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.

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