H.H. Holmes' "Murder Castle"
Arguably America's first serial killer, H.H. Holmes committed many of the 27 murders to which he confessed in his three-story, block-long "murder castle" that doubled as the "World's Fair Hotel" during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. A graduate of the University of Michigan medical school, Holmes arrived in Illinois seven years prior to the World's Fair, sought out work as a druggist, and bought a small family pharmacy. When the undeveloped land across the street went on sale, he purchased it and began building his "hotel." Holmes changed builders every week so that nobody else would know the exact layout. There were shops on the main floor, but the upper two floors contained more than 70 rooms in which Holmes conducted his gruesome killings. There were slanted hallways, stairways to nowhere, doorways opening to brick walls, and doors that could be opened only from the outside. He killed hotel employees and guests by funneling gas into their rooms. He put others into a bank vault near his office, leaving them to suffocate. He threw bodies down a greased chute into the basement, where there were acid pits, poisons, and two furnaces. The admitted psychopath left Chicago in late 1893, and the castle burned down on August 19, 1895. The authorities ultimately arrested him in Philadelphia for a murder he committed while living there. He was hanged at Philadelphia County Prison on May 7, 1896. In his confession, Holmes wrote, "I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing."
Novelist Erik Larson popularized Holmes' grisly tale in the 2003 non-fiction book "Devil In The White City."