13. The Castle was described in newspapers without evidence
In August of 1893, during the height of the Columbian Exposition the Castle, which Holmes had been advertising as the World’s Fair Hotel, caught fire on its third floor. Holmes had heavily insured the building and its contents with no fewer than four insurance companies, all of which refused to pay his claims, and which sued him for insurance fraud. Fire investigators inspected the building, as did insurance investigators, and none of the later announced murder and torture apparatus claimed to have been in the building were found. It was the pressure of the insurance inspectors and the potential charges of fraud which drove Holmes to leave Chicago for Texas, and which led to his meeting with Hedgepeth and Howe.
Despite the lack of evidence, or perhaps because of it, the newspapers sensationalized the scant findings in the castle. When Holmes stood on the gallows and made his final statement, which refuted that given to Hearst earlier when he accounted for 27 murders, he denied killing anyone other than two women during what he called a criminal medical procedure, which in the late nineteenth century was often a euphemism for an abortion. “I only want to say that the extent of my wrongdoings in the taking of human life consisted in the death of two women, they having died at my hands as the result of criminal operations”, stated Holmes, according to an eyewitness to the execution, and reported in the San Francisco Call. According to the same account, the two women to which Holmes referred were Emily Cigrand and Julia Smythe Connor.
14. The truth about the Castle’s secret rooms
H. H. Holmes did indeed have numerous secret rooms and concealed passages built in the Castle, which were reported in the city of Chicago in March of 1893, before the opening of the Columbian Exposition, by the Chicago Tribune. Holmes furnished his rooms on credit, did not pay his creditors, and hid the furnishings, as well as cash, from them when they came to collect what they were owed or repossess. It was some of these mortgaged furnishings which he sold, leading to his arrest in St. Louis, removing them from the Castle before the 1893 fire destroyed a portion of the third floor. The first floor of the Castle housed retail businesses, which by their nature have numerous visitors throughout the course of the business day, which included Saturdays in the 1890s.
The main purpose of the Castle was to bilk investors and lenders, and the evidence that Holmes did so repeatedly is undeniable. He was sued in Chicago courts more than 50 times, which were well reported in the Chicago newspapers, as were the frequent visits of the police to the Castle, accompanying bill collectors to enforce court orders. Following the Columbian Exposition some newspapers claimed, without supporting evidence, that more than fifty women had been traced from attendance at the exposition to the Castle, from which they vanished from sight forever. But the police found no evidence of them. What they did find, such as a length of rope, became evidence that Holmes had hanged some of his victims, gas lines became designed for asphyxiation in airless rooms, rather than the source of illumination as they were in most houses, in the fevered imaginations of the reporters of the day. A wood stove for heat became a crematorium.