Investigating a Haunting: Carlos Avery WMA, MN – part three

I’m in the early stages of my investigation of a suspected haunting in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area, a local nature preserve. So far, I’ve shared the Facebook conversation which inspired me to begin this series, as well as brief sketch of the park’s history (both mundane and murderous) in PART ONE of this series. I’ve shared my personal history with dead things and predators in one area of the park, as well as the preserve’s paranormal legends in PART TWO. Today I’ll provide the details of the most recent murder that occurred on the property.

If you are reading this page because you searched for information about Carlos Avery after encountering something unexplained in or near the preserve, please contact me to share your story. To remain anonymous, send me a PRIVATE message at my Facebook page. Our conversation will be confidential, and you will determine how you will be identified if I quote you or include your experience in this series.

THE SENSELESS SLAYING OF JASON WILKMAN

Finding my location, in both time and place.

I’ve been putting off writing this installment of the Carlos Avery series. The truth is, I don’t want to do it, because the crime itself makes me so sad. In this story, two children and a teacher are the victims of a pathetic, maladjusted man with life-long psychological problems. In this part of Carlos Avery’s history, there is no tragic swashbuckling, and no mystery. Only the brutal death of a six year old boy in a remote, randomly chosen corner of Anoka County.

I’ve been busily collecting resources and pre-writing for the other tragedies that have occurred in or near the preserve, but as I sit down to write this, I realize I have been shying away from what happened in the spring and summer of 1980. Part of the problem is that this time period feels so recent to me. As I look into other events connected to the Carlos Avery WMA — like the O’Kasick manhunt of 1957 and the Dygart murders of 1911 — I am partially insulated from my feelings by the patina of age that surrounds those stories. They happened in what feels like an entirely different world, and they involved people who seem almost like characters in a novel. I don’t feel a sense of personal juxtaposition. How could I? I wasn’t even born when they happened.

On the Friday when Jason Wilkman was being kidnapped and murdered, though, I know I was just getting ready to turn 13. I was finishing up my 7th grade year … my first year of junior high. We were living in the town of Anoka then, in a house directly across the street from the school I attended. According to the records of KMSP’s weather history, it was a seasonably warm day in the 60s, there was a variable wind, and the skies were overcast. By 10 pm that night, a light rain started.

I don’t remember any details from that day, but I do know I had no awareness of the terrible things that were happening within a 25 mile radius of my home … not that day, and not later, as the story unfolded in the news.

NOTE — MAY 16th: I’ve been trying to get this installment done for more than a month. In the last week, I’ve been determined to finish it and move on, so I’ve been chipping away at it every day. I didn’t realize, until I was putting the last pieces in place tonight, that it will go live on the 35th anniversary of Jason Wilkman’s death. The delay was not intentional.

The insanity of Ming Sen Shiue:

Before we get to what happened to Jason Wilkman, in the Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area on that afternoon in mid-May, 1980, it’s important to understand the history of the man who killed him.

Ming Sen Shiue was born on October 15th, 1950, in Taiwan. He moved to Minnesota with his mother and his two brothers, to join his father, (who was a professor at the University of Minnesota,) when he was eight years old. Starting in his early years, Shiue was reportedly abusive toward his younger siblings.  In adolescence, he severely beat one brother with a broken belt, and put the other in the oven, which he then turned on. Within three years of the family’s move to Minnesota, Shiue’s father died. Shiue exhibited inappropriate, sexualized actions toward his mother throughout his life, and one psychological report describes his behaviors as “indicative of blurred boundaries and psychosexual disturbance.”

Shiue came to the attention of the justice system in 1964, when he started fires in the apartments of three different individuals. (He also threw rocks at cars.) He was ordered into psychotherapy for the arson at the age of fourteen. At that time, Shiue’s mother reported to his therapist that her son was a frequent liar and that he was very concerned with being right. She also revealed that his was out of her control and that she feared him. She said she believed he was someone who was absent of feelings, “like a dog.” For a short time, Shiue was placed in a detention home. He was caught peeping into neighborhood houses while living there. After he returned to his mother’s house, and his juvenile probation was up, he did not continue with therapy.

The genesis of the nightmare:

In the 1965-66 academic year, when Shiue was in the ninth grade at a Roseville, MN high school, he took an algebra class from a teacher named Mary Stauffer. He became obsessed with Stauffer and admitted (in his testimony at his 1981 trial) that he had violent sexual fantasies about her from then on.

Sometime in the next ten years, between 1965 and 1975, Shiue decided to kidnap Stauffer so that he could act out some of these fantasies.

In 1975, Shiue came to believe that Mary Stauffer was living in Duluth, MN. (She was, in fact, living in the Philippines doing Christian missionary work with her family.) He broke into a residence in search of her but found, instead, Stauffer’s inlaws. He tied them up at gunpoint, then threatened to kill them if they every reported his break in. They did not. He continued to look for Stauffer for another four years.

In 1979, Mary Stauffer, her husband and their two children returned to Minnesota from the Philippines. They intended to go back, to continue their missionary work, the next year.

While the family was in Minnesota, Shiue discovered they were living on the campus of Bethel College, in Arden Hills, a town close to his own home. He began to stalk them in earnest. He attempted to break into their apartment three times. (His attempts included burning the area around the patio door and drilling holes into the floor beneath Stauffer’s bed.)

I can’t tell, from the news coverage that I’ve found, if Stauffer knew someone was stalking her, nor can I determine if she was aware that the 1975 break-in at her in-laws’ home was related to her.

May 16th, 1980:

Shiue was living alone in a house in Roseville when he finally decided to go through with his plan to abduct Mary Stauffer. According to newspaper accounts, he saw Mary as she exited a Roseville beauty salon with her eight year old daughter, Elizabeth.

I don’t know if he stalked her to that location or if he just happened to see her exiting a shop while he was going about his business in his own town. As unlikely as the second scenario is, it’s not hard to see how that kind of coincidence could trigger Shiue to act in that particular moment.

Shiue approached the Stauffers with a gun. He instructed them to get into Stauffer’s car, then forced Mary to drive by holding the gun to Elizabeth’s head. When they had reached a “deserted area,” he had Mary pull over so he could bind both females and put then in the trunk of the car. He then continued to drive. Twice he heard noise coming from the trunk as the Stauffers tried to escape or attract attention to their plight. Each time he pulled over to quiet the captives by adding more restraints in the form of ropes and duct tape.

On the second stop,  while he had the trunk open, a six year old boy named Jason Wilkman approached the car to see what was happening. According to a young witness at the scene, Shiue tossed the boy into the back seat of the car and fled the scene. Mary Stauffer later testified that a boy named Jason was put into the trunk with her and Elizabeth.

Jason Wilkman

Shiue then drove to Carlos Avery, which is 30 miles north of the Roseville abduction scene, where he killed Jason Wilkman and dumped his body. After the murder, he returned to his house in Roseville, where he kept Mary and Elizabeth Stauffer captive until July 7th.

I don’t understand where Shiue was going with all this driving. If he had a house in Roseville, and he abducted the Stauffers from a beauty salon in Roseville, how and why did he end up Carlos Avery? Why was he headed away from the home where he intended to imprison Mary and Elizabeth Stauffer? Newspaper accounts indicate that Jason Wilkman was abducted about two hours AFTER the Stauffers. Why was Shiue still driving around with the Stauffers in the trunk? 

Jason Wilkman he was taken from Hazelnut Park, less than one mile from the beauty shop where the Stauffers were abducted. Both the beauty shop and Hazelnut Park are less than five miles from Shiue’s house … which is south of the abduction sights.

So. It appears Mary Stauffer / Shiue drove around the neighborhood for two hours before Jason Wilkman was put first into the back seat of the car, then the trunk. Then Shiue headed north approximately 30 miles to the northern edge of Carlos Avery, where he killed Jason Wilkman. Then he turned around and went back home.

This is a static screenshot, but if you click it, a window will open with an interactive map.

This is a static screenshot, but if you click it, a window will open with a fully functional, interactive map.

Carlos Avery - Jason Wilkman map key

What happened to the Stauffers?

I’ll get back to Jason in a moment, but it wouldn’t be fair to leave the fate of the Stauffers a mystery, even though nothing else in their story is associated with Carlos Avery.

When Shiue arrived home with his captives, he told Mary that he had released Jason Wilkman in a place where he would be found. He then confined Mary and Elizabeth to a small closet he had prepared for the purpose. Later that night, he brought Mary out into the living room and told her that she had ruined his life by giving him a poor grade in Algebra. He claimed he’d lost a scholarship and was consequently drafted into the Viet Nam war, where he was captured and held as a prisoner of war. His entire tale was a lie. He then violently raped her for the first time. During the next seven weeks, the rapes continued.

In order to better control his captives, Shiue sometimes took Elizabeth with him when he went to work at his repair shop. (He would leave Elizabeth bound in his vehicle.) Over time, however, Shiue relaxed into a fantasy that the three of them were a family. Eventually, in order to keep her daughter healthy, Mary requested fresh food and, under close supervision, she was allowed to prepare meals for the three of them. In early June, Shiue took the Stauffers with him to the Chicago area so that he could attend a job fair. (He kept them tied up in an RV.) For Father’s Day, Shiue took the Stauffers to a pay phone so they could call home to let Mary’s husband know they were alright. On the 4th of July, he took them to a park so they could watch the fireworks.

On July 7th, Shiue left both Mary and Elizabeth at his house, confined in a different, slightly larger closet, when he went to work. Mary was able to pry the bolts from the door hinges. The Stauffers were bound together with a cable, but they were able to get to the phone and call the police. They managed to get outside where they hid behind a car until a squad arrived. Officers asked if Jason Wilkman was still in the house. It was then that Mary first knew for sure that the boy had not been found.

The police had no trouble arresting Shiue at his shop. In September of 1980 he was tried in federal court on kidnapping and rape charges. He was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 30 years served before becoming eligible for parole.

In February of 1981, Shiue was tried for the murder of Jason Wilkman. During those proceedings, while Mary Stauffer was testifying, Shiue broke away from the defendant’s table and attacked her with a pocket knife he had somehow concealed. He slashed her face before he was subdued by six men. The cut required 62 stitches to be repaired.

A slideshow of  photos, from ABC NEWS, including the house and closet where Stauffer and Elizabeth were held.

And what about Jason?

In October, 1980, Shiue agreed to show the FBI where he had left Jason Wilkman in exchange for a second-degree murder charge rather than first-degree. (At least one newspaper article indicates that he was still claiming that he’d simply left the boy in the woods alive.)

The Carlos Avery WMA is so large and difficult to navigate that, even with forensic clues taken from the under-carriage of Stauffer’s car and the cooperation of Shiue, several days of searching had to conducted before the boy’s skeletal remains were found.

Shiue was convicted of second-degree kidnapping and murder in 1981. For these crimes against Jason Wilkman, he was sentenced to 40 years, to be served concurrently with his federal conviction for his crimes against the Stauffers. He would become eligible for parole on July 6th, 2010.

On October 16th, 2009, a petition to commit Shiue “as a sexually dangerous person and as a sexual psychopathic personality” was filed. The petition was granted on September 29th, 2010 (and a later appeal by Shiue was denied.) This means that, if Shiue is ever paroled, he will likely spend the rest of life incarcerated in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.

The 25-page, 2010 Anoka County Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order in the matter of the Civil Commitment of Ming Sen Shiue is interesting reading if you want to discover more details about Shiue’s behavior and psychology. I’ve extracted one piece from it below, because it directly speaks about Jason Wilkman.

From the Finding of Fact:

Finding 21.

[Shiue] drove to Carlos Avery Wildlife Refuge in rural Anoka County, removed Jason Wilkman from the trunk and murdered him. An autopsy of Jason Wilkman revealed several fractures to his skull. The pathologist who examined Jason Wilkman’s remains indicated that the cause of death was severe cerebral trauma caused by at least two blows to the head delivered by a blunt instrument with a great deal of force. During [Shiue’s] trail for the murder of Jason Wilkman, [Mary Stauffer] testified that [Shiue] took a one-and-half-foot metal rod with him when he removed Jason Wilkman from the trunk.

Jason Wilkman probably died quickly from the blows. His body was left exposed to the elements.

On the night he was killed, a light rain fell in Carlos Avery. On the day his body was found, the sky was partly cloudy, there was a fitful breeze, and the temperature never rose above 41 degrees. In between those events, 165 nights passed, and the season changed from spring, through summer, to deep autumn. I didn’t know he was out there when I was busy being 13, but I do now. The knowledge makes me terribly sad.

I keep thinking about how cold most of those nights must have been. When I go out to the preserve again, I think I’ll take a blanket with me and leave it in the area where he lay for so long.


The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

Paranormal Deck of Cards – Eight of Mysteries

pdoc 8 of mysteries sailing stones corrected

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley

When I was formulating the idea for this PDOC series, I began by creating a list of 52+ potential topics which intrigue me. Then I divided them into four categories: creatures, psychopaths, haunts and mysteries.

I’m still trying to fill out the list of haunts that I want to explore, but I had no trouble immediately coming up with (more than) 13 mysteries. I always knew that the mysteries suit would be my catch-all for things that didn’t fit neatly into any of the other categories. I also knew it was likely to be my favorite suit. I am fascinated by odd occurrences, strange places and perplexing objects.

In my initial brainstorming stage, one of the first things I jotted down was the Sailing Stone of Death Valley. At the time, I did not expect the phenomena would be definitively explained before I could even write about it.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about this. I certainly did not plan for this project to be about debunking, dismissing, or solving my beloved mysteries.  Like many of you, I enjoy knowing that I can’t know everything. I appreciate being wonder-struck and baffled. But I also like to learn new facts and gain increased understanding of how the world works.

So I guess it’s all good.

If you’re tapped into the same (or similar) sources of information that I am, you may already know that the phenomena of the Death Valley Sailing Stones has been scientifically explained in the current issue of the journal, Plos One. If you are not connected to such sources, however, you may not even know what all the fuss is about.

Let’s start there … with what was known about the stones before a crack team of scientists, armed with the latest technology, figured out was going on.

Racetrack-Playa-Death-Valley-2.jpg
Racetrack-Playa-Death-Valley-2” by Daniel Mayer – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is (was) here
first upload in en wikipedia on 04:23, 28 October 2002 by Maveric149. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

THE HISTORY OF THE SAILING STONES:

In 1915, a prospector named Joseph Crook is reported to have discovered a remote, flat area in Death Valley where stones appeared to have left trails in the desert as they traveled across the barren ground. The mechanism of the stone movement was a mystery.

WHY THIS IS WEIRD:

The area Crook discovered is a playa, which is a dry lake-bed. It is a little less than than three miles long and a little more than a mile wide. The playa is extremely flat, with its southern edge being about one and a half inches lower than the northern. Interestingly, the stones often seem to move up the incline, from south to north. The trails inscribed by the wandering stones “are often tens to hundreds of feet long, about 3 to 12 inches wide, and typically much less than an inch deep.” (Wikipedia) Many of the trails are long and straight, but some curve, zig-zag or double back on themselves. These trails are not etched in dust or sand, but in hard-baked clay. One can walk out to the stones to examine the engraved trails and not leave a mark on the ground. Though no one (until 2013) had observed the active movement of a stone, periodic checks on the locations of  individual rocks revealed that the they were moving and leaving new trails.

The stones have been “sailing” – without apparent interference from humans or animals – for at least a century. I’ve listed several notable scientific investigations that have been conducted at the playa below, but one specific study was of particular interest:

HOW FAR DO THEY SAIL?

In a study that began in 1972, the location of thirty stones, (with what appeared to be fresh trails,) were marked. Each stone was given a name. Over the next seven years, changes in the stones’ locations were recorded.

Ten of the stones moved in the first winter. One, named Mary Ann, moved 212 feet. In two of the next six winters, multiple stones moved. By the end of the seven-year study, 28 of the named stones had moved. The smallest stone to move had a diameter of 2.5 inches; the largest was 80 pounds.

One stone – estimated to be over 700 pounds – was named Karen, and it did not move during the monitoring period. It was believed that its original trail, which was 570 feet long and very straight, may have been drawn when it originally tumbled onto the playa.

After the study was complete, however, Karen seemed to disappear from the playa. It was rediscovered in 1996 by a geologist who located it about a half mile from its 1972 position.

THEORIES:

Over the years, multiple theories had been advanced to explain this phenomena. Modern, conventional, scientists has always believed that some combination of water, ice and wind were responsible. It is likely that the inaccessibility of the area during winter months prevented the first people who studied the rocks to think along such lines. The earliest scientific theory was that there was a magnetic anomaly in the area, but this was proved to be unlikely when the rocks themselves were revealed to be entirely non-magnetic.

The playa’s relative proximity to Area 51 led some theorists to the conclusion that the phenomena must be connected to alien activity. My absolute favorite theory in this category is detailed in a blog called, Villains & Vaudevillians. I’ve provided the link to the full article below, but here’s a snippet from it:

Are the sailing stones pieces of a spacecraft that met its untimely demise during prehistoric times? Was the object that the crashed in Roswell, New Mexico really an extraterrestrial salvage vehicle sent on another mission to located the long vanished spacecraft, only to succumb to the same fate. Is the wreckage at Area 51 giving off a beacon in the form of a magnetic field to call its lost brother home?

It really is a must-read, if you have a few minutes to spare.

THE MYSTERY OF THE SAILING STONES, SOLVED:

It turns out that the modern scientists were right — this is a phenomena caused by water, ice and wind.

The following set of photographs was published in a paper entitled Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion, in the journal PLOS One.

journal.pone.0105948.g001

“Image acquired with a handheld digital camera on January 9, 2014.”

Take a look at the stone indicated by the red arrow and compare its position as it changes – in less than 30 seconds – in relation to the two (non-moving) stones indicated by the blue arrows.

This was not the only movement observed by this team.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the paper which explain quite well how the stones sail:

Observed rock movement occurred on sunny, clear days, following nights of sub-freezing temperatures. Steady light winds and morning sun caused floating ice to break-up near mid day, accompanied by widespread popping sounds from fragmenting ice panels. Ice initially broke into floating panels tens of meters in size that became increasingly fragmented and separated by open rippled water as melting continued. Floating ice sheets driven by wind stress and flowing water, pushed rocks resting on the playa surface, in some cases moving >60 rocks in a single event.

*****

A necessary condition for the rock motion we observed is the existence of a playa pool deep enough to submerge the southern section of the playa, yet shallow enough to leave many rocks partly exposed at the pond surface. Other repeating features of rock movement events that we observed include the presence of floating ice, temperatures and sunlight sufficient to create melt pools in the ice, and light breezes that are steady enough to drive floating ice. Although the ice breaks up around rocks, even thin moving ice sheets can generate sufficient force to drive rocks across the pool. All observed rock movement events occurred near mid-day when sufficient ice melting had occurred to allow ice break-up. Creation of rock trails is difficult to observe because trails form below the ice-covered pool surface where they are often not evident until the ice has melted, and liquid water has been removed. In addition, rock movement is slow and relatively brief—our GPS instrumented stones traveled at speeds of 2–5 m/minute for up to 16 minutes—so casual observation is likely to miss rocks in motion. Weather station data show that the freezing temperatures necessary for ice formation, and winds in excess of 3–5 m/s are common phenomena at Racetrack Playa during the coldest few weeks of winter. Therefore, the extremely episodic occurrence of rock motion (years to decades) is likely due to the infrequency of rain or snow events sufficient to form winter ponds.

Citation: Norris RD, Norris JM, Lorenz RD, Ray J, Jackson B (2014) Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion. PLoS ONE 9(8): e105948. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0105948 (Please find link to full article below.)

MISCELLANEOUS FACTS:

First observed / reported:
1915
Mystery solved:
2013 – 2014

Location:
Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California
Coordinates: 36.6813°N 117.5627°W
NOTE: Racetrack Playa is approx. 140 miles from Area 51

Racetrack Playa from space.jpg
Racetrack Playa from space“. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Geography (from Wikipedia):

“The playa is in the small Racetrack Valley between the Cottonwood Mountains on the east and Nelson Range to the west. During periods of heavy rain, water washes down from the Racetrack mountain area draining into the playa, forming a shallow, short-lived, closed-system lake. Under the hot desert sun, the thin veneer of water quickly evaporates leaving behind a surface layer of soft slick mud. As the mud dries, it shrinks and cracks into a mosaic pattern of interlocking polygons.”

Climate & meteorology of the area:

Daily summer temperatures can reach 120 °F (49 °C). In the winter, the temperature can plunge to 15 °F (−9.4 °C), though the average winter night temperature is closer to 39 °F (4 °C). Annual precipitation is 3 to 4 inches.

Notable Scientific Investigations:

  • 1948: two geologists mapped the area’s bedrock and mentioned the sliding rocks in a report in the Geologic Society of America Bulletin
  • 1952: a National Park ranger detailed observations of trail lengths, widths, and courses
  • 1955: a geologist published a paper discounting the prevailing theory that winds were strong enough to move the stones, even when the ground was wet
  • 1972: a long term project was begun to track the movement of the stones over seven years
  • 1995: a research group determined that at least some of the stones were moved in a large, contiguous ice-floe
  • 2006: a NASA scientist developed a “table top model” that suggested small ice rafts formed around individual stones and reduced drag so that even light winds could trigger movement
  • 2013: actual stone movement was recorded with GPS sensors and time-lapse photography

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley in the Media:

Books:
  • The World’s Weirdest Places by Nick Redfern (at GoodReads)
  • Mysteries of the Unknown: Inside the World of the Strange and Unexplained (at Amazon Books)

Note: That second book is actually scheduled to be released on Sept. 16th, 2014. I wonder what they are going to do about the chapter on the Sailing Stones.

Internet:

1) Atlas Obscura – THE SAILING STONES OF RACETRACK PLAYA
–Lots of great photographs of the stones and their trails.

2) Jon Sullivan’s commentary from a trip to Death Valley on 08/23/2003
–I have no prior knowledge of Mr. Sullivan, but in my research, I found his first-person account of a visit to the playa interesting.

3) The Mystery of Death Valley’s ‘Sailing’ Stones from The Weather Channel
–31 excellent photographs and some outdated information about two former theories.

4) Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion 
–The published scientific paper at PLOS One.

5) Weird History: What are the Sailing Stones By CURTISRX
–the source of the re-assembling, pre-historic, spacecraft theory I mention above.

Documentaries:

Weird or What? (embedded below.)

The following video is one  episode of a series called Weird or What?, which airs on SyFy and is hosted by William Shatner. This episode is currently available for viewing online, courtesy of the YouTube channel, Documentary Hub.

The Sailing Stones are covered in the first segment of this episode, which runs for approximately 15:38 minutes.

(Video availability on the internet comes and goes, so if the above viewer doesn’t work, try searching for “Weird or What sailing stones.” Because this has been internationally broadcast, the season and episode numbers are conflicting, depending on which version of the show turns up in the search engine.)

Note: right now the search engines are flooded with the news that this mystery has been solved. If anyone knows of a documentary made BEFORE the announcement, please leave a comment so I can track it down.

pdoc_deck_fanned_590x590

Click for PDOC homepage.

Note:

This is an early entry in my PDOC series. I’m working on creating the deck’s homepage. If  the image above doesn’t yet link to a new page, it soon will.

–Renae


H. H. Holmes: Gilded Age Con Man & Serial Killer (1861 – 1896)

pdoc 9 of psycho h.h. holmes

H. H. Holmes: Gilded Age Con Man & Serial Killer (1861 – 1896)

H.H. Holmes is considered by many to be the first documented serial killer in the United States. He built a convoluted hotel / rooming house / office building in Chicago just before the beginning of the 1893 World’s Fair. Some of the rooms were designed to be airtight and sound-proof gas chambers. He hired and fired several different contractors to complete the building. One benefit to this behavior was that he was able to avoid paying laborers and contractors by claiming that a firing was due to improperly done work. Perhaps more importantly, for Holmes’ purposes, no one other than Holmes himself really understood the design and layout of what eventually became known as the Murder Castle or Murder Hotel.

Holmes killed for two distinct reasons. He is most well-known for the murders of women in his hotel. At least some of those murders seem to have been committed simply to entertain Holmes. He also killed for practical and financial reasons. Holmes was a criminal in many ways. He ran various cons, including stealing bodies from graves, then cleaning and selling the skeletons, as well as insurance fraud schemes which sometimes led to murder. He was also a bigamist that was married to at least three women. Interestingly, he never killed any of the women he married. (Though he did kill a mistress.) He is known to have fathered one child.

Some theorists believe that H.H.Holmes was responsible for at least one of the Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel, London. Though Holmes and Jack the Ripper were contemporaries, there is no evidence that Holmes ever traveled to England. (It is possible, however.) What little evidence there is, in support of this theory, lies in a similarity of handwriting between letters written by Holmes and those sent to various news outlets from people claiming to be Jack.

I am disinclined to believe that a an organized, hands-off, voyeuristic  murderer like Holmes would change his signature drastically enough to commit any of the savage, up-close and intimate murders attributed to Jack.

Dr. Henry Howard Holmes (Herman Webster Mudgett)

MISCELLANEOUS FACTS:

AKA:
Herman Webster Mudgett; Dr. Henry Howard Holmes

Active years:
1888 – 1894
Most murders took place during the 1893 World’s Fair.

Location:
Chicago, IL, USA
In a hotel he built especially to house the fair goers.

Number of murders:
Holmes confessed to 27. Nine were confirmed. Some estimates credit him with up to 200 murders.

Typical victim:
Type A – people, usually women, taken specifically for the purpose of terrifying, torturing and killing within the walls of his “murder hotel.”
Type B – people, male or female, adults or child, whose death / disappearance benefited Holmes as he played out his financially motivated con games.

Trial:
Convicted of 4 counts of 1st degree murder & 6 counts of attempted murder.

Ultimate fate:
Executed by hanging on May 7th, 1896 at the age of 34.

Burial:
Holmes was buried in an unmarked grave. His coffin was encased in a concrete vault to deter grave robbing and / or vandalizing.

Grave site:
(Info obtained from findagrave.com)
Holy Cross Cemetery
Yeadon
Delaware County
Pennsylvania, USA
Plot: Sec. 15, Range 10, Lot 41, graves 3 & 4
GPS (lat/lon): 39.92854, -75.25771

H.H. HOLMES IN THE MEDIA:

Books:
  • The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (at GoodReads)
  • A Competent Witness by Judith Nickels (at GoodReads) – See comment to this post by the author of this novel.
  • The Torture Doctor by David Franke (at GoodReads)
  • Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America’s First Serial Killer by Harold Schechter (at GoodReads)
  • Confessions of the Serial Killer H.H. Holmes by Mudgett (aka H.H. Holmes), Herman Webster (at GoodReads)
  • Bloodstains by Jeff Mudgett (at GoodReads) – NOTE: This a controversial account of Holmes’ crimes and the legacy of them, written by his great-great grandson. It’s unclear from the description and reviews if it’s intended to be fiction, based-on-true, or biographical (and autobiographical.)
Movies:
  • Rumor has it that Leonardo Di Caprio may play Holmes in a film version of The Devil in the White City. It looks like this project has been in discussion for some time, though, and no progress has been made.
Internet:

1) Chilling tour inside serial killer H.H. Holmes` `Murder Castle` (Fox 32 News Chicago)

–This article includes a video tour of some tunnels under a Chicago Post Office that was built on  the site of the murder hotel. Some original brickwork may have been incorporated into the newer structure.

2) H.H. Holmes Murder Castle Site Basement Footage (Embedded below.)

–five-minute video featuring a possible EVP, by Adam Selzer, for the Mysterious Chicago Blog (aka Chicago Unbelievable).

Documentaries:

H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer (streaming on Netflix)

–1 hour and 4 minute documentary that focuses on all of Holmes’ crimes rather than on the World’s Fair, which is mentioned but not detailed. This is more sensationalized than the two listed below.

Madness in the White City (streaming on Netflix)

–45 minute documentary which – like the book of the same name – divides its time between discussing Holmes and the World’s Fair.

H.H. Holmes Full Biography on bio.com (available in full on Bio.com)

–45-minute treatment of the story from the folks at Biography, plus three shorter video snippets.

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Click for PDOC homepage.

Note to my regular readers:

This is the first entry in my PDOC series. Tonight I’m working on creating the deck’s homepage. If  the image above doesn’t yet link to a new page, it soon will.

–Renae