Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Chicago Rippers

Murder Capital

H.H. Holmes
H.H. Holmes
Chicago is the home of H.H. Holmes, one of the country's earliest serial killers. Born Herman Webster Mudgett, he is thought to have dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people---mostly single young women---during the 1893 World's Fair.   A natural charlatan, Holmes made his living on fraudulent insurance policies.   Murder for profit was his game, but he also relished his side hobby with female victims so much that he began to include torture and other types of experiments.  He invented an "elasticity determinator," for example, to see how far the human body would stretch.

Holmes designed a "murder castle" that was a three-story hotel-like structure that included soundproof sleeping chambers with peepholes, asbestos-padded walls, gas pipes, sliding walls, and vents that Holmes controlled from his bedroom.   The building had secret passages, hallways that went in circles, false floors, rooms with torture equipment, and a specially equipped operating room.  There were also greased chutes that emptied into a cellar, where he had placed a very large furnace.

William Heirens in jail
William Heirens in jail.
Into this building Holmes lured young women looking to rent rooms.   Holmes would place them into special chambers into which he pumped lethal gas.  Sometimes he'd ignite the gas and incinerate his victims.  He'd watch them react and, when they died, he'd slide them down the chutes into his cellar, where vats of acid and other chemicals awaited them.  He'd cut up their corpses on a dissecting table and them dump them into the vats.  Then he would sell the bleached skeletons to medical schools.

Finally caught after killing a man in Philadelphia, he was convicted of murder and on May 7, 1896, taken to the hangman's noose.   He now stands as one of the most fiendish killers in American history.

John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy .
In the mid-1940s, teenager William Heirens slaughtered three people before leaving behind the famous lipstick message on a mirror, "For Heaven's sake, catch me before I kill more.   I cannot control myself."  He was caught and sentenced to life in prison.

Just over three decades later, in December 1979, police in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines followed a man they believed had abducted a missing boy and quickly learned that prominent businessman John Wayne Gacy had secrets to hide: while he performed as a clown for children in the hospital and threw block parties for neighbors, he also lured young men to his home to strangle, rape, and kill them.  He buried twenty-eight in his crawl space, explaining the terrible odor to neighbors as "septic fumes," and then tossed five more victims into the Des Plaines River.  The case riveted America as sets of remains were removed from his home, one by one.  The final official tally of Gacy's victims was 33.  He was convicted of first-degree murder and received the death penalty, although there were times when he tried to blame some of the men who had worked for him.  One of those men was Robin Gecht.

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