May 10, 2017 I Brett Tingley

Mystery Surrounds Remains of America’s First Serial Killer

H. H. Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in 1861. Despite the handicap of such a hilarious name, Holmes graduated from medical school in 1884. Shortly after, Mudgett was accused of procuring cadavers by illicit means and using them for insurance fraud. To escape those charges, Mudgett then fled to Chicago and changed his name to H. H. Holmes. There, Holmes reportedly built a “Murder Castle” that should be the envy of any horror writer where Holmes is said to have tortured, murdered, and mutilated dozens of victims. However, some researchers claim the murder castle to be a fiction of recent history.

The mixed-use "murder castle" where Holmes reportedly imprisoned and killed his victims.

Whatever the building was used for, insurance fraud led to Holmes’ arrest and hanging in 1886. Holmes personally requested that his remains be buried extra deep under a thick layer of concrete in order to deter grave robbers. After his death, various rumors circulated that Holmes might have somehow swapped identities with another individual and cheated the hangman. A theory from 1898 claims that Holmes paid prison guards to place a cadaver in his casket while he fled to South America

Holmes' capture and arrest was a national sensation.

However improbable those claims might sound, a judge in Philadelphia has granted a group of Holmes’ descendants the right to exhume his remains in order to prove who exactly is in the grave. The Anthropology Department of the University of Pennsylvania will perform DNA analysis to determine the identity of the remains. The court order was granted after living relatives of the infamous serial killer called for an end to the uncertainty surrounding Homes' remains. Holmes’ great-great-granddaughter Jennifer Saber says the news came as a shock to her when she found out her immediate relatives were the ones behind the exhumation:

I told my aunt, ‘Hey, who’s the one doing this?’ “And she goes, ‘Well, we found out that we were actually the ones who own the plot so we were curious and we wanted to go ahead and put these conspiracy theories to rest. And I’m just like, OK. Not that he deserves to rest in peace, either, according to some people, because he was a horrible person. He killed a lot of people.

Just how many people Holmes killed remains a mystery. Holmes confessed to 27 murders, but some historians suggest that figure could be in the hundreds. A new biography of Holmes claims that the disgraced doctor was a legendary swindler and could have likely inflated those numbers in order to create a historical legacy for himself. At least he was successful in doing that.

Could Holmes have escaped? Some historians claim it's possible.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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