Sunday, September 29, 2019

Davenport, Iowa Girl Murdered By H. H. Holmes


“Yes, I was born with the devil in me,” wrote H. H. Holmes. “I could not help the fact I was a murderer any more than a poet can help the inspiration to song... I was born with the evil one standing as my sponsor...”

“I killed twenty-seven.” He would have murdered six more had circumstances, not intervened.[1]

The murderer’s real name was Herman Webster Mudgett—a New Hampshire farm boy, and the son of devout Methodist parents. Mudgett worked on his parent’s farm at Gilmanton until he graduated from high school, then taught school. The next year he married Clara Lovering, his high school sweetheart.

Teaching was good, but medicine was Mudgett’s ruling passion. In 1879, he enrolled in the medical program at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He studied anatomy under Professor Herdman, and dissection under the direction of Dr. Nahum Wight.

That led to digging up bodies at local cemeteries — some that he experimented on, and others that he sold to medical students for the cadaver lab. Soon, Mudgett moved on to bigger crimes.

He purchased a $15,000 insurance policy on his life, then passed a cadaver off as himself to collect on the policy. It was a deception he would repeatedly pull from then on.

Mudgett graduated from the Ann Arbor, medical school in 1884. He left his wife in 1887 and moved to Chicago where he became a clerk at a drugstore at No. 700 Sixty-third Street. Several months later, he owned the property and began construction on what would become known as his murder castle.

You know what they say? A new city, a new start.

Shortly after he moved to Chicago, Mudgett changed his name to H. H. Holmes.


Julia L. Connor grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Her parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. Smythe of 1918 Le Claire Street, ran a grocery store on Locust Street. Julia married Frank. L. Connor and moved to Muscatine, Iowa. From all accounts, the marriage was troubled from day one.

Some of Holmes' victims
The Connor’s moved to Chicago in the late 1880s and struck up an acquaintance with H. H. Holmes. In September 1889, Holmes hired Frank Connor as a clerk at his jewelry and drug store. Julia became the bookkeeper. They worked there for maybe a year before Holmes got into financial trouble. Frank Connor took over the store until creditors repossessed the stock.

The Connors separated in late 1890 or early 1891. Some accounts said Julia Connor left her husband because he was abusive. Others said Connor was jealous because H. H. Holmes was spending too much time around his wife.

That may be true.

Contemporary newspapers fancied Holmes as somewhat of a lady’s man. “Mascot” Allen, one of his cohorts from Texas said: “Holmes had the most winning way towards women of any man I ever saw and never mixed up with any that were not good looking.”[2] 

Another source said, “It is a singular fact that all of Holmes’ alleged victims were decidedly pretty and possessed of more than ordinary intelligence.”[3]

Whatever happened, there was some question at first whether Julia Connor came to harm from Holmes or her husband. She visited her parents toward the beginning of 1890 and appeared afraid of her husband. He had been trying to take their seven-year-old daughter away from her, and that was causing Julia some anxiety.

When she left her folks, she told them “that she would hear from them, but they would only hear from her through others.” The last they knew of her, she ran a boarding house in Englewood, Illinois.[4]

Philadelphia Police arrested Holmes on November 17, 1894.

What tripped him up and caused his arrest was an insurance swindle gone wrong.  In July 1894 he purchased a $10,000 life insurance policy on his assistant, Benjamin F. Pitezel. The plan was to find a corpse that resembled Pitezel—burn it slightly to prevent identification, and forge proof of Pitezel’s death. 
Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H. H. Holmes

Pitezel’s remains turned up in a burned-out Philadelphia house in September 1894. Holmes and Alice Pitezel, Benjamin Pitezel’s wife, went to Philadelphia to identify the remains. The $10,000 insurance policy was paid to J. B. Howe, a St. Louis attorney. Howe received $2,500, Alice Pitezel $500, and Holmes $7,000.

Holmes took Pitezel’s daughters to Toronto, Canada, where he killed them and buried them in the cellar. He murdered Pitezel’s son, Howard, in Indianapolis.

The Philadelphia police arrested Holmes and charged him with conspiracy to defraud the insurance company. Further investigation proved that Holmes double-crossed Benjamin Pitezel. The body discovered in the burned-out house turned out to be Pitezel, not a substitute. 

When the bodies of Alice and Nellie Pitezel were found in Toronto, it touched off a massive search at Holmes’s castle in Chicago. 

Investigators found a five by twelve-foot vat in the basement of the castle, which they assumed was used for quick liming bodies. They found another large vault big enough to hold two people. It had two gas pipes running into it and was soundproof, making it the perfect death machine.

The theory was Holmes would lock his victims in the chamber, then turn on the gas to asphyxiate them. “After they were dead, he would place the bodies in a chemical solution so as to prevent identification.”[5] The final step was to articulate the bones and sell them to medical students.

That information led the Rock Island Argus to speculate how Julia Connor died.
“Julia Connor works for him. She has been a victim of his lust. She comes to his office on a morning and is entrapped in his false vault, airtight. The walls of this vault are deadened with chemical wool. The body remains there. In time, Holmes removes it. He had a huge stove in the office, vats, and furnaces in the basement. By fire and chemical processes, he destroys the body. Later the child, Pearl, is killed.

“The chamber in which there were no windows, into which gas could be introduced, to which Holmes could come by secret ways while his victim slept, was where the child met her end. So, too, did other victims, their blood staining the floor, the door panels, the steps of the secret trap down which they were dragged to the basement.”[6]

Jonathan Belknap (an uncle of Holmes’ wife) speculated that Holmes killed Julia Connor in the Englewood Building. He believed “she was asphyxiated in her room while she slept. Her room was a small dark one adjoining the dark bathroom.” 

He said, “the murderer entered the woman’s room by the secret door from the bathroom, and when he had killed her by turning on the gas, carried her to the bathtub, cut it in pieces and fed the parts to a furnace-like fire in the stove.” Afterward, Holmes buried the bones and ashes in the cellar.[7]

Later discoveries proved him correct.

In August 1895, detectives discovered a “trail of [human] blood leading from the doorway of the dining room of Mrs. Julia L. Connor to the sink in the same room; from there into the dark chamber where she and Pearl slept, and from there to the inside of the door opening into the bathroom where the trap-door was located, and down to the secret staircase which led to the false elevator shaft and thence into the basement.”[8]

On May 16, 1896, Holmes gave a written statement to Chicago Police Chief Badenoch. In it, he admitted that Julia Connor died about Christmas Day 1891, from an illegal operation (abortion) he performed on her.[9]

Later, the skeleton of her six-year-old daughter Pearl was found concealed in the basement of the “castle.” 

Holmes hired a machinist named Chappell (also spelled Chappelle) during the summer of 1892. On October 1st, he asked the man if he could mount a skeleton. Chappell said he could. Holmes led him to a dark, dingy second-floor room and pointed to the remains. 

“There was considerable flesh on the lower limbs. Both arms were practically bare.” The man took what he could with him that night! Holmes delivered the rest of the body the next day.[10]

In July 1895, Chappell led police to the location of Julia Connor’s arm and hand bones. They were currently in use in a surgeon’s office. He also explained that the head they already had belonged to Julia Connor, not Alice Williams. 

The only question the police had was how Chappell could identify the bones without implicating himself in the murders.[11]

On November 2, 1893, Holmes asked Chappell to articulate another skeleton. This one was of a female, with even more flesh on it.[12]

The story was born out by a negro named Clinton Sherman. He told detectives that he often helped Holmes remove bodies from the castle and deliver them to Chappell so he could mount the skeletons which were later sold to medical students. He said the “stiffs” came from cemeteries and hospitals.[13]

While all this was going on, Chicago police got another break-in the investigation.

Julia Connor’s nephew, Arthur Minier, of Muscatine, Iowa swore out a warrant for Holmes’ arrest on July 23, 1895. The warrant charged Holmes with murdering Mrs. Connor sometime between August and November of 1892.

What led him to file charges against Holmes was a letter from Julia Connor’s father to H. H. Holmes. Holmes had written the family and inquired about Connors’ whereabouts. “We thought you knew all about her whereabouts,” wrote her father, “and were thinking about writing you to know where she was.

“She wrote us that she was going to leave Englewood on account of Connor making threats that he would take his child away. He said he would take her by fair means or foul means... We know not that she is dead or alive. Your letter makes us very unhappy.”[14]

That helped Detectives determine that Julia Connor disappeared before June 9, 1892. And yet, Holmes wrote her parents in November to ask where she was. He said the last he knew she was going to St. Louis. He wrote her brother-in-law, Ira Yantis on June 5, 1892, and provided a fictitious address for her.

In August, a Mrs. John Crowe fixed Christmas Day 1891 as the day Julia Connor went missing. Mrs. Crowe lived at the castle at the time, and that was the last day she saw her. 
The evidence against Holmes grew daily.

Police found part of a dress belonging to Julia Connor in Holmes’ basement. The way investigators identified it was unusual. Mrs. Connor and her sisters were expert seamstresses and had a unique method of finishing up the underside of their seams. The seams on the dress found in Holmes’s cellar were identical to samples submitted by her sisters.[15]

And then, the Quinlan’s broke down and started to talk.

Pat Quinlan, the janitor at the castle, made a partial confession on August 3rd, 1895. His wife admitted she saw the body of Julia Connor after she was dead. She said Julia’s daughter, Pearl disappeared mysteriously in the castle after an outing with the Quinlan’s.[16]

The Quinlan’s testimony proved that they did not assist in the murders, but it moved Holmes one step closer to prosecution. They said that Holmes did away with Mrs. Connor and her daughter to collect the insurance on Mrs. Connor’s life payable to her daughter Pearl. 
The Quinlan’s also intimated that Julia Connor “was so well aware of the schemes which Holmes was operating that it became necessary for Holmes to put the woman out of the way.”[17]

Mrs. Quinlan assisted Holmes with his insurance fraud schemes. After Julia Connor disappeared, Mrs. Quinlan went to the insurance company and swore she was Mrs. Connor, so Holmes could collect on a policy.[18]

Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H. H. Holmes, was hanged on May 7th, 1896. 

Before he died, Holmes took a moment to tell the onlookers he was innocent. “His nearest approach to murder,” he said, “was the criminal operation performed by him on Mrs. Emmeline Cigrand and Mrs. Julia Connor.”[19]

Then, he took a few moments to say his goodbyes to his lawyer, Samuel Rotan. He stepped back to the center of the scaffold, and as assistant superintendent Richardson adjusted the black hood and noose, he said with a slight smile on his face: “Take your time Richardson you know I’m in no hurry.”[20]

After the drop was released, Holmes’ body “swayed and moved about for several minutes, the hands opening and closing convulsively and the back and chest heaving. Then, very gradually, the swaying ceased, and in fifteen minutes the flock of doctors hovering about the body said that there was no life left in it.”[21]

Strangely, the master body thief did everything he could to make sure his body was secure. Undertakers encased the remains of H. H. Holmes in cement. Then, they carted him off to Holy Cross Cemetery, where his body was placed in a vault until permanent arrangements could be made. 

Two Pinkerton detectives stood guard day and night to ensure the body remained unmolested. 

Holmes wasn’t cold in the ground when rumors of his curse began to circulate.

Howard Perkins, the warden of Moyamensing Prison, shot himself to death. Linford L. Biles, the foreman of the jury that convicted Holmes was electrocuted. Dr. Matton, a witness against Holmes, died suddenly. Anna Harvey, a resident in Holmes’ castle committed suicide, and Samuel Rotan, a member of Holmes legal team died suddenly.

It appeared that even in death, H. H. Holmes lured victims into his lair.[22]



[1] The Evening Herald. April 11, 1896.
[2] Delaware Gazette and State Journal. August 8, 1895.
[3] Hopkinsville Kentuckian. August 27, 1895.
[4] Rock Island Argus. July 24, 1895.
[5] Hopkinsville Kentuckian. August 27, 1895.
[6] Rock Island Argus. April 13, 1895.
[7] Iron County Register. August 1, 1895.
[8] The Princeton Union. August 8, 1895.
[9] Rock Island Argus. May 16, 1895
[10] Evening Journal. July 29, 1895.
[11] Evening Journal. July 29, 1895.
[12] New York Tribune. July 29, 1895.
[13] Turner County Herald. August 8, 1895.
[14] Evening Journal. July 23, 1895.
[15] The Princeton Union. August 8, 1895.
[16] Waterbury Evening Democrat. August 3, 1895.
[17] Delaware Gazette and State Journal. August 8, 1895.
[18] Madison Daily Leader.
[19] The Times (Philadelphia). May 8, 1896.
[20] The Times (Philadelphia). May 8, 1896.
[21] The Times (Philadelphia). May 8, 1896.
[22] The Daily Herald. November 30, 1896.

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