Here’s How Texas Horses Brought Down America’s First Serial Killer, Born in New Hampshire
Regarded by most as the very first serial killer in America, Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H.H. Holmes, got his start in life back in 1861 when he was born in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. According to a previous article we posted, Holmes started out with a typical New Hampshire life before flipping the script to a life of crime, which would eventually land him in jail and hanged.
According to Britannica.com, Holmes moved to Chicago in 1886, securing a pharmacy job (which is when he ditched his given name and started using the H.H. Holmes moniker, actually putting a "Dr." in front of it for the pharmacy job.) This is around the time he met who would turn into his fraud partner, Benjamin Pitezel, who had left his wife in Galva, Illinois and moved himself to Chicago to better provide for his family, according to Weber State University.
Pitezel, who was no saint himself and was always down to make a quick buck, according to the Parcast's Solved Murders podcast, joined forces with Holmes for various fraud schemes. The one that matters most, however, is their venture together in insurance fraud, as it would cost Pitezel his life. The two would travel the country pretending to be insurance salesmen, selling fake policies to interested parties and pocketing the money. During this period, according to Crime Museum, Holmes stole horses in Texas and had them shipped to St. Louis, where he sold them and turned a pretty hefty profit.
Shortly after, Holmes and Pitezel decided to scam Pitezel's own insurance company. The plan, according to the Solved Murder podcast, was laid out by Holmes and called for Pitezel to somehow find a cadaver that looked like him. The plan was to have Pitezel go into hiding then burn the face of the cadaver so that it was possible to convince Pitezel's insurance company that it was him, which would allow the two to receive the payout.
Benjamin Pitezel's death
At the beginning of September, Pitezel and Holmes met up at Pitezel's place in Philadelphia to further discuss the scam plan. According to the Solved Murders podcast, Holmes took advantage of Pitezel's fondness of alcohol and fed him drinks. When he got to Pitezel to a point where he was barely able to sit up under his own power, Holmes pressed a rag soaked in chloroform to Pitezel's face and held it tight to his face until the weak struggle Pitezel attempted to put up stopped, and he became limp and lifeless. For good measure, Holmes poured chloroform down Pitezel's throat, then pounded on his chest, causing it to become ingested into his stomach. He then burned Pitezel's face and placed a smoking pipe near him to stage the crime scene to be an accidental explosion from lighting the pipe too close to a nearby gas/accelerant.
After Pitezel's body was found (ironically from one of the customers he was scamming with the insurance fraud business he had with Holmes), Holmes told Pitezel's wife, Carrie, that it was a fraud scam and Pitezel was still alive. He brought one of Pitezel's daughters, who was unaware of the scam, to identify her own father, which she did. Holmes collected the $10,000 off the accidental insurance policy, according to the Solved Murders podcast, gave $500 to Pitezel's wife and said she would get the rest when she met up with Pitezel.
They then set out on a trek together, Holmes telling Pitezel's wife the whole time that Pitezel had to keep moving locations because he kept getting close to being seen alive, which would create chaos with the scam. Along the way, Holmes would separate Pitezel's wife from her kids, which allowed him to murder them, according to Crime Museum. Holmes kept traveling city-to-city, narrowly evading police (who were searching for him once Pitezel's death was realized to not be an accident), until he shipped Pitezel's wife off to New York and told her she would find her husband there, and took off for Toronto himself, then Boston.
H.H. Holmes' arrest
Authorities finally caught up to Holmes in Boston, after months of giving them the slip, where they were able to arrest him and hold him in jail on the outstanding warrant that had been issued following the horse thievery. Imagine that. America's first serial killer, who, according to Crime Museum, was rumored to be responsible for over 200 murders, taken down all because of a few horses from Texas. Holmes was hanged 1896.