Mr. Mudgett (Part 2): The Quick and Slow Deaths of the Holmes Castles

The “castle” that the man known as “Dr. Henry Howard Holmes” (see Part 1) built in Chicago did not survive him. It fell to the cleansing flames of a fire of mysterious origin on the night of August 19, 1895, nine months before Holmes was hanged for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel (a.k.a. “Benton T. Lyman”). A post office was later built on the site.

The “castle” that Holmes built in Fort Worth was not so lucky: It survived, tainted with guilt by association, for sixty years.

Holmes had built his two castles in locations of high traffic. His Chicago castle was near the 1893 World’s Fair. His Fort Worth castle was smack dab downtown, near everything of interest at the time: the stores, the theaters, the courthouse, livery stables. This 1898 Sanborn map shows the Holmes castle immediately north of the opera house and the Natatorium.

After Holmes was arrested for buying horses with counterfeit notes in Fort Worth and was hanged for murdering Pitezel, ownership of his Fort Worth castle was tied up in court because the heirs of Pitezel and the heirs of Minnie Williams, whom Holmes was suspected of killing, claimed the property and because Holmes owed local contractors, suppliers, and lenders for construction of the castle (including A. J. Roe and A. J. Anderson). For six years the court system weighed the various claims.

holmes building 1-1-97 regBut in 1897 the Register regularly printed this ad for furnished rooms in the Holmes Building at 2nd and Rusk streets.

The heirship claims were settled in 1900, and the property was bought by H. H. McGahey, who said he would spend $3,500 to finish the building and would rent rooms in it as “McGahey Flats.”

But McGahey Flats apparently was short-lived. By late 1900 the castle housed the LaClede Hotel. Then it became the St. Elmo Hotel, as this 1905 ad shows. It was still the St. Elmo in this 1911 Sanborn map.

The Fort Worth castle suffered fire damage in 1907 and again in 1919, but this Sanborn map shows the building still standing defiantly in 1925, housing mostly auto service businesses. The turreted corner entrance and two bays on each street side, which match the 1895 Morning News drawing shown in Part 1, are marked in yellow.

These headlines between 1900 and 1919 show that no matter how many times the building burned or was bought and sold or changed names, it could not shake its past.

In 1918, as civilian and military authorities became concerned about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among soldiers at Camp Bowie, the hotel was converted into a detention hospital for women. (The story errs in locating the building on the southeast corner.)

cromers-aceIn 1932 Theo Cromer, whose family began selling bicycles in Fort Worth in the 1890s, moved his business into the Holmes Castle and stayed into the early 1940s. In 1980 the Star-Telegram interviewed Cromer as he closed his business at 517 Commerce (Bass Hall is there today). The feature said of the Holmes Castle, “Several murders supposedly had been committed there. Ghosts were reported to be in the structure.” Can’t vouch for the ghosts, but I have never found any evidence of homicide in the building during Holmes’s association with it.

holmes-betty-49By 1949 Theo Cromer had moved, and the Holmes Castle was home to Betty Jordan’s sandwich shop.

holmes-cafe-adBy 1954 Betty was ready to sell her last haunted ham-on-rye.

holmes-allright-55Sometime between 1954 and 1955 the “Holmes Castle” was torn down and replaced by an Allright parking lot. The 1955 city directory listed the East 2nd Street side of the property.

Today, 122 years after the man who said, “I was born with the devil in me” was hanged, a pleasant green space occupies the property at the corner of what and if.

More on Dr. Henry Howard Holmes:
When Mr. Mudgett Came to Cowtown
Update: Behold the “Castle” of Dr. Holmes
Sidney Samuels and Dr. H. H. Holmes: “The Individual Sitting in the Cage”

Posts About Crime Indexed by Decade

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3 Responses to Mr. Mudgett (Part 2): The Quick and Slow Deaths of the Holmes Castles

  1. Paul says:

    I bought a Schwinn Super LeTour II from Cromer’s Ace. Wished I still had it.

  2. earl belcher says:

    If there is something strange, and it don’t look good . . . who you gonna call? Not me. I have seen enough of those critters. And so the plot thickens. Tearing down the building won’t stop a haunting, no. The demonic will still occupy the space, same as if an old building was still there. I have seen this many times. As for the old building materials? Even so much as a used brick will transfer the haunting. So sleep well.

    • hometown says:

      To me, this is one of the most intriguing “little” stories from Fort Worth’s past, hands down. And the building stood into our childhood.

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