Happy Halloween, InsuranceNewsNet readers! To celebrate the spookiest of holidays, we decided to share the haunting tale of notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes and his connection to the insurance industry.
Born Herman Webster Mudgett, H.H. Holmes was an American serial killer known for the murders committed during the 1893 World’s Fair, but there’s more to Holmes’ story – a lot more.
While Holmes confessed to 27 murders, he was paid $7,500 by Hearst Newspapers ($226,000 today) for his sensationalized confession. As most of Holmes’ confession turned out to be exaggerated and later found to be false, authorities struggled to find evidence of just how many murders Holmes had committed and therefore struggled to bring charges against Holmes.
Exaggerated tales and a thick web of lies were the standard for Holmes, a known con man and bigamist, but it ended up being his con man ways that ultimately led to his capture and later execution.
By July 1894, Holmes had left Chicago with a number of insurance companies on his tail, looking to prosecute the fraudster for arson. Holmes proved hard to catch and was incarcerated only briefly for selling mortgaged goods in St. Louis.
While in prison, Holmes concocted a plan in which he would take out a $10,000 life insurance policy and then fake his own death to collect the benefits. Holmes proceeded with the plan, but when the insurance company became suspicious, he chose to pursue the same scheme, but with an accomplice.
Benjamin Pitezel was a Philadelphia native and carpenter with a criminal history who made the mistake of befriending Holmes. In Pitezel and Holmes’ plan, Pitezel would assume the name B.F. Perry, an inventor who would be killed and disfigured in a lab experiment mishap. A cadaver would be thrown in in place of Pitezel. Then, Pitezel’s wife would collect on the life insurance policy.
The Killer Is In The House!
Unfortunately for Pitezel, Holmes had no intention of faking Pitezel’s death. In fact, the grizzly truth was that Holmes had used chloroform to render Pitezel unconscious and then set his body on fire using benzene.
Holmes then accompanied Pitezel’s wife and children to New England, all along the way telling the remaining Pitezel family that their father and husband was in hiding.
By November of 1894, Holmes plan had come unraveled. Holmes was arrested in Boston and accused of attempting to defraud Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company.
On November 20, Carrie Pietzel, wife of Benjamin Pitezel, confessed to attempted insurance fraud by faking her husband’s death with the help of Holmes. By this point, she suspected that Holmes had killed her husband.
Back in Philadelphia, police detective Frank Geyer was building the one and only case that would lead to Holmes being convicted and later hung for the murder of Benjamin Pitezel on May 7, 1896.
Had it not been for Fidelity’s pursuance of Holmes and Mrs. Pitezel’s confession, Holmes might have continued his murder-fraud schemes for several more years, at the expense of more victims.
AdvisorNews Managing Editor Cassie Miller may be reached at [email protected] Cassie has an extensive background in magazine writing, editing and design. Follow her on Twitter @ANCassieM.