Updating the Update: Behold the “Castle” of Dr. Holmes

In September 2012 I updated my original post about Fort Worth’s ties to Herman Webster Mudgett (alias Dr. Henry Howard Holmes), who built a hotel in Chicago where guests checked in but never checked out and who has been called America’s first serial killer. In that first update I added newly found information about Holmes’s Fort Worth hotel, which he built at the corner of East 2nd and Commerce streets on property he finagled from the Williams sisters, who he is suspected of murdering.
This week, while studying a 1918 panoramic photo showing Camp Bowie’s 36th Division passing in review downtown, I panned to the east on a hunch and, sure enough, there it was: Holmes’s hotel.

This is the only photo I have found that shows Holmes’s hotel. It’s the building with the cone-topped turret on the middle left. The tower in the upper right is the Natatorium. (Photo from the Library of Congress.)

The building in the photo matches the sketch published by the Dallas Morning News in 1895 after police realized that the nefarious Holmes of Chicago was the nefarious O. C. Pratt (Mudgett’s alias in Fort Worth) who had built a hotel in Fort Worth.

This panel shows Holmes’s Chicago hotel (top) and floorplans of the Fort Worth hotel (middle) and the Chicago hotel (bottom). Note the similarities between the two buildings: Both were three stories, both had corner entrances under a turret (but the Chicago turret had no cone); both had storefront windows on the ground floor and two sets of bay windows on each side.
Holmes skipped town before his Fort Worth hotel was finished, but it eventually did open and served several years as a legitimate, nonlethal hotel. But for years after Holmes was hanged for murder, local newspapers referred to the building as “Holmes’s castle.”

holmes building 1-1-97 regIn 1897 the Register ran this ad for furnished rooms in the “Holmes Building” at 2nd and Rusk streets.

st elmo 6-25-05

By 1905 Holmes’s castle was the St. Elmo Hotel. Ad is from the June 25 Telegram.

Posts About Crime Indexed by Decade

This entry was posted in Crime, Downtown, Downtown, All Around, Life in the Past Lane. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Updating the Update: Behold the “Castle” of Dr. Holmes

  1. Christie says:

    This is an interesting series of articles, Mike. And the only place I’ve found that describes the Fort Worth connection to the murder castle in such detail. Does your picture above solve the mystery of which corner of 2nd and Rusk/Commerce the house was located? I used to work in that area and always wondered which corner was “the one.”

  2. Richard Demuth says:

    In closely studying the photograph of the Chicago building I notice there are significant discrepancies with the layout of the floor plan of it. First of all there is the bay window next to the corner turret. On the plan this is shown as being a stairway bay for access to the upper floors. BUT ordinary Victorian-era urban tenement buildings DID NOT have such stairwells. It is clearly the windowbay of an apartment residence because it not only has windows (the one on the side facing the camera OMITTED by the diagram and the central facet wall having a single double window NOT TWO separate windows UNlike the diagram shows)but TWO people can be seen looking out within it; one standing up at the right side with a light shirt on and one sitting in the shadows on the left apparently wearing darker clothing. THUS, it is IMPOSSIBLE or at least IMplausible, that this would be a stairwell. Another discrepancy concerns the building’s access points. In the photo there can be seen an entrance between the two bays where on the diagram there is depicted a gap (as of a sashless window) leading into an oblong room situated supposedly on the second level before a small square room labeled a “blind room”. THIS SHOULD BE where a staircase would be, NOT in the windowbay of the adjoining “hall”, which does NOT make architectural sense. The farther entrance next to the third bay just about out of the picture would lead in the diagram to the point where another room is situated next to ANOTHER but square “hall” with a “straight” staircase. It is shown next to the “asphyxiation chamber” which is presumably the gassing chamber that is labeled on the Holmes-Pratt Building layout as “the room of many pipes”. THUS, it appears that the floorplan of the Chicago building was drawn by someone FROM IMAGINATION who had NOT seen the actual layout of the interior. It also appears that way from a rough “eye measurement” comparison of the building in the photo with the diagram that the diagram depicts the building as LONGER than it actually was, from the point of the section containing the anamolous “back room” in the bottom corner, the “death shaft” and “the maze”. Two OBVIOUS exaggerations for sensationalization, of which the latter doesn’t even remotely resemble what it is SUPPOSED to be. I think these six rooms were “added on” by the artist; like the NONSENSICAL “reception room” in the upper left corner and the “waiting room” in the upper right (what’s the DIFFERENCE?), BOTH being superfluous for a tenement building anyway. Also luridly sensationalistic (and purposeless!) are “another secret chamber” below the former room and a “dark room” between the two. Did he develop photographs in it because, if not, ALL the room would have been DARK with the lights off. Others are “the FIVE door room” (suggesting Satanic pentacle symbolism), the “black closet” next to it (another photo development room?), “the room of the three corpses” below that (ONLY three???), and of course various “secret room”, “mysterious closed room”, the “blind room” (which is NOT by the way since it has TWO wide entrances!!), ANOTHER “dark room”, a “sealed room all bricked in” (useless!), and a “hanging secret chamber” OBVIOUSLY NOT “secret” since it has not only three entrances but one of them the BIGGEST of all the rooms depicted! To tell the truth, I don’t doubt that Holmes had some hidden storage rooms put in the building because I have read of indications that he IN COLLUSION WITH CORRUPT Chicago officials INCLUDING POLICE and possibly Mafiaoli, was running a theft and fencing ring in it. THIS is WHY there were SO MANY “mysterious” deaths of those involved in his conviction and execution… he was a BIG PROFIT loss to the gang!

    I also frankly think that he conducted his gruesome mortuary practices in the oddly constructed ramshackle-looking superstructure of the building which does not meld well with the rest of it and appears to have been made of lumber instead of brick for the most part and has MANY MORE windows than the other levels, suggesting he NEEDED more ventilation for what was going on up there even though it would be frightfully freezing in the cold weather of the notorious Chicago winters. Too bad THIS level was not fully investigated and also diagrammed because it would only “make sense” that such a murderous BUT intelligent maniac would commit his atrocities TOTALLY OUT of the way of tenants passing through the building and at least as a “front” he would want to make as much money as possible from as many renters as he could provide rooms apartments for; more like the more ordinary tenement design of the rows of hallway apartments in the Fort Worth building. I think there has been MUCH MYTHinformation about the case and the DEEPER truth of it has not been (fully) exposed.

    • Richard Demuth says:

      On second thought after closer examination of the photograph, it appears that the brick masonry on the side of the building did go partially up into the level of the ramshackle superstructure; suggesting that HE WAS intending to build the top of brick as well but apparently ran out of funds and had to have the rest done in wood. He could have still provided adequate ventilation with all the windows up there, though carpentry probably made that easier to do than masonry.


    I found the print of the Pratt Building very informative. I wish you would publish all the other Chicago “Castle” newspapers floorplans on your website since the author of the ebook, Adam Selzer, is hogging them to his own production for the cost of THIRTY-FIVE DOLLARS!

  4. earl belcher says:

    Good work, Mike. This story would make a good creepy movie.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Earl. Indeed it would. I think a movie based on the book Devil in the White City is in the works.

  5. peter says:

    I cant find 62nd an Rusk Streets on Google Earth. What would be that location today?

    • hometown says:

      Peter, the intersection today is East 2nd Street and Commerce Street (called “Rusk” until 1909).
      “In that first update I added newly found new information about Holmes’s Fort Worth hotel, which he built at the corner of East 2nd and Commerce streets on property he finagled from the Williams sisters, who he is suspected of murdering.”
      Street sign is shown in this post: https://hometownbyhandlebar.com/?p=1140

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *