Not the First but One of the Worst

Books recently read. Book the first –

Depraved by Harold Schechter – the true story of H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer. So says the back cover blurb. It’s not true. That is, the story is true but Holmes is hardly America’s first serial killer despite his Ted Bundyish personality. America had a few multiple murderers prior to Holmes’ escapades.

I’m not a fan of true crime books. I prefer fictional horrors to the real stuff. A hundred years does give enough distance that I’ve found Holmes’s legend fascinating. It must be a sign of my own depravity and jadedness that I was disappointed with how few people Holmes seems to have actually killed. I’d first read about him in Bloodletters & Badmen by Jay Robert Nash. Prior to the Chicago World’s Fair in the 1900’s Holmes had built himself a “Murder Castle” with secret passages, acid baths, gassing chambers and other ammenities for the purpose of doing away with people and bodies. He himself confessed to the murder of 27 people. And perhaps he did kill that many. There’s no way to know. Holmes was a liar above all else. Some of the people he claimed to have killed turned out to be still living. Others he almost certainly murdered he insisted were still alive.

Depraved mainly details the insurance scam that finally proved his undoing. It’s a grisly enough tale but rather commonplace in comparison to the horrors that the Castle suggests.