On Sunday, April 12, 1896 a facsimile of a handwritten note appeared on the front page of the New York Journal. The note read, “To the New York Journal: I positively and emphatically deny the assertions that any confession has been made by me except one and which is the only one that will be made(.) The original confession is the one given to the New York Journal. It alone is genuine all others are untrue. Signed H H Holmes April 11 1896.” His confession, in which he claimed to have murdered 27 people, appeared in the same edition of the newspaper. As has been noted earlier, some of the people he claimed to have killed were later established to still be alive, despite his claims of the confession being “genuine”.
Throughout the confession Holmes wrote of the defects of character which he had developed, and that they were easily discernible in his countenance, having caused physical changes to his face. He wrote of killing for “pecuniary gain” and that as his murders piled up he developed “the light regard I had for the lives of my fellow beings”. Holmes wrote of killing one of his male victims by starving him almost to death before needing the room in which he was held, “for another purpose and because his pleadings had become almost unbearable, I ended his life”. Holmes also described victims selected for the purpose of extorting their money, starving and gassing them over a period of time before they signed over securities and accounts to him, after which he finished them off and sold their bodies to medical schools. The chilling nature of his narrative sold well, and despite it being self-described as true, he later renounced the entire tale.
17. The Philadelphia Inquirer confession was contradicted
The confession which Holmes provided to the New York Journal, accompanied with the handwritten note which was reproduced on the front page, was not, as he claimed, the only confession he provided to the newspapers, if the newspapers of the day are to be believed. His first confession was to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the leading newspaper of the city where he was tried for the murder of his former partner, convicted, and sentenced to death. In it he claimed to have killed 27 people, and gave a mostly chronological (some were listed out of order, according to Holmes) listing of the victims and the circumstances of their deaths, including in some cases the money which he made from the killings. In some instances the victims were unnamed, with Holmes claiming that he simply couldn’t remember the name of the persons he had killed.
In some reproductions of the confessions, Holmes was quoted as saying, “I was born with the devil in me”, which did not appear in all newspapers which ran portions of the statements he gave. Whether Holmes uttered the words which explain his becoming a serial killer through the impetus of Satan has been debated ever since, as have so much of his life and his crimes. At the time of his execution, Holmes again recanted, denying his guilt in any killings. Holmes gave his final statement, according to his own words, because, “by not speaking I may be made to acquiesce in my execution”. After his execution, rumors began almost immediately that he had somehow managed to escape, and that the man buried outside Philadelphia had been another cadaver. The rumors led to his body being exhumed and tested for DNA evidence in 2017.
18. There are those who believe he was Jack the Ripper
H. H. Holmes has been mythologized by those to whom he has become a cottage industry, with longstanding rumors that he escaped the gallows and fled to South America, and even that he was the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murders assigned to the killer known as Jack the Ripper. As early as 1898, newspapers reported that Holmes had bribed the jailers who carried his living body out of prison in a coffin, after which he vanished. The rumors were based, in part, on Holmes being buried ten feet underground, sealed in concrete. A story in an 1898 edition of the Chicago Inter-Ocean claimed that Holmes was alive and living in Paraguay, earning a living as a coffee grower. The exhumation of the body and confirmation that it was in fact Holmes (through dental records) did little to end the speculation.
The truth about H. H. Holmes is forever obscured by the sensationalist manner in which he was described by the newspapers of the time, by his own contradictory statements, and by the continuing efforts to link him to crimes around the world. His name makes money through mystery tours, blogs, books, television specials, and films. Understanding that first and foremost he was a swindler and a liar, who killed primarily for profit, and who sold his story for profit, is important to his story. His alleged memoir, Holmes Own Story, said to have been written in prison, expresses his complete denial of involvement in the murder of his partner, the crime for which he was executed. Holmes was not America’s first or worst serial killer. But he was a murderer without conscience. “The legend of the Devil in the White City is effectively a new American tall tale”, wrote Adam Selzer, after researching the Holmes legend for years. “And like all the best tall tales, it sprang from a kernel of truth”.
Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources: