H. H. Holmes’ victims: a man … whose name I cannot recall

You might recall – although Holmes could not entirely – that he previously confessed to murdering a woman “whose name has passed from my memory.” It seems to be a solid technique for adding to his body count in a way that cannot entirely be denied, as it could in cases such as Miss Kate Durkee, who made her continued existence known after the publication of Holmes’ confession. Being an equal-opportunity murderer, Holmes declares that his twenty-second victim was a man “whose name I cannot recall.”

The story itself is fairly simple: the man came to Chicago to attend the Exposition – if you’re a Devil in the White City fan, that’s the White City; if not, that’s the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Holmes met the man somehow, perhaps because he roomed at his Murder Castle, and used him for a while. However, the nameless young man wasn’t nearly as talented as Holmes had originally thought, so – in a technique apparently useful for both assistants and mistresses who have outlived their usefulness – he decided to murder the man.

Holmes then decided to bury the body, since he hadn’t sold any cadavers to his “‘stiff’ dealer” for a while, in the basement of a house he used to own. (Presumably the “used to” refers to the time of the written confession and not the time of the murder, because then Holmes would have had to break into a house he no longer owned in order to bury a body in the basement.) The body was not discovered at the time of publication, although we have to wonder how the current owners of the house felt (if there indeed was a house at the intersection Holmes mentions).

Here’s the weird part: Holmes can’t remember the man’s name, but he gives a list of all the peoples the police should check if they want to discover it. Seriously a list:

… the Hartford Insurance Company, a Mr. Lasher, of the Stock Exchange Building; D. F. Duncombe, Metropolitan Building; all of Chicago; a sash and door manufacturing company opposite the Deering, Illinois, Station, or F. L. Jones, a notary public at Indianapolis …

By making inquiries there, Holmes suggests that authorities might discover that “his name or handwriting may have been preserved.”


Okay, so let’s take a peek in the middle for a second: “all of Chicago.” If the authorities question all of Chicago, they might discover the man’s identity. In the 1890s, Chicago was home to over a million people, and the Exposition brought in so many travelers. But sure, question all of Chicago.

But then he lists three very specific names, with locations where those men can apparently be found. If Lasher, Duncombe, and Jones are indeed real people, still alive and in those locations … what, exactly, does Holmes think the police should ask them? They’re meant to remember a man from three years previously, at a time when Chicago would have been busier than usual? Or in the case of Mr. Jones in Indianapolis, someone from further back? Was the unnamed man meant to have seen each of these explicitly named men in the company of Holmes, which might aid in his identification? Or … what, exactly?

Holmes has a lot in common with Ted Bundy, who came along almost a century later. Both were highly educated men who, for a time at least, served as their own lawyers during their murder trials. When his execution date was approaching and it seemed he would no longer receive a stay, Bundy started confessing in the hope that he could leverage his unidentified – or undiscovered – victims into a longer life. Is that what Holmes is doing here?

Remember that Holmes was ever only convicted of a single murder. Bundy was convicted of more – in case the death penalty from one trial was overturned – but Holmes only went to trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel. He was certainly suspected of more, although that number has skyrocketed in the decades since his execution, but according the law, Holmes had only murdered a single person. He was sentenced to execution on a date that was quickly approaching when he wrote this confession, and he did not write it for free. Holmes in fact sold it for thousands of dollars.

So: is this unnamed man real? Are any of the men whose names and locations Holmes somehow managed to remember? Or is this just more manipulation from a silver-tongued devil?

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