Movies Galore takes a look at Chicago documentary Director John Borowski’s “H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer” from 2003!

Written by David Strege


Brought to us by Waterfront Productions documenterist “John Borowski” brings us this mastery of film making of the worlds first known serial killer Mr. Henry Howard Holmes.

Born Herman Webster Mudgett on May 16, 1861 in Glimanton, New Hampshire to Levi Horton Mudgett and Theodore Page Price. Mudgett the middle child of five was the product of a farming family and a direct descendant of English settlers is mostly known as H. H. Holmes, otherwise known as the “Devil in the White City” is the first man to have been documented as a serial killer in the modern sense of the word as it may be.

Having Confessed to 27 murders, 9 of which were proven it was said that he was accused of committing over 200 murders in a sense and fashion becoming part of urban legend and pulp fiction fantasies.

As it turns out H. H. Holmes Married three times to three different women all the while Still being married to the other two the first being Clara Lovering in June of 1878 in Alton, New Hampshire whom bore him a son Robert Lovering Mudgett in Loudon, New Hampire whom later became an accountant and a city manager in Orlando, Florida.

At the age of 18 Holmes entered the university of Vermont in Burlington but soon took a disliking to the school and dropped out but later in 1882 entered the university of Michigan’s Department of medicine and Surgery under a Professor Herdman which according to rumors didn’t always use legal means of Cadavers in his Anatomy Classes which makes me wonder if this professor is where the stories of Burke & Hare Derive from.

After Graduating in 1884 Holmes moved to Mooer’s Fork, New York but left quickly when a boy disappeared, moved to Philadelphia got a job as a Keeper at Norristown State Hospital but left after a few day and then got a position at a drugstore Philadelphia but here a boy died after taking medicine from the store.

Holmes Denied any involvement and it is shortly here after before he moved to Chicago that he changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes probably to avoid the creditors that he’d already scammed before.

In 1886 while still married to Clara Holmes Maried Myrta Belknap in Minneapolis, Minnesota and in August of 1886 arrived in Chicago. On July 4th, 1889 Myrta and Holmes had a daughter Lucy Theodate Holmes later becoming a school teacher.  During the several weeks after marrying Myrta, holmes filed for grounds for divorce.

In Chicago Holmes meets up with a fellow university alumni a Mr. Holton and His Wife Elizabeth’s drugstore on S Wallace Ave and 63rd street in the Englewood Neighborhood and Dr. Holton hired Holmes on the spot, realized Holmes was a hard worker and eventially Holmes bought the Store from them over time.  Several history books Allege that Dr. Holton was an aging old man and that Elizabeth and her husband actually disappeared but as it turns out this was a fabricated fiction.


In any case Holmes purchased a vacant lot across the street from his now owned drugstore and began building on credit a two story appartment building that was to be a hotel for the Chicago World’s Fair that became known as Holmes “Murder Mansion.” It is said that Holmes had actualy sold human skeletons to universities across the nation for money and was quite successful in the business which is almost close to taxidermy but you get my drift…

John Borowski’s Documentary touches on many of these aspects of his life and more so as I feel that he chose well on the presentation on documents, forensic evidence as we here the opinions of Marion Caporusso with the Illinois State Police. As well as some voice actresses and trolls playing to bring us this morbid but factual tale of H. H. Holmes to our perspective.


For it is described that Holmes met up with a one Benjamin Pitezel while working at a Chemical Bank on Deerborn Street, a carpenter with a criminal past who was actually selling a coal bin that he’d invented at the time.

it is said from here on in that Pitezel in a sense became Holmes’s Creature and as thick as thrives devised the rest of the building of his Castle that had hidden rooms, doors that led to nowhere and a vault which he’d built the rooms around to keep from paying creditors for the materials. As well as several scams including that of Pitezel’s faked death that actually turned into his real death which involve Chloroform and a fire. Which was claimed as being a suicide at the time.  There was also according to Borowski’s Documentary a relationship with Pitezels family meaning his wife and five children which Holmes slightly doted on.

It was also alleged that in his “Castle” in Chicago he had torture rooms that he’d brought his victims to to torture and Kill but there really was no evidence found of anything on the property as it apparently was subject to a a partial fire.  It was said that on the night of the fire two men were seen running into the building between 8 and 9 at night and a canister of gasoline was found later on the back porch.  The insurance companies were quick to sue as they believed the fire to be caused by arson and pressingly Holmes left Chicago in 1894.

According to the information Borowski provide’s in this documentary he tells Pitezel’ widow that Benjamin is still alive and hiding out in London while he takes her three oldest children traveling with him including  Pitezel.  Nellie and Alice in detail write back to their mother weekly that they miss home but the letters never reach her mother and soon her children are never seen from again until Holmes is arrested later and confesses to leaving their bodies in the basement in a chest on one of his abandoned properties.

While in Chicago, holmes had actually entertained and had aparent affairs with three women the first a wife of neighbor Ned Connor’s a one Julia Smythe that began working in the Pharmacy’s Jewelry store connected to the Still being built hotel connected to the Apartment referred to as the “Murder Mansion.”  When Connors found out he left and Smythe got sole custody of their daughter Pearl.  Julia and Pearl disappeared the Christmas of 1891.  In May of 1892 another suggested Affair began with a Emiline Cigrande and disappeared that December.


 In early 1893 a one time actress Minnie Williams met holmes reportedly in an employment agency and hired her as a Stenographer and she accepted the job also reportedly having and affair… able to persuade Minnie to transfer the deed of her property in Fort Worth, Texas to a one Alexander Bond an Alias Of Holmes and later an Alias of pitezel’s a one Benton T. Lyman.  Minnie’s sister Nanny came to visit in July writing to her Aunt she was to accompany her “Brother Harry” to Europe but neither Minnie nor Nannie were seen alive after July 5th 1893.

On January 17th 1894 Holmes married Georgiana Yoke I bet Denver Colorado and was arrest in July of 1894 for the first time on the charge of selling Mortgaged Goods in St. Luis, Missouri.  It was in prison Holmes stuck up a conversation with a one Marion Hedgepath a train robber on a twenty five year sentence and promised him 500 dollars to point him in the direction of a lawyer who could be trusted with his scheme a certain Jeptha Howe in practice with his brother Alphonso who thought his scheme was brilliant to fake deaths for insurance money 10,000 was a lot of money at that time. Due to his mistake of not making good on paying Hedgepath was Holmes mistake otherwise his arrest might have taken longer.

So it seems Holmes was used to traveling within a three ring circus after mudering Alice and Nellie he accompanied Wife of Pitezel and lived with his third wife at the time while traveling with the three children all the way to Canada while living only a few blocks from his Residence him and his third wife Georgiana lived not knowing of her husbands affairs.

In October of 1895 Holmes was put on trial for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel found guilty, and sentenced to death.  On May 7th 1986 Holmes was hanged to death at Moyamensing Prison not showing any fear or depression, his neck didn’t break but slowly strangle to death and pronounced dead twenty minutes later.

Though I also looked into other sources for this review their is much I didn’t tell and some that wasn’t portrayed in Borowski’s Documantary but I don’t believe all of it had to be told though the film was very informative the way that it was filmed made me want to know more of his story.

Altogether this was a greatly told narrative very informative and I believe there was knowledgably told in a way that many could take interest in it wasn’t like a lecture but drew you in got down on your level and as a documentary you have to be able to explain things in a way people can understand with out talking at you and putting you to sleep and I think he achieved that audience grabber where it certainly will not put you to sleep.

I certainly recommend this film for other students and film makers as I think his material was fresh and film lovers to check out as it is very enlightening as to whom H. H. Holmes really was. Enjoy!

Starring Tony Jay as Narrator (voice), Harold Schechter as Himself – Author ‘Depraved’, Thomas Cronin as
Himself – Criminal Profiler, Marian Caporusso as Herself – Programs Section Chief – Illinois State Police Forensic Science Center, Ed Bertagnoli as
Chicago Police Officer, Cary Callison as
Chicago Detective, Willy Laszlo as
H.H. Holmes, Rachelle Villarreal as
Alice Pitezel, Audrey Welling as
Castle Victim, Beka as Carrie Pitezel (voice), Tom Ciappa as (voice), Sarah Mills as (voice).

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