America’s First Serial Killer: Genius, Businessman, Physician

skullAs a medical student, Herman Webster Mudgett was demure, timid, and criminal. Unlike most medical students, he stole cadavers, forged life insurance policies naming himself beneficiary, mutilated them, and then posed them to look like they died by accident.  And then – of course – he profited from it, swiftly collecting their death benefit.

After graduating from medical school, Herman Webster Mudgett moved to Chicago in pursuit of a career in pharmaceuticals.  While there, he used the alias H.H. Holmes and built a three-story block-long castle on the corner of South Wallace and West 63rd Street.  The building was a behemoth; it wasn’t just built to hold his own pharmacy and hotel, but to act as his own personal fortress and house of horror.

The building was nefariously unique; the third floor contained over 100 windowless rooms, doorways opening to brick walls, stairways leading to nowhere, sound proof rooms allowing entry but no exit, strategically placed trap doors, and guest rooms fitted with pipes to pump in poison gas.  And to top it off, he had his own personal dungeon complete with an examination table and vats of acid.

In many respects, Dr. H.H. Holmes was America’s first serial killer.  He killed from 1888 to 1894, having killed an estimated 200 people.  Other than greed, it is unclear why Dr. H.H. Holmes killed. After he killed most of his victims, he cleaned their bones, articulated them, and then sold them to medical schools all over the country.

Since his execution, some Ripperologists and experts speculate that Dr. H.H. Holmes was Jack the Ripper; it is believed that Dr. H.H. Holmes traveled to London just before moving to Chicago to sow his wild oats, but it is unclear where he stayed or what he did.  Yet, it should be noted: Jack vanished from Whitechapel when Dr. H.H. Holmes invaded Chicago.

The cunning and body count of Dr. H.H. Holmes has been largely unmatched, yet most people haven’t heard of him.  If we compare H.H. to Jack – assuming of course that H.H. isn’t Jack – Holmes makes Jack look like an amateur, having killed five people to Holmes’ estimated 200.

Body Count

When we compare monsters to monsters, the worst of the worst have taken the Hippocratic Oath.  Case in point, Dr. Michael Swango, killed an estimated 60 people; Dr. Harold Shipman, killed an estimated 250+ people; Dr. Shiro Ishii, killed an estimated 10,000 people; and last, but not least, Dr. Josef Mengele, purveyor of death at Auschwitz and human experimenter extraordinaire, killed an estimated 6.1 million.

And unfortunately, I could go on and on.  In Part 3, I’ll discuss nefarious nurses, nursing assistants, and orderlies.

To read part 1 of the 3 part series click here

  • Note from Mighty Nurse – We encourage open and honest discussion of all aspects of nursing career and lifestyle.  Let us know what you think about this issue, or submit your own story.

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