Eccentric Orbit

Herman's Curse

The name Herman Webster Mudgett is largely forgotten, but he was an infamous figure in late 19th century America.

Mudgett, better known as "H.H. Holmes", was a successful swindler and serial killer who built a "Murder Castle" in Chicago, a three-story human abattoir complete with shops, apartments, and its own crematorium. He was captured in 1895 and wrote a death-row memoir in which he claimed a total of 27 murder victims, including men, women and children. Mudgett was hanged and, at his request, the coffin filled with concrete to discourage grave robbers.

True crime buffs remember the Castle, but there is another aspect of the story that suggests the man's malignant influence was not cemented into the ground with him.

According to David Franke's book, The Torture Doctor:

  • Dr. William K. Mattern, an important witness against Mudgett, died of blood poisoning.
  • Coroner Ashbridge, whose examination of one Mudgett's victims ultimately led to his capture, suffered a near fatal illness.
  • Judge Arnold, who tried and sentenced Mudgett, also became dangerously sick, but recovered.
  • Superintendent Perkins, in charge of Moyamensing Prison where Mudgett was confined, committed suicide.
  • Mudgett's lawyer died
  • Before Mudgett's execution, Peter Cigrand, the father of one of the victims, was "horribly burned in a gas explosion as he prepared to go to Philadelphia to see Holmes, and, if possible, witness the hanging."
  • William A. Shoemaker, Mudgett's first defense attorney, was disbarred.
  • The Rev. Henry J. McPake, one of the priests that attended Mudgett's hanging, died under strange circumstances. The official cause of death was uremia, but McPake was found in a backyard with marks of violence on his head and disarranged clothing. His watch and valuables were missing and there were "bloodstains on the fence and the marks of boot heels near the body."
  • O. LeForrest Perry, of the Fidelity Mutual Life Insurance, played an important part in the arrest. Perry's office was almost completely destroyed by fire, but two photographs of Mudgett, and the warrant for his arrest, survived though the frame containing them was burnt.
  • Linford L. Biles, the foreman of the jury that convicted Mudgett, stepped on a live wire on the roof of his house and was electrocuted in front of a crowd of neighbors. [1]

I haven't verified any of this information and present it as an example of serial killer lore, an obscure American curse, and an argument for burying certain people at crossroads.

1. All quotes from pp 197-198 of David Franke's The Torture Doctor, Hawthorn Books, 1975

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