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,

Detective John W. Norton: From H.H. Holmes to Al Capone

norton4Back when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his second term as president, an old pickpocket named George Summers spoke to the Tribune about the old days. “You know what’s the matter with the cannon (pocket picking) racket today?” he asked. “Stickups! These young punks ain’t willing to go through a long apprenticeship anymore, like we had to. You had to be good to be a dip…. In my time tailors made mens’ pockets so deep it took 15 seconds for a good man to pinch a poke. Nowadays they’re so shallow it can be done easy in five.”

The first time Summers was arrested was during the 1893 World’s Fair. The detective who’d arrested him, John W. Norton, was still active when Summers made his statement in 1939. When asked why he’d become a detective in the first place, Norton said, “I was a damned fool. Like all kids, I thought it would be grand to be a policeman.”

Though his name comes up in a lot of works on Chicago crimes of the 1920s, none of them seem to realize just how far back the man’s career went. Back in 1895, he was one of two detectives who were in charge of investigating the the “Holmes Castle” on Sixty-Third Street. Later recaps of his career only really talked about the last half of it, so it took me a while to realize that the “Lt. John Norton” mentioned in so many cases of the 1910s and 20s, and who became Chief of Detectives from 1930-32, was the same “Detective Norton” papers were always talking about during the Holmes case!

To say Norton had a long and fruitful career barely hints at things.  Just a brief overview:

In 1889, Norton made the news for the first time after arresting a member of a coal-burning gang who’d been on the run for nine months. Not yet with the police, he was working as a private detective for a railroad company at the time.

Detective Norton

Norton in 1895

In 1892, now with the Chicago Police, Norton was involved in a fierce battle with pickpockets at Clark and Madison. Having caught one, another pointed a gun at Norton’s head and said “let the fellow go, or I’ll blow your brains out.” Norton knocked the gun aside and managed to draw his own, wounding the would-be killer (and getting smashed on the head in the process). This was the first of many wounds he sustained on the job.

In 1893, he made national news for his attempt to capture Barney Burch, a notable pickpocket, who escaped by throwing red pepper in Norton’s eyes.

In 1895, Detective Sgt. Norton and Inspector Fitzpatrick supervised the explorations of the HH Holmes “murder castle.” Of the two, he comes off better; Fitzpatrick was far more apt to see a rope and assuming there must have been hangings. Norton seems a bit more cautious.

In 1920, when Big Jim Colosimo was killed, Norton was the one sent to interview the widow, Dale Winter.

Also in 1920, he was instrumental in getting Carl Wanderer to confess that he’d set up the whole “ragged stranger” case.

And that same year, he was on the squad that took down the Cardinella Gang. 

In 1926, when asst. state’s attorney William McSwiggin was shot to death in a drive-by (along with members of the O’Donnell gang, with whom he was hanging out for reasons never entirely clear), police raided all sorts of known Capone hideouts. Norton was on the raid at Capone’s brother’s place that uncovered a whole arsenal full of weapons. Rifles were disguised as curtain rods.

Detective Norton at right. When he found all the guns in hidden compartments at Ralph Capone's house, did he think back to digging through the hidden compartments at the HH Holmes "murder castle" more than 30 years before?

Detective Norton at right in 1926. When he found all the guns in hidden compartments at Ralph Capone’s house, did he think back to digging through the hidden compartments at the HH Holmes “murder castle” more than 30 years before?

1930, he was made chief of detectives (replacing a man J. Edgar Hoover said was getting give grand a month from Capone), in in 1931 was in charge of such duties as controlling the crowds outside of Capone’s trial.

In 1940, when he retired after more than 50 years as a detective, with over 100 citations for bravery to his name, he’d been serving as  commander of the Maxwell Street Police Station.

Now, I don’t want to go overboard with calling the guy a “hero.”  The 50 years that Norton was with the force are not exactly 50 proud years in Chicago police history; it was a long era of corruption, incompetence, and police brutality. The Maxwell Street Station he commanded, in fact, has a particularly grim repuation. And Norton was sort of an old-fasioned detective – a bit more likely to use his billy club than his magnifying glass.  “I am not of the Sherlock Holmes type,” he once said. “(But) I consider myself a close student of crime. I have made the running down of criminals my business. Then, too, it is a pleasure to me. It is almost my whole enjoyment, and to work overtime is no hardship… I do not want it understood that I have no faith in the theory of deduction; I have the greatest faith in it, but I consider it secondary to the plain methods of police work.”

But Norton was only rarely accused of forcing a confession out of anyone (which, in context, is a pretty good record), and I’ve never found anything about him being on the take during prohibition, or any other charges of corruption, which is almost a miracle, given his era. It just amazes me that the same man worked against both H.H. Holmes and Al Capone!


The Murder Castle Sign Shop Kidnapping (updated!)


new info at the bottom of the post!

A few weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune posted a few 1930s-era photos of the H.H. Holmes murder castle from their archives online. All of them have circulated before, but never in nearly such great quality, or, in some cases, uncropped. I’ve seen the photo of the stove and tile floor still in place as of the 1930s, but never the version with the man standing off to the side.

The exact date of the middle photos is hard to determine. The first was certainly taken in 1895 (it remains the only photo of the version of the castle Holmes knew; the top two floors were torn down and replaced late that year, after a fire damaged them), and the fourth is presumablyfrom January, 1938, when it ran with an item saying the castle was slated to be razed.

1920s or 30s

The middle two are trickier to date. The exterior shot ran in a March, 1937 retelling of the Holmes story, and the “stove” shot has circulated, but I’m not sure it ever ran in the paper.

When it was taken, exactly, is more of a mystery. In it, we can clearly see that the sign store on the site of Holmes’ old drug store was Spatz Sign Shop. The later shot has the name crossed out, and a sign saying they’d moved down the block to 520 W 63rd. However, according to the local Southtown Economist, they moved to that spot in 1930. Could the shots be from before that?

The exact time frame in which the sign shop operated in the castle has been a bit confusing, but in researching it, I came upon another mystery.

BH Spatz in his sign shop, in the site of the HH Holmes
drug store. A couple of papers briefly claimed that
Holmes was cremating bodies in the stove, and this
is STILL often said to be true, though cremating bodies in
such a stove would not have been possible.

The man in the shot is presumably B.H. Spatz, who ran the sign shop until his death in 1939 (at which point his wife, Bess, took over). Bennet Spatz (the middle name was likely Hugo, his mother’s maiden name) appears in plenty of census records, but appears in papers only a couple of times, always related to another mystery: in 1922, his daughter was kidnapped.

Though the story only appears in bits and pieces in scattered articles, it seems that in 1922, his 13-or-14-year-old daughter, Maxine, was kidnapped and held for eight days in the Plaza Hotel at 24 West Huron. After being rescued by the police, she was preparing to testify against a group of five people involved in August of 1922, when she and a couple of neighbors said they’d seen a couple of the group loitering around the neighborhood.


On August 20th, Maxine left her home near 61st and Halsted to run an errand, and never returned. Papers assumed she’d been kidnapped again by the people against whom she was planning to testify. The story was next mentioned in November, when it was said that her mother was doubling her efforts to find her, but that was the last Chicagoans at large ever heard about Maxine Spatz.

This could turn into a whole other rabbit hole of research. Connecting her to Holmes simply because her father worked in a shop in the castle (possibly long after she vanished) is shaky, but when I was working on the ebook about the “Holmes curse“, I found newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th century calling people victims of the curse for a whole lot less.

How and when Maxine was eventually found is not yet known; I’ve yet to see any paper announcing that she’d been found. But thanks to a comment from one of her nieces, I was at least able to confirm that she must have been found eventually! She married a man named Charles Keener and moved with him to Indiana, along with her mother, Bessie, and her son, Hugo (which I believe is what the H in B.H. Spatz stood for; it was his mother’s maiden name and comes up a lot in the family). According to records, she died in 1961. She was known to relatives as “Aunt Sissy.”

Cookie, Maxine’s niece (and B.H. Spatz’s great grandduaghter), just spoke to me on the phone a bit. She was born some years after the castle was torn down and replaced with the post office, but remembers being young and walking past the site and being told “If you’re bad, you’ll go down in there and Dr. Holmes will get you!”

She remembers her great grandmother, Bessie, would often point out many of the signs around the neighborhood that had been painted in Spatz’s Sign Shop (she survived him by several decades, dying in 1972; he was a veteran of the Spanish American war, and she was still collecting benefits at the time of her death). The fact that it had been Holmes’s old place was not unknown to the family.  However, the family never spoke of Maxine’s kidnapping, so the story there is still bit of a mystery.

New H.H. Holmes “Murder Castle” photo found

Now and then someone will show me a “new” picture of the H.H. Holmes “Murder Castle.” They’re almost never real – there are plenty of buildings that looks similar to it around today, and there were hundreds more a century ago. But now and then I do still run across a new shot of the actual building.

If you listened to our latest podcast, you’ll know that we’re planning to do an episode on Johann Hoch, another of our antique serial killers, soon. I’ve researched Hoch quite a bit over the years, but I haven’t really dug into him like I have some others, so hit the mircofilm archives at the library today to work on cataloging all the artciles about in defunct Chicago papers like the Inter Ocean, the Daily News and the ever-enteringing Evening American.

One interesting thing about the Hoch case is that for a few days there, Hoch was said to be an old pupil of H.H. Holmes. He certainly had a cottage near the “Castle” site, after all. His story hit the papers in 1905; in the decade that had passed since the big Holmes investigations, newspapers had begun to run photographs, not just drawings. At least a couple of papers took the Hoch/Holmes rumors as a chance to retell the Holmes story,  and a few threw in some pictures.

Anyway, while going through the January 29, 1905 issue of the Chicago Chronicle (defunct since 1908), there was a large spread of Hoch photos (left) that also included a fresh photo of the “Murder Castle.” It was probably taken specifically to go with this article, based on the snow on the ground (it was a rough winter). It’s not an Earth-shattering new shot, and not as nice as another shot from Holmes’ lifetime would be, but it’s a nice one (larger version below).

Hoch is the mustachioed fellow who looks like guy on the Pringles can at the left. Various police officers on the case and his supposed wives make up the other pictures, except for the shot of his cottage, which was at 6430 Union, so close to the “castle” that you could probably throw a rock and hit it, if you had a good enough arm. He married a lot of women (maybe dozens) and seems to have killed about a third of him, though, like with Holmes, it can be touch to separate fact from fiction on the guy. Like Holmes, he was hanged for just one murder, though he was known to have committed others.

Here’s a larger version of the photo, which shows he 63rd street-facing portion of the “post-Holmes” version of the castle; though the building didn’t actually burn down in 1895, as is often claimed, the top two floors did have to be redone after the fire there that year. At this point the building was mostly apartments, plus some retail space, including a barber shop:

This one, I’m quite sure, is genuine; it matches up to the other known photos and is identified as the castle by the paper in the caption. It was probably taken specifically for this paper.

Just about every other known photo, or portrait drawn from life, is in the big, expanded Murder Castle ebook:

I’ll be giving a talk on Holmes at the Wilmette Public Library on Saturday, July 19th, at 2pm. It’s free, so come on out!

The Man Who Died in the Holmes Murder Castle: John DuBrueil, 1823-1891

Over the winter I went on a quest to catalog and document ALL of the HH Holmes sources I could find here in town that weren’t available online – lawsuit records, defunct Chicago papers, etc. The best of the Chicago papers constitute the best primary sources we have on the Chicago angle of the case, and much of the info there is widely unknown in Holmes circles. The stories one usually hears about him come more from 1890s tabloids and (especially) 1940s pulps.

One story that came up in a few Chicago papers has puzzled me some: the story of John DeBrueil, the man who died in the “Holmes castle” in full view of several witnesses.

Detail of the Times Herald of Oct 1, 1895

On August 1st, 1895, when Holmes stories were just starting to fall off the front page of most papers, the Chicago Times Herald, mentioned that the recent investigations at the castle had sparked renewed interest in the story of a John DeBrueil, who died in the “castle” drug store on April 17, 1891, after “having been stricken with apoplexy” near the place. In 1890s talk, this usually just meant that he had suddenly collapsed and died.  According to the Herald, DuBruell had furnished Holmes with the first chunk of money to build the place (which, at the time, was probably only two stories; he borrowed three grand from Dr. MB Lawrence to expand).  Though bumping people off because he owed them money wasn’t out of line for Holmes, he was not considered a suspect here; the Herald said that “While Holmes borroed considerable money from DuBruell….none of the DuBruell relatives and heirs in Englewood believe that (Holmes) had anything to with the sudden death of either Mr. Mrs. DuBrueil, whose lives were insured.

The Times Herald may have told a slightly longer version of this a week or so before, when they spoke to a man named Ben Nixon who had worked in the castle’s jewelry store. He recalled the one day “a man stepped from a suburban train..and fell in front of Holmes’ store in some kind of a fit. Holmes poured a dark liquid down his throat and the man died. He lived in the neighborhood.”  Nixon thought it was suspicious, and wondered at the time if the man had been insured. “Holmes was regarded even then as a fellow who would do anything for money.”  This sounds like the same story as above.

 From genealogy sites I do see that a Canada-born man named “John L. Dubreuil” died April 18, 1891 in Chicago at the age of 68, but the death certificate doesn’t seem to be scanned. He was buried in Thornton, a small town on the far south side of the Chicago metro area. Presumably, he’s the same John Dubreuil from Canada was living as a farmer in Lyon (a west suburb) in the 1860 census with three people named Bouchard, and the one who was living in Indiana during the Civil War draft a few years later. He married his wife, Elizabeth, in 1876 in Englewood. She was ten years his junior.

Though his death doesn’t seem to have made the Tribune, there is an article from 1894 in the Trib talking about the bitter fight over the DuBrueil estate. According to the artcile, Elizabeth had died in September, 1892, leaving an estate valued at half a million bucks – there was a movement in place to remove Eddie DuBrueil, a son who was living in Englewood, from his position as executor of the estate.

That Holmes would try to kill a person with that kind of money, with the intention of getting it for himself, seems reasonable enough. That Holmes was after people’s life insurance money is pretty well known, though he wasn’t as good at it is he’s often made out to be. It’s commonly said that he was good at talking people into buying insurance and making him the benefactor, but primary sources really only indicate that he tried to do this a lot. No one seems to have been dumb enough to fall for it. Ben Pietzel came the closest, in that he bought a huge policy, but Holmes wasn’t the benefactor; he got the loot by swindling the widow.

This may well have been Holmes’ plan here: he’d kill off the guy, make his widow rich off the insurance (though they must have been well off already; I don’t think got half a million in insurance back then, when Ben Pietzel’s 10k plan was pretty remarkable), then seduce or kill her and get the money for himself. But no one close to the case seems to have suspected it much at the time, so it may just be wild speculation. If they’d had any reason to go after Holmes for money still owed as of 1895, they probably would have done it.

The basic facts don’t all add up to murder here – Holmes pouring a dark liquid down the guy’s throat sounds awfully suspicious, but the idea that he could have arranged for him to collapse right in the store, right after stepping off the train, seems a bit less plausible. Maybe he just saw an opportunity and went for it?

I couldn’t find any info on how Mrs. DuBrueil died, and I haven’t checked the defunct papers from the dates around John’s death to see if it was reported at the time, or if anyone seemed supsicious at the time.  This would have been months before Julia Conner became the first person to disappear from the castle, but Holmes DOES seem to have been thought of as a swindler, at the very least.

The lawsuit over the estate seems to have been based in Crown Point, Indiana, so it’d be tough for me to see how the whole thing turned out, but they still had all of the money as of Oct, 1894, by which point Holmes was out of town, so if he killed John DuBrueil to get his cash, he seems to have failed!  William DuBrueil, John’s son, seems to have inherited any interest in the property; his name starts showing in up Cook County Recorder notes about the property after his father’s death.

The story is mentioned in our new expanded Murder Castle ebook, along with much of the rest of the stuff I found over the winter.

Murder Castle of HH Holmes Ebook EXPANDED!

Our first ebook, THE MURDER CASTLE OF HH HOLMES, has now been expanded to a FULL LENGTH book. Re-organized with tons of new info, new diagrams, and more to tell a more complete picture of the famous “castle” through eyewitness accounts from people lived and worked in the building. Now over 55,000 words to tell you everything down to the combination to the soundproof vault!

Just 3.99 on Kindle!
Don’t have a kindle? No problem! Get aFREE Kindle App for Your Smartphone, Tablet, or PC!
It includes:
More than three dozen diagrams, drawings and pictures, many seen here for the first time since the 1890s
– A lengthy long-lost interview with Holmes conducted in his jail cell about the castle, his life, and his personal beliefs. Would Holmes prefer hanging or execution? Did he believe in ghosts and the supernatural? Find out here (assuming he was telling the truth!)
– Copies of legal records relating to the “castle.” 
– Dozens of first-hand accounts about life in and around the castle, both during Holmes’ time there and during the 1895 investigation. 
– Detailed information about seldom-heard stories about Holmes, including his near-gunfight with a neighbor, the man who died in the castle drugstore, and many more. 
– In-depth background info, contextual information and analysis about each source, as well as info on the relatives merits of the many Chicago newspapers of the 1890s. 
– Adam’s report on the basement of the post office that stands on a portion of the grounds where the castle once stood.

So, wanna know what’s in the book? Take a look at the table of contents. Each chapter comes with background information and contextual data.

 INTRODUCTION: The Holmes Case
Photo: THE CASTLE, 1895
Drawing:: THE CASTLE, 1895.
Drawing: The Castle in The CHICAGO MAIL
Drawing: Front View from CHICAGO MAIL
Drawing: Castle Image from CHICAGO INTER OCEAN
Drawing: Castle Side view from the CHICAGO TIMES HERALD
Diagram: Second Floor in NY World Diagram:
Second Floors from the TIMES HERALD
Diagram: Second Floor from Chicago Record
Diagram: Second Floor from a 1905 tabloid
Diagram: Third Floor from the TIMES HERALD
Diagram: First Floor
Diagram: Basement from The Inter Ocean
Diagram: Basement from the Times Herald
Diagram: Sectional View of Castle, Times Herald
Basement Excavations Map
Eyewitness Account: E.F. Laughlin
Court Summons
Promissory Note for Castle Startup Funds
Eyewitness Account: Fitzallen Woodbury and Benjamin Nixon on a known Death in the Castle Eyewitness: EC Davis
Eyewitness: Thomas Levy Tuck
Eyewitness: Mrs. John C
Eyewitness: Ned Conner
Eyewitness: Mrs. Sylvester
Eyewitness: Mrs. Loomis
Eyewitness: Mrs. Beardsley
Eyewitness: George Bowman
1893: The Castle Discovered
Eyewitness: Joe Owens on the 1893 Fire
Holmes and Revolver
The Castle After the Fire
Eyewitness: Mrs Ladd
The Deadly Stove: The Investigation Begins.
Drawing: The Stove
Searching the Basement
The Bloody Rope
The Bloody Garment in the Ground
Eyewitness: Detective Fitzpatrick
Eyewitness: Albert Phillips
Bloody Wrapper in a Barrell
Human Bones in the Basement
Eyewitness Account: Unnamed Furnace Maker (july 23) 1895
Description 2: Designed For Dark Work
Eyewitness: Ned Conner on the Secret Chamber
 Eyewitness: Joe Owens
Eyewitness: Dr. and Mrs. MB Lawrence
Eyewitness: BJ Cigrand
Chief Ross’s Theory on Emeline
Drawing: The False Vault
Jonathan Belknap
Eyewitness: Inspector Fitzpatrick
Eyewitness: Daily News reporter
No Proof of Murder
Jeweler Davis and the Novelist
Jeweler Davis and the Trunk
Eyewitness: Henry Darrow
HH Holmes’ Kite
The Quinlans Confess – Maybe
Facsimile of The Signatures
Overalls and Blood
The Deadly Gas Debunked?
The Chicago Mail Gives Up
Eyewitness: Cora Quinlan
1895 Description: Castle of a Modern Bluebeard
Was the Castle About to be a Museum?
The Castle Burns (Again) 1895:
The Glass Bending Factory
1896: The Castle Torn Down
Holmes Castle Ad
Eyewitness Account: HH Holmes
Attorney Duncombe on Holmes
1896: The Castle on the Day Holmes Was Hanged
1902: Tge Murder Castle is Haunted Castle
Photo: 1902 (with tower)
1903: Another Fire
1937: The Murder Castle Today
Castle Photo: 1937
1938: Castle Will be Razed
Castle Site Today
Full List of Evidence Found

Just 3.99 on Kindle!
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The Murder Castle “Ghost Audio”

It was about four months ago now that I went into the basement of the post office on 63rd street – the one built over a portion of the site where the H.H. Holmes Murder Castle stood. Pictures and video are available here.
I was officially just there as a historian, but naturally I did a bit of ghost hunting while I was at it. I had an audio recorder running as I sat in the old tunnel, which runs right into the castle footprint. For lack of a better idea, I started whispering the names of the known victims who likely died there (there are only a few known ones, really, not dozens or hundreds).  I didn’t hear anything at the time, but when I played the recording back, there was this voice – the sort of thing ghost hunters refer to as EVP (“electronic voice phenomenon”)

I’ve no idea what that is – the only “logical” explanation is water running through the pipes, but it sounds awfully human for that. If it’s a ghost, the most likely candidate would be Pearl Conner, who disappeared along with her mother, Julia, around Christmas, 1891. As near as I can transcribe it, she’s saying “Sorry Beefalow,” which sounds like the worst Chef Boyardee product ever. There’s a recipe linked at the site above.

Others, however, have suggested that it’s “buried deep below.” Women, in particular, tend to hear “Why did she go,” which would be presumably a reference to her mother, who had been carrying on an affair with Holmes (according to her ex-husband, to whom Holmes subtly bragged about it). Assuming it’s a ghost, it could be any of these things; perhaps the lack of vocal chords makes it hard to form the sounds one intends to.

The three women whose names I’m whispering – Emeline Cigrand, Julia Conner, and Pearl Conner – are the three people I’m most confident Holmes killed in the castle. Anna Williams and Emily Van Tassel might have been killed on the north side, and the whole thing with Minnie Williams is just weird: alone among his wives and lovers, she seems to have had some idea of what was going on, and is the only woman he called his “wife” who vanished. That she killed Anna herself, as Holmes claimed, isn’t exactly impossible, and the possibility that she ran away instead of being murdered isn’t out of the question. Those are just about the only known Chicago victims. Most of the stories you hear about there being dozens or hundreds more come from 1940s pulps.

What DO you hear in the audio? “Why did she go?” A toilet flushing? I’m not normally one to get too interested in equipment readings; they usually require a of imagination to make you think they’re ghosts, and most can be explained away without too much trouble. That’s why I generally throw in a terrible recipe or something along with the “evidence” – as a researcher, this isn’t the sort of thing I take too terribly seriously. But little imagination is required with this one.  Here’s a recipe for Sorry Beefalow!

The Murder Castle: Today (or: Good Grief, More HH Holmes) #2

So, is there anything left of the infamous H.H. Holmes “Murder Castle?”

“The Holmes Castle” was a well-known building in Englewood well into the 20th century; contrary to popular belief, the 1895 fire did not burn it to the ground. The top two floors had to be rebuilt and remodeled, but the place was still standing until the late 1930s, when it was torn down to make room for the new post office. I’ve spoken to a couple of people who still remember the place from when they were kids – the story was generally forgotten then, but people were still superstitious about the buildings.

above: Adam in the “tunnel” in the post office basement while filming with the History Channel in 2012. It’s not open to visitors and Adam hasn’t been back in since! 

The post office doesn’t occupy the EXACT same footprint as the castle, though. In fact, there’s not much overlap at all. Most of the castle would had been in the grassy area directly east of the castle. The railroad tracks were grade-level at the time the castle stood.  Climbing the back tree might take you right into the airspace of the “asphyxiation chamber.”

By lining up the three versions of the fire insurance maps (two from when the castle was there, and one from the post office), we can see that it did overlap with the portion of the post office that juts out on the left – between a third of it to all of it, depending on how you measure things (lining up these hand-drawn maps is not an exact science, though lining up the railroad tracks helps a lot).  Here’s an overlay of two of them, with the castle shaded in. You can see just a bit of overlap:
And here’s my best attempt at superimposing the castle where it would have done.


So, this brings up the major question: is there anything left? Perhaps of the old foundations? Certainly some of the basement overlaps with the original footprint. Recently, I had the chance to explore the place on a TV shoot with the History Channel.

Down below, there’s a point where you can climb a step-ladder into a hole in the wall that leads to a sort of tunnel/crawlspace. The ceiling is about 5.5 feet off the ground in the tunnel, and there’s one line of bricks:

According to the post office, this was an escape hatch from the “castle.” Now, I’ve never actually seen any account of there being a tunnel down there, and no such thing was mentioned during the investigation in 1895. But these were the same investigators who found a large tank filled with gas and emitting a noxious odor, and decided to light a match to get a better look.

It’s a bit west of the castle site; it’s possible the 1895 investigators could have found it if they knocked out a western wall.  I sent some close-ups of the bricks to Punk Rock James, our official archaeologist, who said that the bricks look right for being from the 1890s; the lower couple of rows were probably underground foundation lays, and the upper ones show some fire damage (which is just what you want to hear if you want to imagine that these are from the castle).  This portion of the tunnel is west, and probably a bit south, of the foundation, so I’d say they’re more likely from a building next door, if it’s not actually an escape hatch.

But at the end of the tunnel it takes a left hand turn to the north, and this part certainly goes RIGHT into the castle footprint:

So, this brings us to the big question: is the place haunted?

Well, I did some some pictures and an audio recording – see our static Murder Castle Ghosts page:

I always say that there’s no such thing as good ghost evidence, only cool ghost evidence. But this is, as far as I know, the first cool ghost evidence ever collected at the castle site.

I’m a snot-nosed skeptic about all this stuff, though. I’m even skeptical about about the castle itself – I would only say with confidence that three people were killed there. Six to eight tops, including a couple of who died off-site after being given poison there.   Holmes probably only burned a couple of bodies in the castle before deciding that destroying a body in a crowded building was too much trouble and shipping them off-site to one of his “glass bending” facilities (he had a weird pre-occupation with bending glass; people eventually guessed that he was probably really using the massive furnaces he built for that purpose to get rid of bodies. He sure as hell never used them to bend any glass).

I tend to think of Holmes as a swindler, first and foremost, who happened to kill people now and then, not as a regular serial killer. His suspected number of victims stood at 9-12 in his lifetime, and didn’t start inflating until about the 1940s. Nowadays it seems to go up by a hundred or so every Halloween. But as far as hauntings go, the story still checks out – a few murders are more than enough, and as long as ANY of the current building overlaps, I think it’s fair game to look for ghosts there. If you can come back from the dead, you ought to be able to make it down the hall.

So, I’ll have more info for you guys eventually. In the mean time, consider one of Chicago Unbelievable’s line of Holmes-lore ebooks, or the new GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book.
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Did the people who participated in the trial that sent Holmes to the gallows die mysteriously? The Holmes “evil eye” was not just a story invented by pulp writers years later; papers were speaking of it even before Holmes died, and continued to retell the story for years. Find out all about it in this mini ebook! Amazon (kindle) BN (Nook)
And for more on Punk Rock James, there’s a whole interview with him in The Smart Aleck’s Guide to Grave Robbing, which includes everything you need to launch YOUR career as a 19th century resurrection man – the Smart Aleck way! We here at Chicago Unbelievable strongly suspect that Holmes chose to attend the University of Michigan because of its reputation as a hub for body snatching.