Do you remember Minnie and Nannie Williams? They’re sisters whom Holmes counts among his victims in his newspaper confession of 27 murders, but previously – in Holmes’ Own Story – he had claimed that Minnie had not only killed her own sister (out of jealousy over Holmes himself, no less) but that Miss Minnie Williams had been involved with the murders of the Pitezel children. Baldwin Williams is their brother and, coming in at victim 23 of 27, is the final victim prior to members of the Pitezel family.
Supposedly, after murdering the Williams sisters, Holmes found an insurance policy “made in her favor by her brother, Baldwin Williams.” He doesn’t clarify which sister he meant, and it doesn’t matter. Holmes simply wanted that money, so he traveled to Leadville, Colorado, in early 1894 and shot Baldwin. Apparently Holmes made it look like self-defense. He then details how he ended up with thousands of dollars from the Williams estate. But …
Well. Let’s start with “Baldwin Williams.” There was a man by that name who came from Leadville and died in early 1893, but no cause of death was given. The timing is off by a year – we know Holmes was rather awful about dates and timelines – which matters in this case because February 1893 is before he can be proven to have met, or murdered, Minnie Williams. The narrative doesn’t play out.
In Holmes’ Own Story Holmes reports Minnie as telling him about the death of her brother by railway accident, and that she moved from Colorado to Chicago shortly afterward. So it seems Holmes knew that there had indeed been a man named Baldwin Williams, and that he had died. In Holmes’ Own Story, Holmes himself was innocent of all charges. Benjamin Pitezel had committed suicide and his three children were murdered by Minnie Williams and her new fiancé (or possibly husband) Edward Hatch, who looked very much like Holmes and could have been mistaken for him. Baldwin’s death was part of Minnie’s tragic backstory that she confessed to Holmes shortly after they had met, and it certainly wasn’t a murder.
So did Holmes add Baldwin’s name purely to up his body count, assuming that readers wouldn’t connect the name back to either Holmes’ Own Story or to the real Baldwin Williams’ death? This wasn’t a victim made up completely, but the adoption of a man’s death for his own story. Holmes himself observed in his autobiography that he seemed to be accused of any unsolved crime that had occurred while he was a free man, wryly observing that he was glad to be in prison when the Murder Castle burned down so he couldn’t be suspected of that, too. Was this Holmes simply bowing to public perception and adapting the technique of making more headlines for himself?
Baldwin Williams merits, however, only a short mention, since Holmes’ grand finale is up next. Two weeks away from his date with the gallows for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel, Holmes moves into his confessions of murder of four members of the Pitezel family, which is the real draw for those who purchased the newspaper with his confession on the front page.