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The Murder Castle Sign Shop Kidnapping (updated!)

1896

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.

1938

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.

updated:
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.



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4 thoughts on “The Murder Castle Sign Shop Kidnapping (updated!)

  1. Adam Selzer

    Hi, Anon! I'd love to talk more, but your email address bounced when I tried to write. I'd love to talk more and hear more of the story; if you knew her then apparently she was eventually found (assuming you aren't at least 100 years old and knew her in 1920)! I've pasted your message below, so it's still there, but removed yours as it's not generally wise to have one's email address up on here. You can contact me at staff AT smartalecksguide.com Thanks! – adam

    anon message:
    H Spatz was my great grandfather. Maxine was my great aunt and I knew her well. She lived in Chicago and moved with her family to Elkhart IN.

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