(A 69-page True Crime Short with photographs) H. H. Holmes was a central character in Erik Larson’s hugely successful The Devil in the White City, which is planned as a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Holmes is commonly viewed as a real-life Hannibal Lecter, a devious and cunning serial killer. Holmes used the persona of a successful doctor and entrepreneur to draw untold numbers of young women to his three-story Chicago hotel to experiment on before killing them. He would often deflesh the corpses to sell the skeletons to medical schools.
Holmes enjoyed trying out methods of murder and watching his victims die. Scientists from his era believed Holmes’ brain would unlock the secret of his perversity, but he denied them the chance to find out. Today, neuroscience allows us to unlock the brains of sadistic psychopaths, so we can better understand what his brain – if dissected – would have revealed. We can research killers to decode Holmes’s vile behavior.
“After the girls died, he’d enjoy viewing ‘their blackened and distorted faces’ before he dug a shallow grave, removed their clothing, and dumped them into it with ‘fiendish delight.’ Holmes considered that ‘for eight years before their deaths I had been almost as much a father to them as though they had been my own children.’
“It is precisely this behavior that most puzzles the ordinary person and draws the researcher’s attention: how can a man torture and asphyxiate children, or burn them and view it as entertainment? How can he ‘befriend’ them for years, knowing the whole time that he will end their lives? How can he describe it as pleasurable? This is the reason the psychopath holds our fascination. It’s why researchers even during Holmes’s era tried extracting criminal brains post-mortem for study. They hoped to locate the seat of disturbed moral consciousness.”