We have come to Holmes’ final two confessed victims. After he murdered father Benjamin Pitezel in Philadelphia, and younger brother Howard near Indianapolis, Holmes still had five family members under his control: mother Carrie, with her eldest and youngest child; and sisters Alice and Nellie.
It’s unclear how Holmes might have explained Howard’s absence to his sisters, but he didn’t intend for that to be an issue for long. After leaving Irvington, Indiana, he rented a house in Detroit and followed his already-established MO of looking for a house to rent. Presumably he meant to kill Alice and Nellie in Detroit, but that didn’t happen. Instead, he took all of his traveling companions – remember he kept them separated from each other into three groups: Carrie and her two children; Alice and Nellie; and Holmes’ own third wife – across the border into Canada.
Alice and Nellie arrived in Toronto on October 19, and Holmes rented a house on the 20th. He once again rented a stove and furnished the house, as though he were going to stay there for a while with the children. On October 25th, he took the girls to the house for the last time, but not before another strange event: Holmes took the girls shopping for clothes that they would never wear.
This was also the day when Carrie Pitezel, sick of staying in the rooms Holmes rented for her, also went out shopping. She crossed paths with Holmes in the clothing store. At some points it was reported that he happened to be holding underwear for Howard when they met – even though Howard had been dead for over a week at the time. In all their strange travels, this seems to be the closest Carrie came to being reunited with her children.
Holmes put Carrie on a train for New York that very night, even though he must have known he wouldn’t have to worry about her running across her children again. He killed the girls that night by locking them in a trunk and filling it with gas.
In his confession, Holmes really takes pleasure in exactly how malicious an act this was. For example:
consider for eight years before their death I had been almost as much a father as though they had been my own children
although he’d already contradicted this earlier when writing about Alice and saying that
her death was the least of the wrongs suffered at my hands.
Not content to simply confess to murder, Holmes also strongly suggests that he also raped Alice – an accusation that he at other times had stridently denied. Apparently since he was making a “full” confession, he thought he should add that in and show the world exactly how monstrous he was.
But, having killed Alice and Nellie, buried their bodies, and burned their clothes, Holmes wasn’t quite finished. He confesses to three more attempted murders: that of the remaining Pitezels. Apparently Carrie was meant to carry “a bottle of dynamite” from the basement of a rented house up to the third story, and Holmes hoped she would drop it, killing herself and her two remaining children.
On the one hand, since he’d already killed four Pitezels, it makes sense for him to want to clear the slate and make sure Carrie especially couldn’t testify against him. On the other … if he even actually did this, did he actually think it would work? It’s very hands-off compared to his other confessions, and although he didn’t have a scheme in place that would mean Carrie’s death would be profitable to him, surely preventing her from testifying would have been enough of a motive to actually making sure she was dead.
In fact, after murdering Benjamin Pitezel, Holmes honestly seems to have lost the plot. He needed Alice to help identify her father’s remains, but why didn’t he then send her back to her mother and simply disappear with the money? Why make so many trips to new towns with so many different people, knowing that none of them could even know the others were there? Even bringing Georgiana Yoke (Holmes’ third wife) was a risk, because she might turn on him and testify to the various cities and help construct the timeline of his movements.
It turns out that Holmes’ strange travels did, in fact, play in his favor for months. While he was arrested under other charges and then charged with Benjamin Pitezel’s murder, the whereabouts of Alice, Nellie, and Howard remained a mystery for months. It was only the following summer that Philadelphia city detective Frank Geyer started retracing Holmes’ winding steps.