H. H. Holmes – born Herman Webster Mudgett – was hanged after being found guilty of a single murder: that of Benjamin Pitezel. But, as we have seen before, Holmes himself confessed to 27 different murders. (At least, for one newspaper publication.) Who, then, did he confess to murdering?
Minnie Williams plays a large role in most variations of Holmes’ stories. As far as anyone can tell, the truth is that she met Holmes and was convinced to come to Chicago with them and then sign her inheritance over to him before he murdered her. Holmes also used her to lure her sister, Nannie, to the big city around the time of the Columbian Exposition, and Nannie also disappeared. The real Minnie was rather naïve and fell under the spell of a clever con man.
Holmes, though, tells us multiple different stories about her.
In Holmes’ Own Story, his autobiography published before his murder trial, Holmes takes a lot of the accusations that have been leveled at him and turns them to Minnie. Rather than an innocent, Minnie comes to Holmes already having had lovers. In this version, she is the one to pursue him, even getting an apartment where the two of them can live together apparently as husband and wife. This was, according to Holmes, all Minnie’s idea.
When Nannie came to visit, she stayed in the guest bedroom of this apartment. Minnie had to be away for one night and asked her “husband” to keep Nannie company. Nannie, however, insisted that she was fine, so Holmes spent the night elsewhere. When he returned the next day it was to find Minnie already there, standing over Nannie’s dead body. She had come home, seen that the only bed slept in was Nannie’s and assumed her husband had spent the night there, as well. According to Holmes, Minnie killed her sister with a single hot-blooded blow.
Holmes helped Minnie get rid of her sister’s body – by putting it in a trunk and sinking it in Lake Michigan – and then told Minnie he never wanted to see her again.
For her part, Minnie left to seek treatment for her mental health, which explained why her relatives were not able to contact her. She was, of course, ashamed of what she had done.
Luckily for Holmes, though, Minnie seemed to gather herself together enough to be schoolmistress to the three Pitezel children he had collected. (You remember the strange journey he took them on.) In Holme’s Own Story, Minnie Williams was a member of one of the groups, traveling with the children and eventually taking them out of Holmes’ care and away with her to England. She, of course, had to hide because she’d murdered her sister. At one point Holmes ordered a coded message to be put in the newspaper, asking Minnie to reveal herself and the still-living children.
Most of the way through the book, however, Holmes comes to a different conclusion. It seems that Minnie returned to him with a new lover, a Mr. Edward Hatch, who looked very much like Holmes himself. Hatch was the one who in fact murdered the children, but, according to Holmes in this instance, it was done at Minnie Williams’ own bidding.
Holmes speculates that Minnie Williams, a woman he had apparently rightfully scorned, was madly jealous of Holmes’ recent marriage. In order to destroy Holmes’ life, she plotted with her lookalike lover to get Holmes framed for the murder of the children. (Why she had Hatch hide the children’s bodies so well if she wanted Holmes to be clearly known as a murderer is not exactly explained.)
Minnie Williams, therefore, becomes not only a loose woman and guilty of her sister’s murder, but is now the mastermind behind the deaths of the Pitezel children.
In his newspaper confession, when Minnie and Nannie Williams become two of Holmes’ 27 murders, he does at least attempt to undo the damage he has done to Minnie’s reputation. He wronged her not only through murder, but through all the lies he told about her afterward.
Minnie and Nannie Williams become murders 20 and 21 in this recitation, and Holmes heaps on the emotion when he does what he can to clear Minnie’s name. Now she was a “virtuous woman” before he met her, and she was never once “temporarily insane,” especially since it was Holmes, and not Minnie, who had killed Nannie. Once Holmes had various signed documents, he killed her, although he does not specify how. Nannie Williams, according to this version, died locked in the giant safe in Holmes’ murder castle.
Although not all 27 victims Holmes listed in this confession were in fact dead – and some were likely made up completely – Minnie and Nannie Williams are two who very likely died because of Holmes and his greed. Holmes had the habit of using people for all he could get from them, and then disposing them so they could not reveal what he had done. Once the Williams sisters had given Holmes what he wanted, he very likely did murder them