Did H.H. Holmes Kill Dr. Holton? (podcast)


Tickets to our first public tours are on sale now, including one of the H.H. Holmes tours that I’ve been running since 2007. The tours have evolved as I’ve researched Holmes in more depth, and I’m quite confident now that they’re the most informative and entertaining Holmes tours in town. If Devil in the White City piqued your curiousity, you won’t want to miss this (or the “Unsolved Mysteries” tour I’ll be running immediately afterwards!)

And in honor of the tour announcement, here’s a new podcast….

One of my favorite posts ever on this blog was the one about H.H. Holmes and Dr. Holton.  In Devil in the White City (and most every other book about H.H. Holmes), there’s a lurid story about Holmes buying a pharmacy at Sixty-Third and Wallace (across the street from the site where he’d build his famous “murder castle” starting in 1887) from old Dr. Holton’s wife. In the story, Dr. Holton is an old man dying of cancer while his hapless wife tries to run the pharmacy herself. She’s only too happy to sell to Holmes, though, as is his fashion, he never pays. When rumors of a lawsuit circulate, Dr. and Mrs. Holton disappear, and Holmes tells everyone they’ve gone to California….

This story was pieced together from scattered bits of info on Dr. E.S. Holton that were available to researchers in days past – newspapers alluding to Holmes’ buying a pharmacy from “Mrs. Dr. Holton,” and Holmes himself alluding to buying a pharmacy from a physician who was eager to sell owing to ill health, and a few later stories hinting that Mrs. Dr. Holton wasn’t seen around much anymore. From these bits of data, an early 20th century writer put the story together, and writers up to the modern day have repeated it without really questioning it. But the critical information is a lot easier to find for me than it was for researchers in the days before Google Books, when finding the one book with the right data was a lot more luck-of-the-draw.

Several articles stated that “Mrs. Dr. Holton” had some trouble getting the money for the pharmacy, but I could never find a lawsuit on file. The most detailed info I have (which is hearsay from more than a decade after the fact) comes from an 1898 Chicago Inter Ocean article in which one G.A. Bogart, a jeweler who ran a shop a bit further west on 63rd, said that “from the first day he was engaged by Mrs. Holton to run the drug store which he afterward bought from her, he determined to have a busiess of his own; and to that end began carrying off the stock, piecemeal. Every time he left the store he carried something away, and very materially reduced the stock before he made a bit for it. After he concluded the deal he only paid his notes at the muzzle of a gun.”

In our research into who Dr. Holton was and what became of the Holtons, we found a completely different story from the one normally told. Listen in above, check out our podcasts page  or subscribe on iTunes!  And we’ll be back next week with another Holmes story/podcast that I promise is a real doozy!   And don’t forget to check out our upcoming Holmes Tour with Atlas Obscura!

cemetery selfie with Dr Elizabeth Holton's grave
My cemetery selfie at Dr. Holton’s grave
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