The discovery of a murder in Philadelphia in October 1894 opened the door to a case that few could believe. Marion Hedgepeth, a one-time cellmate of a man who went by the name H.M. Howard, informed police about a recent scam. It involved insuring a man named Benjamin Pitezel for $10,000 with the Fidelity Mutual Life Association in 1893 in Chicago, and then faking his death in a laboratory explosion by substituting a cadaver. All participants were then to split the insurance payment, but Howard had reneged and run off with the money. Hedgepeth was informing on him as payback, and his detailed letter about the scheme was passed along to the company. In short order, they …show more content…
Holmes had offered rooms to young women arriving to attend the fair, but many of those women associated with him had disappeared. In addition, he had employed a number of young women, who also had disappeared. From what could be reconstructed, it seemed that Holmes had tortured and murdered these women, disposing of their corpses in his furnace in the cellar or defleshing them and selling the skeletons to medical schools.
Schechter describes what the place was like: Holmes’ Castle included soundproof sleeping chambers with peepholes, asbestos-padded walls, gas pipes, sliding walls, and vents that Holmes controlled from another room. Many of the rooms had low ceilings and trapdoors in the floors, with ladders leading to smaller rooms below. The building had secret passages, false floors, rooms with torture equipment, and a specially equipped surgery. There were also greased chutes that emptied into a two-level cellar, in which Holmes had installed a large furnace. There was even an asbestos-lined chamber with gas pipes and evidence of something having been burned inside. It was believed that Holmes placed his chosen victims into the special chambers into which he then pumped lethal gas, controlled from his own bedroom, and then watched them react. Apparently, he gained some fiendish pleasure from this activity. Sometimes he'd ignite the gas to incinerate them, or perhaps even place them on the “elasticity determinator,” an elongated bed with straps, to see how far the human body could be stretched. When finished, he might have slid the corpses down the chutes into his cellar, where vats of acid and other chemicals awaited them. (Many more details about Holmes’ activities here can be found in Schecter’s and Larson’s