Chicago. She may have been the first woman Holmes was accused of killing (a business partner said “Holmes, you have killed her!” when word of her death spread), and he confessed to her murder in 1896. But all accounts indicate that she died of heart disease, and details Holmes gave were demonstrably false.

LIZ DALY – Kate Gorky’s sister, who was said to have had a child by Patrick Quinlan before disappearing from sight. A story about her and Patrick was quite possibly invented by police in hopes that it would make Ella Quinlan angry enough to confess that her husband had been an accomplice of Holmes. Dr. Lawrence said that Quinlan was friendly with her, though. She was also called Liz Stamwell and Liz Bowen. The police presented a recent letter from her in court when the Quinlans sued Chief Badenoch, so we can safely assume that if she was real at all, she was still alive.

LIZ’S CHILD – In a letter produced during the Quinlan v Badenoch trial, Liz said that she had a child by Quinlan, but Holmes put it in charge of a rich family and never told her who it was. Now married to a husband from whom this was a secret, she kept quiet. The letter is not included in the surviving trial paperwork, and may have not been real.

[i]  original in Paris Mercury (Paris, MO), reprinted here from Palmyra Spectator (Palmyra, MO) Nov 25, 1897

[ii] “Fiends’ Fell Work” Chicago Daily Inter-Ocean Nov 5, 1893

[i] Quinlan v Badenoch

[ii] “Thief and a Bigamist” Philadelphia Inquirer Aug 20, 1895

[iii] “Another Crime” Philadelphia Bulletin July 29, 1895

[iv] “New Victims” St. Louis Chronicle, July 27, 1895

[v] “New Victims” St. Louis Chronicle, July 27, 1895

[vi] “Operated in New York” Oswego Daily Times July 31, 1895


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“Rigged!” The Chicago Times and the Election of 1864

The Democratic National Convention of 1864 was by most accounts a disaster. Meeting in Chicago to nominate General McClellan to oppose Lincoln,  the party struggled with an unhealed rift between delegats who wanted to crush the Confederacy in one big blow and those who wanted to quit fighting and just let the South go. The Tribune’s coverage made the convention look like a regular amateur hour.

But one man was more impressed: Wilbur F. Storey, arch-conservative editor of the Lincoln-hating Chicago Times. A year before, when he described Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg as “silly, flat and dishwatery utterances,” he was being relatively subdued in his criticism. Months before, he had said that “history does not acquaint us with so deplorable a failure as this administration,” and held up the coming Emancipation Proclamation as proof of what he’d said all along: that Lincoln was coming to take people’s slaves. This was no war to preserve the union, he said, but a contest to free  “the debased and irredeemably barbarous negro.” (1) The proclamation itself, he said “Will be known in all history as the most wicked, atrocious and revolting deed recorded in the annals of civilization.”(2) (That the war was something to do with states’ rights would not become a conservative talking point for decades).

Even this was not Storey at his worst. Though far more loquacious than most modern cable news loudmouths, some of his racial ramblings would fit in fine among alt-right commenters on youtube. In 1862 he complained that rather than caring about the rights of white men, congress had “n—r on the brain, n—r in the bowels, n—r in the eyes, n—r, n—r everywhere….all powers have found their superior in the great n—r power that moves the huge, unwieldy, reeking and stewing mess of rottenness which makes up this administration and its party.” (3) Though it’s common now for detractors to claim that Lincoln didn’t do enough for the slaves, or that he was really just as big of a racist as any slave-holder, Storey’s rants (and his paper’s popularity) can be useful in showing just what Lincoln was up against.

Naturally, Storey supported McClellan in 1864, and covered the Democrat Convention as though it was the Second Coming (it’s useful to note that the parties of 1864 were very different; Storey referred to his party as both “The democrats” and “conservatives,” while referring to republicans as “the abolitionist party.”)

Wilbur F. Storey.

Wilbur F. Storey.

Its in his election coverage that Storey’s rants and language seem most strikingly modern in 2016. Months before the convention, he’d suggested that Lincoln was going to rig the election and refuse to allow conservatives to vote. In an August 31, 1864 editorial, “Plots of Old Abe,” he doubled down on the claim. “The machinery for carrying out the… plot is in readiness,” he wrote. “It will certainly be applied unless, in the interim, the people of Illinois assume such an attitude as will convince the tyrant that there is one step that he cannot with safety take. Let it be understood that… any attempt on the part of the despot to do otherwise (than conduct a fair election) will surely lead to bloodshed, and, perhaps, even at the last moment, the attempt to coerce Illinois may be abandoned.” (5)

Throughout the autumn, as the fall of Atlanta made Lincoln’s re-election seem assured to most observers, Storey continued to claim that McClellan’s victory was certain, seizing on any rumor of fraud in Lincoln’s favor while angrily brushing off any rumors of fraud going the other way. He saw “evidence” of the conspiracy everywhere, from reports that a local judge was seen voting in Indiana (he had his residence there) to seeing people who looked like confederates coming to town and attempting to hold a meeting with Perkins Bass, a man pinpointed by Storey as one of the major players in Lincoln’s plot. His front pages reprinted  speeches from far-flung corners about the reasons that even if Lincoln won, his inauguration should be resisted, perhaps by force.

There was, in fact, a plot to disrupt the election in Chicago, but not in the way Storey imagined. Later known as the Northwest Conspiracy,  Confederate operatives and supporters were sneaking into the city throughout October, plotting to liberate the southern prisoners of war held in Camp Douglas, arm them, and take over the city the night before the election. Though it’s highly unlikely that the starving, sickly prisoners could have been victorious, later reminisces of those involved make it clear that the conspiracy was at least real plot. Word of it leaked to General B.J. Sweet, who ordered in reinforcements and arrested several of the plotters before it could be brought into action.chicago_times_election_rigged

Though most Chicago papers spoke breathlessly of how narrowly the city had escaped destruction, Storey reacted just the way a modern spin doctor would: claiming that the conspiracy was a false flag. “Every day accumulates evidence of a gigantic and widespread conspiracy on the part of the administration to… control the presidential election at all hazards,” he railed. “If they abolitionists did not actually bring these men here, they conceived the idea of permitting them to come, and of charging their coming upon the democratic party! The alarm and terror, then, into which the city has been thrown is chargeable directly upon the republican party… the value of such revelations today every voter will understand. They will be part and parcel of the grand abolitionist plot to carry the election by force and fraud.” (6) He warned that “vigilance committees” should be set up at the ballots in every ward – “especially republican wards.”

Lincoln, though, won the election with 55% of the popular vote, and a landslide in the electoral college. Storey acknowledged the defeat, but didn’t entirely accept it, and continued to insist that it must have been rigged. “Messrs abolitionists,” he wrote, “you have won the election. We shall not now inquire by what agencies. A few days will reveal them, and disclose also the appropriate action to be taken by your opponents in relation thereto.” (7)

He didn’t say “I’ll keep you in suspense,” but he came awfully close.

1864-11-05_chi_times_abolition_election_plots_pdfSeven years later, Storey was one of the prime pushers of the tale that Mrs. O’Leary, whom he called an “Irish hag,” had started the Great Chicago Fire (he wasn’t wild about the Irish, either). But though his impact on Chicago history, and his influence on Victorian politics, were vast, he’s mostly forgotten today. Though his large headstone is near the entrance, no one in the Rosehill cemetery office knew who he was when I first asked about him while putting together my tour route there.

Perhaps it would be better if I just let his rambles and raves stay in the trash bin of history, locked up in microfilm reels held in just a few libraries. But I just can’t resist giving people the chance to stomp on the old jerk’s grave.

A chapter on Storey’s strange marble mansion, his descent into (further) madness, and the battle over his bizarre will is featured in the new Mysterious Chicago book.


Chicago Times articles cited:

(1) “Impending Dissolution” Dec 31, 1862
(2) “Deed is Done,” Jan 3, 1863
(3) “The Negrophobia Epidemic in Congress” May 14, 1862
(4) “The Democratic National Convention” Sept 1, 1864
(5) “Plots of Old Abe” Aug 31, 1864
(6) “An Impending Fraud” Nov 7, 1864
(7) “Their Victory” Nov 10, 1864

New Book: Mysterious Chicago – History at its Coolest

The new Mysterious Chicago book is in stores today, Oct 26, 2016! There is a launch party tonight at Anderson’s Books in Naperville at 7pm, though if I knew I’d be competing against a cubs World Series, I might not have scheduled it like this!

Featuring dozens of unsolved mysteries from Chicago’s gruesome history, many of which have never been retold since they first made the papers over a century ago, including:

  • Did George Gr61z3amtfspleen really still the gallows (and does a copy of the photo of his corpse survive?)
  • What really started the Great Chicago fire?
  • Who built the submarine found wrecked in the river in 1915 – and what became of it?
  • Who ordered the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre?
  • Was the lonesome death of Barton Edsall a murder or a suicide?
  • Was Thomas Neill Cream Chicago’s first serial killer?
  • Who was the Chicago hang man?
  • Do the John Huck tunnels still survive beneath the Gold Coast?
  • Who’s in Ira Couch’s tomb?
  • Is there a Revolutionary War soldier buried in Rosehill?
  • Does a photo survive of Wilbur Storey’s “Castle?”
  • What happened to the trunk of evidence from the H.H. Holmes “Murder Castle?”
  • Was the Lipstick Killer innocent?
  • Was there a “third man” present at the first automobile murder?
  • How many wives did Johann Hoch kill?
  • How many husbands did Tillie Klimek kill?
  • Was Richard Ivens hynoptized into confessing t
    o murder?
  • Is Walter Newberry buried in a barrel?

and more! 

Find it at your local independent bookstore today, or click a link below: