Plenty of hotels have a few ghost stories to their name, but the sinister presence that stalked and murdered visitors to the World's Fair Hotel—widely known today as the spooky Chicago Murder Castle—was very human. The castle was a sprawling three-story labyrinth of deadly traps and torture chambers designed by one of the most twisted serial killers in American history, Herman Webster Mudgett, better known as H. H. Holmes. Nobody knows exactly how many people Holmes really killed, but before his death, he confessed to at least 27 murders—which, according to his descendant Jeff Mudget, might have even included the killings of Jack the Ripper.
The true nature of H. H. Holmes's murder castle was kept so secret that not even its architects understood the whole layout. Holmes used the hotel's confusing, claustrophobic design to isolate and trap his victims, and until his capture in 1894, he was the only one who knew every grisly secret of the building. The Chicago Tribune published a lurid description of all the crazy death traps in Holmes's murder castle in an 1895 article, and any unsuspecting former guests finally found out about the horrific ways H. H. Holmes murdered people in soundproof, airtight, pitch-black rooms just a wall away.
Today, a post office occupies the same land where the Murder Castle once stood. Maintenance workers have reported feeling and seeing strange things in the basement, where Holmes kept the nightmarish collection of tools and torture devices that many visitors only discovered when it was too late.
Read on about H. H. Holmes's devious murder traps. They may just make you think twice about booking your next hotel room.
Hidden Gas Pipes Asphyxiated People In Their Rooms
When investigators searched the castle after Holmes was arrested, one of the most disturbing things they discovered was a system of gas pipes hidden in the walls and floors. These pipes were connected to valves in Holmes's personal room, so he could let gas flood into the rooms of his peacefully sleeping victims at any time, killing them slowly and silently by asphyxiation. Not even people with whom Holmes was close could trust that they wouldn't be secretly gassed to death—Chicago authorities believed that this might have been how he killed his mistress and bookkeeper, Julia Conner.
Labs Full of Poison Were Used For Twisted Experiments
When Holmes wasn't getting rid of his guests' bodies or subjecting them to excruciating torture in the basement of the Murder Castle, he was busy conducting experiments on them. After sending dead or unconscious captives down a secret chute to the basement, those who weren't dissolved in acid or stretched to death found themselves on Holmes's operating table.
Holmes used his basement laboratory to dissect these victims and perform macabre medical experiments on them with the help of various surgical instruments and poisons. He then removed their organs and cleaned the remaining flesh from their skeletons, which he sold to doctors and medical departments as anatomical models.
A Medieval Torture Rack In The Basement
The scariest devices found in the basement of Holmes's Murder Castle were meant for getting rid of dead bodies rather than torturing living ones. For instance, the human-sized stove and vats of acid. Unfortunately, some of his victims were subjected to a particularly nasty exception—a stretching rack. Holmes used the rack, which he called an “elasticity determinator,” to perform experiments that measured how far a person could be stretched.
Victims were slowly stretched and bent until their bones were broken and they eventually succumbed to death. Holmes would then dissolve the bodies in acid or disintegrate them in his giant kiln, never to be seen again.
Iron-Lined Rooms Were Fitted With Blowtorches
Several of the secret rooms in the Murder Castle were lined with iron. In most cases, the iron walls were meant to soundproof the rooms, but in one room, they served a far deadlier purpose. This room was lined not only with sheet iron, but also with asbestos, and investigators who discovered it found evidence of fire. Like many of the castle's other torture chambers, the iron-lined room was also fitted with gas pipes that could be controlled from Holmes's bedroom.
The presence of the gas pipe, the extra asbestos lining, and the signs of fire all suggest that Holmes intended this room to be both fireproof and escape-proof—the perfect place to roast a human alive.