Did H.H. Holmes really say “I was born with the Devil in me?”

I’ve finally acquired a copy of the “confession” of H.H. Holmes as excerpted in the Phildelphia North American on April 11, 1896, which was cited by many regional papers as the source of many of the famous “Holmes” quotes, including the notable “I was born with the devil in me” passage.  That portion was absent from the complete version of the “confession” that was published in The Philadelphia Inquirer  on the same day . There were a couple of parts that were unintelligible in the scan, but in one major case I was able to fill in the blanks using excerpts published in regional papers.  

Buried in the middle of it, there’s a point where the North American says their own source is the advance proofs of the confession Holmes’ own hand (presumably the one that was published in the Inquirer, which they studiously avoid mentioning). Through most of the article, they subtly imply that the confession was written for THEM.

My first inclination was to think that they got a look at the proofs and tried to reconstruct it from memory – this certainly seems to be the case in the parts about turning into the devil, which are also in the Inquirer, though in different words. However, none of Holmes’ direct quotes in the article actually appear verbatim in the full version, and a couple of sections are unlike anything that occurred in the confession at all, making me wonder if they just made it up altogether. 

This is all probably going to boil down to whether The North American was a respectable paper of more of a tabloid in 1896. Most of the other articles that I can see in the margins of the scan seem respectable enough, but most of this article is pretty much “pot boiler” writing, re-stating a few main themes and concepts over and over to stretch what little info they had to go on to cover their full front page.  
Many regional papers printed excerpts from the North American, including the portion about Holmes mutilating his son (which does not appear in the full version). Since every regional paper demurely refrained from including all of the details of that part of the story, I had thought that their source paper might have the full version, but it doesn’t appear to. Since the scan of  that portion of the paper at the Free Library was unreadable, I’ve filled in the blanks using an excerpt of it published in the Sydney Morning Herald.

You can get a full analysis of the confession, plus the two slightly different ones published and attributed to him in the Inquirer and in the New York Journal, in our Three Confessions of HH Holmes ebook, and a ton more primary source data in our Murder Castle Ebook, much of it made available there for the first time.  Also see our Master List of Known and Suspected Victims and our Top Ten Myths regarding Holmes
My full transcription of the article is below – thanks for Peter Stone Brown of Philadelphia for digging it up at the Philadelphia Free Library!
Saturday, April 11, 1896. Eight Pages. One cent.
The Story of the Most Horrible Murderer Ever Known in the Annals of Crime


The Multi-Murderer Feels That He Is Gradually Turning Face and All Into a Demon


The Man Now Sitting In the Shadow of the Gallows Tells How He Took His Little Son into a Barn and There Committed the Most Horrible of Crimes – “I Was Born With the Devil In Me” – A Fearful Narration of the Taking of Twenty-Seven Lives – His One Regret.”
(click to see the full transcription of the article)

“Yes I was born with the devil in me,” is the startling declaration which H.H. Holmes, the arch-murder, the multi-mutilator and self-admitted author of 27 murders makes in his awful confession of guilt, which the North American is enabled to present to its readers for their perusal to-day.

Then he adds: “I was born with the evil standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”

This startling declaration strikes the keynote of the long and revolting story told by the arch murderer himself, and which was written word for word by the man now sitting in the shadow of the gallows and awaiting only the fatal moment when the noose will be placed about his neck and his power ruthlessly and recklessly to destroy will forever be removed.

This confession, this terrible record, of slaughter made by the man himself and over which he seems to gloat as he leaps from word to word in the written recollection of his blood deeds, at last tells the true story of his murderer’s life, his motive and the dark inspiration that led him to choose a life to devoted absolutely and fervidly to the pursuit of murder.

Imbued with the conviction that he was born for murder, that he was possessed of the evil one, and that he really at this moment is gradually but surely turning body and soul into an imp, a representative of the infernal regions, under whose banner he has so long served, this man, feeling not the slightest pang of remorse, and expressing no regret whatever for the twenty-seven souls he has ushered into eternity, sits to-day and, more like demon than man, tells the story of his bloodthirsty career.

Beginning at the date of his birth, the impious character of which he so graphically describes in the opening sentence, he leads the reader on line by line through   the chapters reeking with gore and swelling to heaven with the foulness of his deeds until he pictures himself as a fiend, a monster, changed not only in mind actually in feature, to the demon he has lived all his life long.

He tells with awfully dramatic effect of his registered vow to learn the subtle qualities of fatal drugs – the agencies that kill be sleep and stealth – the employ ( UNINTELLIGIBLE one line) -cine, and made doubly dangerous, he meant to pursue.

He speaks of the holy bond of matrimony into which he entered while still a youth, and his ghastly mutilation of the innocent result of that union.

n and on he goes,  and tells with utter abandon of the murder planned, carried out and the out beings whom he put out of the world, and whose friends never knew how they died.

He designates them by name, as a tradesman would his wares, and speaks of the fine work he did here or the botch me made there.

Only once does he show remorse, and that is when speaking of Minnie Williams.

“I really did love that woman,” he says, and then, with an expression that passes off like a sigh, he seems to say, “Well, it’s done, and it was a good job.”

Throughour the long story, that reads more like a book of the wildest kind of fiction, the pen never falters, and the gloom of the cell never for a moment seems to dim the page.

“I believe I have no longer anything human in me,” he declares, and then makes the startling statement in conclusion that “he is gradually turning in a devil, head, tail and all.”

In conclusion he declares that an abnormal deformity is gradually taking place in his form and features, and standing as he does on the threshold of his doom, declares, multi-murderer that his is, that he is already the living personification of Satan himself.

Can it be, indeed, that the evil one has actually put his mark upon his own in such a way that it cannot be mistaken, or is it the ( ) of a demon in the flesh that occupies the cell in the County Prison?

Verily, the North American is led to believe that such is the case.


Holmes Makes the Confession to Enable Him to Secure Money With Which His Son My Be Educated

In prefacing the confession of his many murders, which cover in full nearly three newspaper pagers, written in Holmes’ own handwriting and detailing with a minuteness that is simply at times revolting, the arch mutilator and author of twenty-seen murders, as he admits himself to be, states with something like pathos that he does so simply that he may obtain enough money to educate his boy.

That “boy,” outside of one of the victims of his numerous tragedies, seems to be the only human thing that ever reached the absyssmal heart of H.H. Holmes.

It was because of the love of the boy primarily that he determined when he found the shadows of the gallows closing upon him to accept the offers made in big sums of money to write a confession, and it was because the lad that the latter might be left enough money to see him safely through life, that the fantastically criminal father accepted the offer and wrote out night after night by the dim burning light in his cell the words which rise up against him and stamp him as the most terrible of human monsters that ever lived since the days of conspicuous degenerates began.

It was then that Holmes made the request of Judge Arnold of “the light in his cell,” and procured copy paper and pens and began to write the memorable document, the advance proofs of which the North American has seen, and which in part this journal reproduces below.

It may be stated at the beginning that Holmes writes of his bloodcurdling atrocities with an abandon that simply appalls one. None one grain of remorse seems to enter in to the construction of that terrible document, and never for a moment, except in two isolated cases – one where he refers touchingly to the memory of Minnie Williams and another time when he pathetically speaks of an outrage perpetrated on his boy, does the redeeming element pity figures in the case Regret is never for a moment expressed.  “Nascor (? non fit” seemed to be the motto of Holmes with regard to his devilish inclinations and he comes out boldly and without compunction at the very opening with the statement “I was born with the very devil in me.”


Holmes as he Sites in his cell at Moyamensing Believes Fervently That He is Owned by the Evil One

(untinelligigble – roughly two column inches)

-tion, which conjures up hosts of vengeance-calling dead, or not, his face assuming the lok, the eyes, the leer, and the very ears the exact similitude of the picture of Satan themselves.

“Yes, I was born with the devil in me,” says he in one part of the concessions. “I could not help the fact that I was a murderer no more then the poet can help the inspiration to song, nor the ambition of an intellectual man to be great. I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.”

“The inclination to murder came to me as naturally as the inspiration to do right comes to the majority of persons.

“Where others’ hears were touched with pity, mine filled with cruelty, and where in others the feeling was to save life, I revealed in the thoughts of destroying the same.

“Not only  that, I was not satisfied in taking it in the ordinary way. I sought devices strange, fantastical and even grotesque. It pleased my fancy. It gave me play to work my murderous will, and I revealed in it with the enthusiasm of an alchemist who is hot on the trail of the philosopher’s stone.

“This inclination,” continues Holmes, “came to my early in life. I remember when a mere lad my ambition was to study medicine, that I might know the relative effects of poisonous ases, that I might fully become acquainted with their uses, and learn to be an expert in handling them.”

This inclination, according to the multi-murderer, followed him up through boyhood, confronted him as he stood on the threshold of manhood, and when he entered into the sacred state of husbandhood it even confronted him there in an eveil shape, and led him to think of murders then to be committed, to be kept in oblivion for some time to come, but finally to be divulged before HEaven and earth and rise up against him as he mounted the steps of an avenging scaffold.
The Arch Mutilator Firmly Confinces That His Features Are Growing to Resemble More and More Those of The Arch Fiend

This feeling so grew upon the man that he lost all affinity for his brother man. He felt himself apart from the rest of the world, and endowed with a mission to destroy everyone and everything that crossed his path.

So possessed had Holmes become with this belief that he grew to imagine himself a part and parcel of the Inferno, and now that he is imprisoned, and his brooding thoughts have more time to work on his disordered brain, he is fully convinced that physically as well as mentally he is slowly but surely growing to look like a devil, and that incipient malformation has already taken place.

“I am convinced,” he declares, that since my imprisonment I have changed woefully and gruesomely from what I formerly was in feature and in figure.”

“If you look at my picture when I was first taken into custody in Boston, nearly two years ago, and look at my face now, you may begin to observe something of what I mean

“I mean, in fact, that my features are assuming nothing more nor less than a pronounced Satanic cast; that I have become afflicted with some disease, rare but terrible, with which other physicians are acquainted, but over which they seem to have no control whatever.

“That disease,” said he, “is a malformation or distortion of the osseous parts, causing deformity so marked that in many cases men are made to assume likenesses to the inferior animals.

“It begins with paints (SIC) in all the joints, followed by excruciating symptoms, local on the head and bones of the face.”

“These I attributed at first to rheumatic trouble, until I found that they were gradually causing a change to take place in my whole figure, quite in keeping with my character.”

“The real nature of the malady then began to dawn, and I recollected having studied once about a man whose features had become deformed by this disease in such a way that he gradually grew to resemble a monkey.”

“The horror of the thing did not pall on me, for it was quite in keeping with y nature, and like a true medical student I began to study the new conditions which had arisen.

“From what I can see, I believe fully that I am growing to resemble the devil, that the osseous parts of my head face are gradually assuming the elongated shape so pronounced in what is called the degenerate head, and that the similitude is almost completed.”

“IN fact, so impressed am I with this belief,” continued Holmes, “that I am convinced that I have no longer anything human in me.”

Holmes’ confession from this on speaks of his early experiences of his boyhood days on the farm up in Vermont, and the life he led, until he entered college to study medicine in Mighican.

It was not until after he graduated, fully equipped with the knowledge of poisons and the easiest way to sever the simple thread of life, that Holmes bgan his career as a murderer and mutilator.
“And I would have committed six other murders,” he added, “had not certain occurrences intervened.

“I had planned them and was several times about to carry them out when something intervened.”

The Unnatural Father Took His Son Into a Shed and There Satisfied the Awful Cravings of His Murderous Heart

Possibly one of the worst, most brutal, revolting and disgusting crimes this arch-murderer ever committed was one he speaks of in a chapter devoted to his boy, the son of his first wife, whom he married in New England while but a youth. The chapter in question tells a story that is hardly credible, coming as it does from the lips of a father, and outranks for (unintelligible) any other act he ever committed.

THe only explanation he offers is that he said it simply to gratify his love of mutilation.”

“It was shortly after I was married,” he declares,” “and the boys was then but a youngster playing about with other lads of his own (FOLLOWING UNINTELLIGBLE IN NORTH AMERICAN, FILLED IN FROM SYDNEY MORNING HERALD QUOTES) size and age that I was seized with a wild desire to destroy. I called him in from the road where he was frolicking about….and took him out to a rear barn. I don’t know what it was that possessed me, but I took a surgical knife along with me. It was not the sudden impulse more the maddening desire of a father seeing his child about to grow up and enter a world of sorrow and sin that led me to the deed. No, it was not that. It was simply the craving of the murderer within me that inspired me to make a subject of my little one. I noticed there was a terrible look of fear on the little fellow’s face as I took him into the barn, and he trembled as I took the knife and told him to undress. I have often thought since that it was like the look of the scared rabbit laid on the operating table as its pitiful eyes search the group about him and see them all intent only on the anticipated incision.”

We refrain from quoting the details)….

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6 thoughts on “Did H.H. Holmes really say “I was born with the Devil in me?”

  1. Josh – there are some references from the 1890s to such cylinders, and I think a few are still extant, but it's to be assumed that it was an actor's voice, not his.

  2. Did you actually find the audio from
    the wax cylinders? I have failed to find any solid proof that wax cylinders with Holmes voice even exists! I am advancing upon a previous research paper of him and am scrapping for every primary source I can get my hand on.

  3. I can correct one very minor typo.

    "Nascor (? non fit" must actually be "Nascitur non fit". That's part of a Latin saying, "Poeta nascitur non fit", which means "A poet is born, not made". Without "poeta", it just means basically what Holmes was saying, i.e., he was born the way he was.

    natewhilk at gmail dot com

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