The Castle Story of HH Holmes’ Murder and Sightings in the Basement of the Englewood Post Office in its Place – CBS Chicago


CHICAGO (CBS) – If you go to the corner of 63rd and Wallace streets in the community of Englewood today, you will find a US post office.

The Post Office is a modest and somewhat institutional building of yellow brick – one of many built during the New Deal era under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Chicago Transit Authority’s Green Line passes over a raised trestle just behind the post office, while a weathered concrete freight train embankment passes just to the east. An eagle carved in stone hangs above the entrance doors to the post office, while a sign with three yellow triangles in a blue circle next to the doors evokes a past of looming uncertainty – indicating a fallout shelter in the building.

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(Credit: CBS 2)

We will return to the Englewood post office. This story mainly concerns the building that stood there before the post office was built.

The post office does not stand perfectly on the footprint of this ancient building. Tony Szabelski of Chicago Hauntings Ghost Tours says he would have encompassed the eastern part of the current post office footprint and the grassy mound that separates the post office from the freight train embankment.

Englewood Post Office

(Credit: CBS 2)

This older building is more infamously known as the Murder Castle. We don’t know exactly how many people HH Holmes – one of America’s first serial killers – was murdered in the building during the Colombia World’s Fair a few miles east of Jackson. Park in 1893. But its horrors are well documented, though subject to some conflicting legends and traditions and a difficult task of separating fact from myth.

HH Holmes

HH Holmes, known as America’s first serial killer, confessed to the murder of 27 people in the 1890s. (Public domain)

The Crime Museum tells us that HH Holmes was born Herman Webster Mudgett in New Hampshire. He graduated from high school and attended the University of Michigan medical school – where the Crime Museum goes the story goes that he stole corpses from the school lab, brought them to life. disfigured or burned, then planted the bodies to suggest they had been killed in accidents – when taking out insurance policies on the deceased in question and collecting the money.

Holmes moved to Chicago around 1885 after completing medical school and began working in a pharmacy under the name of Dr Henry Howard Holmes, the Crime Museum tells us. The pharmacy appears to have been located on the northwest corner of 63rd and Wallace streets, where an Aldi store is now located with ample parking.

The commonly heard story goes that the pharmacy was owned by an elderly man with terminal cancer named Dr ES Holton, whose wife took over the store when he died and from whom Holmes bought the store. Ms Holton is missing and Holmes has told everyone that she moved to California – and we never heard from her again, the story goes. The implication is that most thought Holmes probably killed her.

But in a 2013 article, Adam Selzer of Mysterious Chicago reports that some aspects of this story are not accurate. He reported that it turned out that Dr ES Holton was not Mr Holton, but Mrs Holton – the initials stood for Elizabeth Sarah. Dr Holton and her husband William also survived Holmes by several years and still lived in Chicago after Holmes’ execution – the old pharmacist dying of cancer was a myth apparently spread by Holmes himself, reports Selzer .

What is known is that Holmes took over the pharmacy and had the building which became known as Murder Castle across the street between 1889 and 1891 constructed. The Crime Museum reports that Holmes hired and fired many crews during the construction period so they weren’t able to figure out what he was really doing with the building.

The building originally had two floors – with storefronts including a pharmacy on the ground floor and apartments above. Holmes added a third story.

View of HH Holmes’ ‘Murder Castle’, on W. 63rd Street, Chicago, Illinois, mid-1890s (Photo by Chicago History Museum / Getty Images)

After the building was completed, the story goes that Holmes began placing classifieds for jobs for young women, as well as advertising the hotel as a place to stay, the Crime Museum reported. The story goes that hotel employees and guests were also required to have life insurance policies, and Holmes himself paid the premiums on condition that they name him as the beneficiary, according to the Crime Museum account. .

Soon after, many women began to disappear, the story goes.

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When the World’s Fair arrived in Chicago – attracting tourists from all over the world – the story goes that Holmes Castle was billed as the World’s Fair hotel.

Colombian World Exhibition

View of the huge Builders and Liberal Arts building, seen beyond a bridge over the basin in the White City section of the Universal Exposition of Colombia. Chicago, Illinois, 1893. (Stock Photo Montage / Getty Images)

Inside Holmes Castle, Szabelski reports that the rooms could not be locked from inside the room – only outside. Meanwhile, everything back then was lit by gas lamps, and the connections to the gas lamps were outside the room – set up so that Holmes could turn on gas and suffocate people at will.

Szabelski notes that the building also had a lot of weird quirks when it was built. There were doors and stairwells that led nowhere, and hidden and closed rooms throughout the building. The stories say that parts of the walls moved and there were falls leading to the basement. In a December 1943 article for Harper’s Magazine, writer John Bartlow Martin used the most gruesome terms to describe this basement:

“The cellar was perhaps the most remarkable part of the building. It was equipped with operating tables, a crematorium, pits containing quicklime and acids, surgical instruments and various apparatus which, resembling medieval torture stands, were never satisfactorily explained. (Some believed Holmes used these devices to snatch from his victims where their wealth lay; others said he used them in experiments which he hoped would prove his favorite theory that the human body could be stretched indefinitely, a treatment which, in the end, would produce a race of giants.) Holmes sometimes completely destroyed the bodies of his victims; sometimes, aided by a needy skeleton articulator responding to his newspaper ad, he tore the flesh from their bones and sold the skeletons to medical institutions.

However, Selzer reports in his book “HH Holmes, The True Story of the White City Devil” that some of these stories are mythological. While reports indicate Holmes told investors he planned to use the building as a hotel for World’s Fair guests, Selzer writes that the castle never actually functioned as a fully functional hotel. Selzer also writes that the building’s secret rooms were really used to hide stolen furniture rather than dispose of bodies.

Selzer also reports that only one of Holmes’ victims was known to be a tourist visiting the World’s Fair.

Still, there are estimates that Holmes killed as many as 200 people, and there were at least nine or 10 people who we know were last seen with Holmes in the building, and who n ‘have never been seen again, Szabelski tells us.

Meanwhile, Holmes left Chicago and traveled to Texas and then to St. Louis, where he was arrested and jailed for a scam operation involving the sale of stolen horses, the story goes. While behind the jail, the story goes that he hired his cellmate – Wild West outlaw Marion Hedgepath – to set up an insurance scam where Holmes would take out a policy. $ 10,000 on his own life and then fake his own death.

Holmes tried to buy the policy after being released on bail, but the insurance company became suspicious. So Holmes traveled to Philadelphia and concocted a similar plan in which his longtime business partner, Benjamin Pitezel, would be the one to fake his own death. , the story continues. But Holmes actually killed Pitezel and killed Pitezel’s three children. The bodies of daughters Alice and Nellie were found buried in Toronto, and the body of her son Howard in Indianapolis, according to several accounts.

Holmes was tried and convicted of the murder of Ben Pitezel, and was hanged in a public execution at Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia on May 7, 1896.

So of course you wanted to know about ghost stories. Many people say the post office basement that now occupies the site of the murder castle can be very spooky, Szabelski tells us. They report hearing sounds or seeing ghost figures.

There is a part of the basement of the current building that crosses a section that would be under the grassy area to the east. This part of the basement would appear to be much older, and many people believe it was part of the original basement of the castle from Holmes’ murder.

Finally, there is the question of what happened to Murder Castle after Holmes left it behind. Most reports indicate that after the completion of a police investigation into the building, someone by the name of AM Clark took it over with the intention of turning it into a grisly museum. Many reports say that shortly after this – in 1895, sometime before Holmes’ execution – the building burned down.

The second part is not true. Selzer points out in his book that although a fire damaged the building around this time, the top two floors were subsequently rebuilt – and the building remained until it was finally demolished in the 1930s to make way for the post office.

The story of Holmes and the Murder Castle returned to popular consciousness in 2003, when Erik Larson’s book “The Devil in the White City” became a bestseller.

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Video produced by Blake Tyson. Story written by Adam Harrington.

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