Sunday, June 8, 2008


A Newspaper illustration of Minnie Williams (Illinois State Historical Library)

In 1893, Homes met a young woman named Minnie Williams. He told her that his name was Harry Gordon and that he was a wealthy inventor. Holmes’ interest in her had been piqued when he learned that she was the heir to a Texas real estate fortune. She was in Chicago working as an instructor for a private school. It wasn’t long before she and Holmes were engaged to be married. This was a turn of events that did not make Julia Connor happy. She was still involved with Holmes and still working at the store. Not long after his engagement became official, both Julia and Pearl disappeared. When Ned Connor later inquired after them, Holmes explained that they had moved to Michigan. In his confession, he admitted that Julia had died during a bungled abortion that he had performed on her. He had poisoned Pearl. He later admitted that he murdered the woman and her child because of her jealous feelings toward Minnie Williams. "But I would have gotten rid of her anyway," he said. "I was tired of her."

Minnie Williams lived at the Castle for more than a year and knew more about Holmes’ crimes than any other person. Police investigators would state there was no way that she could not have had guilty knowledge about many of the murders. Besides being ultimately responsible for the deaths of Julia and Pearl Connor, Minnie was also believed to have instigated the murder of Emily Van Tassel, a young lady who lived on Robey Street. She was only 17 and worked at a candy store in the first floor of the castle. There is no indication of what caused her to catch the eye of Holmes but she vanished just one month after his offer of employment.

Minnie also knew about the murder of Emmeline Cigrand, a beautiful young woman who worked as a stenographer at the Keely Institute in Dwight, Illinois. Ben Pietzel went there to take a drunkenness cure and told Holmes of the girl’s beauty when he returned to Chicago. Holmes then contacted her and offered her a large salary to work for him in Chicago. She accepted the job and came to the Castle -- only to never leave it. Emmeline became homesick after a few weeks in Chicago. She had planned to marry an Indiana man named Robert E. Phelps and she was missing him and her family. Holmes later confessed that he locked the girl in one of his sound-proof rooms and raped her. He stated that he killed her because Minnie Williams objected to his lusting after the attractive young woman. Some time later, Robert Phelps made the mistake of dropping by to inquire after her at the Castle and that was the last time that he was ever reported alive. Holmes described a "stretching experiment" with which he used to kill Phelps. Always curious about the amount of punishment the human body could withstand (Holmes often used the dissecting table on live victims), he invented a "rack-like" device that would literally stretch a person to the breaking point.

In April 1893, Minnie’s property in Texas was deeded to a man named Benton T. Lyman, who was in reality, Ben Pietzel, the already mentioned accomplice of Holmes. Later that same year, Minnie’s brother was killed in a mining accident in Colorado, which is said to have been arranged by Holmes. A visit to Chicago by Minnie’s sister, Nannie, may provide more evidence of Minnie’s murderous ways and her willingness to go along with Holmes. In June 1893, Holmes seduced Nannie while she was staying at the Castle and had no trouble persuading her to sign over her share of some property in Fort Worth. She disappeared a month later, with an explanation that she had gone back to Texas, but according to Holmes, it had been Minnie who killed her. When Minnie found out that Nannie had been consorting with Holmes, the two of them got into a heated argument. Minnie hit her sister over the head with a chair and she died, then she and Holmes dropped the body into Lake Michigan.

A short time later, Holmes and Minnie traveled to Denver in the company of another young woman, Georgianna Yoke, who had come to Chicago from Indiana with a "tarnished reputation". She had applied for a job at the Castle and Holmes told her that his name was Henry Howard and that Minnie was his cousin. On January 17, 1894, Holmes and Georgianna were married at the Vendome Hotel in Denver with Minnie as their witness! After that, the wedding party (which apparently consisted of the three of them) traveled to Texas, where they claimed Minnie’s property and arranged a horse swindle. Holmes purchased several railroad cars of horses with counterfeit banknotes and signed the papers as "O.C. Pratt". The horses were then shipped to St. Louis and sold. Holmes made off with a fortune, but it would be this swindle that would later come back and destroy him.

The threesome returned to Chicago and their return marked the last time that Minnie was ever seen alive. Holmes explained that he believed Minnie had killed her sister in a fit of passion and then had fled to Europe. The police believed him, as he was known for being an upstanding citizen and it was not until much later that he confessed to killing her too. Although her body was never found, it is believed to have joined other victims in the acid vat in the basement.


In July 1894, Holmes was arrested for the first time. It was not for murder but for one of his schemes, the earlier horse swindle that ended in St. Louis. Georgianna promptly bailed him out, but while in jail, he struck up a conversation with a convicted train robber named Marion Hedgepeth, who was serving a 25-year sentence. Holmes had concocted a plan to bilk an insurance company out of $20,000 by taking out a policy on himself and then faking his death. Holmes promised Hedgepeth a $500 commission in exchange for the name of a lawyer who could be trusted. He was directed to Colonel Jeptha Howe, the brother of a public defender, and Howe found Holmes’ plan to be brilliant.

Holmes then took a cadaver to a seaside resort in Rhode Island and burned it, disfiguring the head and dumping it on the beach. He then shaved his beard and altered his appearance and returned to the hotel, registering under another name and inquiring about his friend, Holmes. When the body was discovered on the beach, he identified it as "H.H. Holmes" and presented an insurance policy for $20,000. The insurance company suspected fraud though and refused to pay. Holmes returned to Chicago without pressing the claim and began concocting a new version of the same scheme.

A month later, Holmes held a conference with Ben Pietzel and Jeptha Howe and his new plan was put into action. Pietzel went to Philadelphia with his wife, Carrie, and opened a shop for buying and selling patents under the name of B.F. Perry. Holmes then took out an insurance policy on his life. The plan was for Pietzel to drink a potion that would knock him unconscious. Then, Holmes would apply make-up to his face to make it look as though he had been severely burned. A witness would then summon an ambulance and while they were gone, Holmes would put a corpse in place of the "shopkeeper". The insurance company would be told that he had died. Pietzel would then receive a portion of the money in exchange for his role in the swindle but he would soon learn, as some many others already had, that Holmes could not be trusted!



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