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 Devil, due 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.
JULIA CONNER, 1891
PEARL CONNER, 1891
EMELINE CIGRAND, 1892
MINNIE WILLIAMS, 1893
NANNIE WILLIAMS, 1893
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 schools 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