Sunday, June 8, 2008


On November 30, the judge passed a sentence of death. His case was appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who affirmed the verdict, and the governor refused to intervene. Holmes was scheduled to die on May 7, 1896, just nine days before his 36th birthday.

By now, the details of the case had been made public and people were angry, horrified and fascinated, especially in Chicago, where most of the evil had occurred. Holmes had provided a lurid confession of torture and murder that appeared in newspapers and magazines, providing a litany of depravity that compares with the most insane killers of all time. Even if his story was embellished, the actual evidence of Holmes’ crimes ranks him as one of the country’s most active murderers.

He remained unrepentant though, even at the end. Just before his execution, he visited with two Catholic priests in his cell and even took communion with them, although refused to ask forgiveness for his crimes. He was led from his cell to the gallows and a black hood was placed over his head. The trap door opened beneath him and Holmes quickly dropped. His head snapped to the side, but his fingers clenched and his feet danced for several minutes afterward, causing many spectators to look away. Although the force of the fall had broken his neck, and the rope had pulled so tight that it had literally imbedded itself in his flesh, his heart continued to beat for nearly 15 minutes. He was finally declared dead at 10:25 a.m.

There were a couple of macabre legends associated with Holmes’ execution. One story claimed that a lightning bolt had ripped through the sky at the precise moment the rope had snapped his neck -- but this was not the strangest one. The most enduring supernatural legend of H.H. Holmes is that of the "Holmes Curse". The story began shortly after his execution, leading to speculation that his spirit did not rest in peace. Some believed that he was still carrying on his gruesome work from beyond the grave. And, even to the skeptical, some of the events that took place after his death are a bit disconcerting.

A short time after Holmes’ body was buried, under two tons of concrete, the first strange death occurred. The first to die was Dr. William K. Matten, a coroner’s physician who had been a major witness in the trial. He suddenly dropped dead from blood poisoning.

More deaths followed in rapid order, including that of the head coroner, Dr. Ashbridge, and the trial judge who had sentenced Holmes to death. Both men were diagnosed with sudden, and previously unknown, deadly illnesses. Next, the superintendent of the prison where Holmes had been incarcerated committed suicide. The reason for his taking his own life was never discovered. Then, the father of one of Holmes’ victims was horribly burned in a gas explosion and the remarkably healthy Pinkerton agent, Frank Geyer, suddenly became ill. Thankfully though, the diligent detective pulled through.

Not long after this however, the office of the claims manager for the insurance company that Holmes had cheated, caught fire and burned. Everything in the office was destroyed except for a framed copy of Holmes’ arrest warrant and two portraits of the killer. Many of those who were already convinced of a curse saw this as an ominous warning.

Several weeks after the hanging, one of the priests who prayed with Holmes before his execution was found dead in the yard behind his church. The coroner ruled the death as uremic poisoning but according to reports, he had been badly beaten and robbed. A few days later, Linford Biles, who had been jury foreman in the Holmes trial, was electrocuted in a bizarre accident involving the electrical wires above his house.

In the years that followed, others involved with Holmes also met with violent deaths, including the train robber, Marion Hedgepeth. He remained in prison after his informing on Holmes, although he had expected a pardon that never came. On the very day of Holmes’ execution, he was transferred to the Missouri State Prison to finish out his sentence. As time passed, Hedgepeth gained many supporters to his cause, including several newspapers who wrote of his role in getting Holmes prosecuted. In 1906, he finally got his pardon and was released.

Despite the claims that he had made about his rehabilitation, including that he spent each day in prison reading his bible, Hedgepeth was arrested in September 1907 for blowing up a safe in Omaha, Nebraska. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to 10 more years in prison. He was released however when it was discovered that he was dying from tuberculosis. In spite of his medical condition, he assembled a new gang and at midnight on New Year’s Eve 1910, he attempted to rob a saloon in (of all places) Chicago. As he was placing the money from the till into a burlap bag, a policeman wandered into the place for no reason, realized that a robbery was taking place and opened fire on the thief. Hedgepeth was dead before he hit the floor.

Perhaps Holmes got his revenge after all....

I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing -- I was born with the "Evil One" standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.

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