H. H. Holmes’ Indiana ConnectionPosted on: March 23, 2019, by : Jeff Turner
By Jeff Turner
Herman Webster Mudgett, better known by the name “H. H. Holmes,” was America’s first documented serial killer. Active during the last two decades of the nineteenth century, Holmes is primarily known for the atrocious crimes that took place in his Chicago Hotel, where he lured hapless victims to their deaths, robbing them of their valuables and committing other indecencies upon their persons before murdering them, then burning their bodies in a stove.
It wasn’t the murders in Chicago that resulted in Holmes’ arrest, conviction, and hanging however. In reality it was an insurance scam gone awry. This bungled money-making scheme showed the lengths of depravity Holmes was willing to stoop to in order to remain at liberty. This deceitful scheme led to multiple murders, one of which took place in a house here in Indianapolis, in Irvington to be precise.
In 1894, Holmes set up an insurance scam in Philadelphia with his longtime business associate Benjamin Pitezel. The scam would involve the two men producing a body that resembled Pitezel, which they would use as proof of Pitezel having died in an accident. The two men would then split the $10,000 life insurance payment they would receive once the company was informed of Pitezel’s demise.
Holmes, of course, had other ideas. He murdered Pitezel, making the death appear to be an accident, pocketed the life insurance money, and, instead of giving it to Pitezel’s widow (who would not learn of the deception until much later), went on a cross-country trip that would result in the murders of three of Pitezel’s children. Eight-year-old Howard Pitezel was murdered by Holmes in Irvington, at 5811 Julian Avenue, which still stands today. The other two children were murdered by Holmes in Toronto, Canada, not long thereafter. Holmes was eventually arrested in Boston, went to trial, and was sentenced to death by hanging.
A look at Holmes’ autobiography reveals the twisted psyche of this murderous man, one willing to kill children in order to further his own nefarious and selfish needs. He takes no responsibilities for any of the murders, not the ones in Chicago or any of the others. He always has a rather elaborate alibi for each murder, even inventing a man named “Edward Hatch,” who he blames for the children’s murders. He even goes as far as to state that Pitezel actually died from “suicide” and that he arranged the scene in such a way as to make it appear to be an accident in order to receive the life insurance payment. This was clearly an attempt to mitigate the charges against him so that he could plead guilty to a lesser charge of insurance fraud rather than murder.
In truth, however, Holmes was a pathological liar, a sociopath of the worst kind. His motives were purely financial, unlike other prolific serial killers. Some estimate his body count to be as high as two hundred. Despite having penned an autobiography in which he went to ridiculous lengths to prove his innocence, Holmes shortly thereafter confessed to twenty-seven murders, including those of people he at first claimed were “alive and well” in his autobiography (as well as Howard Pitezel and his two sisters). Some of these murders are thought to be inventions of Holmes’ as he was paid by a newspaper for providing him. Also, many experts dispute claims that Holmes killed upwards of two hundred people, these figures largely the result of embellishments concerning Holmes’ crimes, according to multiple sources. While not a Hoosier, he nonetheless does add an interesting layer to the darker parts of Indianapolis history. The house in Irvington, the site of one of the most abominable crimes in Holmes’ career of murder and deceit, remains a testament to this.
An “H. H. Holmes House” is also now located in Irvington at 5529 Bonna Avenue, which offers those intrigued by Holmes’ murderous life with more information on America’s first documented serial killer and his impact.