Dr. Henry Holmes was a serial killer who built a hotel of horrors dubbed the “Murder Castle” in Chicago in the 1890s.

It was 1893 in Chicago, Illinois, and celebration was in the air in the Windy City. Chosen over New York City, St. Louis, and Washington D.C. for the privilege, Chicago was hosting the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, an observation of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. Festivities were well underway. Over in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago, a drugstore employee turned owner had built a large, mysterious building unlike any other building in the city.

Early Warning Signs

Dr. Henry HolmesHerman Webster Mudgett had actually passed his examinations and graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in June of 1884. A common practice in the Victorian Era, Mudgett snatched bodies during his time in medical school. What was uncommon was that instead of stealing them from the graveyard, he stole them from the laboratory, and instead of using them to further his studies, he disfigured them and collected insurance money by claiming they were victims of accidents. After medical school, he moved to Chicago, participating in various schemes and crimes under the name of Dr. Henry Holmes while trying to start his career in the pharmaceutical business, which led to being employed at the drugstore across from 63rd and Wallace.

Murder Castle

The building at 63rd and Wallace Streets was an enigma. Three stories tall, the building had 60 rooms, doors leading nowhere, secret staircases, windowless rooms, trapdoors, chutes to send bodies to the basement, hidden passageways, etc. Many of the rooms upstairs were equipped as torture rooms, designed specifically to suffocate guests with gas or burn them alive with blow torches built into the walls. Other rooms were designed to hold prisoners, having alarms and buzzers which would go off if the occupants tried to escape. The basement contained its own crematorium, boxes of bones, a dissecting table, bottles of poisons, vats filled with acid, lime pits to dissolve victims, and other macabre contents.

Holmes opened the building as a hotel to accommodate tourists coming to enjoy the World’s Fair. In addition to offering travelers a place to stay, Holmes would offer jobs to naïve young women, who would be pledged to secrecy, then lured in, imprisoned, tortured, and killed. He killed his wife, then became involved with a woman named Millie Williams, who willingly assisted Holmes in his depravity. They stretched a man to death on a rack which Holmes designed, and Williams beat her own sister to death. Millie Williams eventually “disappeared” as well.


The law eventually caught up with Dr. Henry Holmes. Years of cheating, scamming, and horse swindling put Pinkerton agents and other law enforcement on the trail of Holmes, which eventually led to a search warrant for the hotel on 63rd St. What detectives found there and elsewhere led to the arrest of Holmes for multiple murders, a swift trial, and execution by hanging. The hotel itself, for reasons unknown, burned to the ground on August 9, 1895, after the arrest of Holmes, but before his execution on May 7, 1896.

Bottom Line

Dr. Henry Holmes, whose real name was Herman Webster Mudgett, was a criminal and serial killer who built a hotel of horrors dubbed the “Murder Castle” in Chicago, Illinois during the 1893 World’s Fair. He lured several young women into the hotel and then killed them. He also killed several people after leaving the hotel. The hotel burned down in 1895 and Holmes was executed for his crimes in 1896.

An earlier version of this article was published at WafflesatNoon. © 2017-2020 Randal A. Burd, Jr., M.Ed.

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