H. H. Holmes + Leonardo DiCaprio?

Martin_Scorsese_y_Leonardo_DiCaprio

Back in February of 2019, Hulu announced that it would be teaming up with Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese to introduce the world to Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, the book that brought H. H. Holmes back into the limelight, via a television series. Back in 2003, DiCaprio bought the rights to make it into a movie, and he and Scorsese had been at some level of the production since 2015. I have to admit, I’d rather have a television series that I can enjoy than one single movie, but then I’m a smidge obsessed with Holmes.

Apparently, Tom Cruise was originally the first Hollywood hot shot to be interest, but that fell through, and within a year, DiCaprio picked it up. When he and Scorsese were planning the film version, the plan was for DiCaprio to play Holmes–and wouldn’t he be amazing in that role? His gentlemanly manner and charming smile certainly remind me of Holmes. However, now that Hulu is involved, it’s likely that they’ll come up with a different lead, but Hulu is not releasing any details. (And I’d looooove some details!)

Don’t forget, Larson’s book was not solely about Holmes. It has a broad appeal to non-fiction lovers since Holmes’ story is spliced into that of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. If you’re a history buff, a lover of architecture, or enamored with life in the late 19th century, there will be something for you in the book and the television series.

Sign up for my email list today! I have the H. H. Holmes Handbook coming out soon, and my subscribers will not only get a first look but get it for free!

Who was H. H. Holmes?

HH-HolmesWho was H. H. Holmes? Many things. A physician. A brother. A master manipulator. Chicago’s first serial killer. The source of my unending curiosity for the past few years.

H. H. Holmes was born in Gilmanton, New Jersey, in 1861. Made infamous through Erik Larson’s non-fiction The Devil in the White City, Holmes has now been the feature of several documentaries and bus tours in Chicago that will take you by his killing grounds–including the former location of his Murder Castle.

Sound ominous? It should. The more I learn about him, the more intrigued/baffled I become. (So much so that I wrote a novel, published some short stories, and started this website and blog!)

Jeff Mudgett, Holmes’ great-great grandson and author of Bloodstains, was the driving force behind the History Channel’s American Ripper docuseries. One goal of the show was to determine if Holmes could have been London’s Jack the Ripper (there is documentation that he was in London at the time of the murders), and another was to determine if Holmes was actually the body in his grave. His really weird double-grave, encased in concrete. No, I’m not making this up.

In the end, the History Channel’s experts determined that the body in Holmes grave was a “conclusive link” to the real Holmes.

Jeff Mudgett disagrees, and I can’t say I blame him.

On a recent Facebook post, he outlines his reasons–based upon admissions of court-appointed anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania:

  1. The physical injuries that should occur upon hanging, like a broken hyoid bone, were not there.
  2. The DNA did not match.
  3. The skeleton size itself did not fit the descriptions of Holmes.

Holmes was a mastermind when it came to life insurance scams, stealing bodies, killing people, forging dental records, etc. Let’s not forget he was a doctor who was intimately aware of the human body, as he often stole bodies and killed people to make articulated skeletons that he could then sell to universities. Is it such a leap to think he could have managed to fake his death?

If you too are morbidly interested in this man, check out the rest of my website and short stories. And  sign up for my email list. I have the H. H. Holmes Handbook coming out soon, and my subscribers will not only get a first look but get it for free!

 

 

Unsolved Crimes: Richard Griener

Richard Griener Pekin Illinois

Dressed warmly for the winter weather in a gold-colored jacket, green rubber insulated boots, and a brown ski mask, 13 year old Richard William Griener left home for an afternoon of sledding on January 17, 1972. The boy headed toward a local park just four blocks from his house in Pekin, Illinois. He made it, for he joined some friends; however, the last time they saw him was around 5:30pm. Richard Griener was never seen again–alive or dead.

The entire area was searched multiple times, but zero evidence was found of Griener, not even the blue sled that he’d been carrying that day. At this point, experts believe he is dead, but the case is still considered active as they’re always looking for leads.

There was one lead–and only one lead–that was a plausible one. William “Freight Train” Guatney confessed to multiple murders of children during this time, including one that was kidnapped just 200 yards from where Griener was last seen. In the late 70s, fourteen children were found dead near various railroad switches and near towns with an ongoing or just-ended fair. Griener was never found, but he did have to cross a railroad switch to get back and forth from the sledding hill. Guatney, whose nickname came from his ability to mimic a train whistle, traveled by trains around the Midwest to make money helping out at state and county fairs. After his confession, he was found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a mental institution, where he died.

Guatney may have been a lead, and Griener’s age was within Guatney’s preference, but there was one huge difference: the missing and murdered children attributed to Guatney all disappeared in the summer. Griener went missing in the winter.

If you have any information on this case, please contact the Pekin Police Department at 309-478-5300.

 

 

 

True Crime: Aileen Wuornos

Aileen-with-husband

Fifth in a series on serial killers!

I have to admit, watching Charlize Theron play Aileen Wuornos in the movie Monster made me feel a strange sympathy for the serial killer. I felt something similar after reading about Henry Lee Lucas too. Maybe it’s a teacher’s job hazard to always see the hurt, traumatized child in the adult, for, as Dr. Phil would say, I don’t ask why Wuornos and Lucas killed, I ask why wouldn’t they, given their formative years? Wuornos was convicted of killing seven men between 1988 and 1989 at point-blank range. She claimed self-defense: the men she killed either attempted to rape her or did rape her while she was working as a prostitute.

A few snippets from Wuornos’ early life:

  • Her mom was 14 when she married her dad, who was 16. They had a boy a year later, and then Aileen, a year after that.
  • Her mom, aged 16, filed for divorce when Aileen was barely 2 months old.
  • She never met her father, as he was jailed when she was born and committed suicide in prison.
  • Her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia and charged with sex crimes against children.
  • Her mother abandoned Aileen and her brother when Aileen was just 4. Their maternal grandparents took them in.
  • Her grandfather was an alcoholic who beat and sexually abused Aileen. He made her take her clothes off before a beating.
  • She engaged in sexual behavior with her brother.
  • By age 11, she was performing sexual acts at school in exchange for food, drugs, and cigarettes. Age 11. Age 11!
  • At 14, she became pregnant and gave the child up for adoption. The father? One of her grandfather’s friends.
  • Shortly after the birth of the child, her grandmother died and Aileen dropped out of school.
  • At 15, her grandfather kicked her out of the house. She began prostituting and living in the woods.

Mix together and bake for 20 years. What would we expect from her?

Wuornos appealed her conviction, but stopped all attempts in 2001, saying, “I killed those men…robbed them as cold as ice. And I’d do it again, too.”

Well, then. At least she’s honest. She continued:

“I have hate crawling through my system…I am so sick of hearing this ‘she’s crazy’ stuff. I’ve been evaluated so many times. I’m competent, sane, and…one who seriously hates human life.”

Can you blame her, considering what her first fifteen years of life were like?

She was found sane, but over the course of the next year, became increasingly erratic in her behavior. She was executed in 2002. Her last words were “I would just like to say I’m sailing with the rock, and I’ll be back, like Independence Day, with Jesus. June 6, like the movie. Big mothership and all, I’ll be back. I’ll be back.”

I’m no psychiatrist, but that would make me question her sanity.

Why is it that some people can be exposed to horrific early-life trauma and come out on the other side, but others, like Wuornos and Lucas, can not? Let me know your thoughts after you read up on Ed Gein, Henry Lee Lucas, Belle Gunness, and Robert Hansen.

Want more delivered to your inbox? Sign up here and get extras not available on my website!

True Crime: Robert Hansen

wood landscape mountains nature
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

Fourth in a series on serial killers! Did you miss number one on Ed Gein? How about number two on Henry Lee Lucas? Belle Gunness was number three.

In 1924, Richard Connell wrote “The Most Dangerous Game,” a short story that has spawned numerous movie versions about human beings hunting other human beings. I don’t know if Robert Hansen read or saw a version of Connell’s creepy concept, but it sure would appear he was inspired by it. So inspired he packed his bags, moved to Alaska, and, in the 1970s and 80s, began hunting quarried women in a remote part of the Alaskan landscape accessible only by boat or plane.

Robert Hansen is the perfectly stereotypical serial killer. You’d never suspect him, for he was the shy, introverted type. He was a baker by trade, passed down to him from his Danish father. Married with two children, Hansen lived a quiet life. So when a woman went to police indicating Hansen had attempted to kidnap her, no one could believe it.

And no one did.

Hansen was questioned by police and admitted to meeting the woman, but he said she was trying to extort him. He also had an alibi courtesy of a good friend. And Hansen went free.

However, police began finding bodies strewn about the Alaskan wilderness. They turned to the FBI for help with profiling the killer, even though profiling was in its infancy. The criminologists suggested a white male who was an experienced hunter, had low self-esteem, and a history of rejection. Oh, and probably a stutter.

Robert Hansen ticked off all the marks–plus, he had a plane that could get him to the remote areas of the deadly Alaskan wilderness.

People still could not believe it was Hansen, and if it weren’t for a map hidden in his bedroom–a map where “x” quite literally marked the spots–who knows if they’d have found him guilty of the crimes so incredible that they seem ripped from the pages of, say, a short story.

Hansen would kidnap a woman, fly her to the wilderness, then release her. That was when his “game” began. He’d track and hunt the woman down, often violating her before killing her.

His map correlated with the bodies police found and gave them direction for finding even more bodies.

Over the course of ten years, Hansen “hunted” at least 17 women. Some estimates are upwards of 30. So why did he do it?

Growing up, it seems Hansen had a normal home life, though his father was somewhat domineering. Schoolchildren, on the other hand, can be cruel. Hansen was a small, slight, shy boy who stuttered. Raging acne appeared with puberty, and you can just imagine. Think Stephen King’s Carrie without the telekinesis. Boys taunted him, girls shunned him, and he began plotting his revenge early on. Was his overbearing father the extra ingredient that pushed Hansen over the edge? Or was it simply the overload of bullying for too many years? We’ll likely never know, as Hansen died in 2014 without any explanation of why he created his own most dangerous game.

Want more delivered to your inbox? Sign up here and get extras not available on my website!

 

True Crime: Belle Gunness

belle gunness

Third in a series on serial killers! Did you miss number one on Ed Gein? How about number two on Henry Lee Lucas?

It used to surprise me that serial killers existed in the 1800s. H. H. Holmes, for example, shocked me with his continual insurance fraud. Apparently, it was all the rage. One of his contemporaries in Chicago, Belle Gunness, also discovered the lucrative business of insurance fraud, and used it repeatedly–on her husbands and even her own children. Read on, and you, too, will start thinking that Holmes and Gunness would have made a perfect pair.

In the 1800s, Norwegian immigrant Belle found her way to the Windy City. In 1893 (the year of the World’s Fair in Chicago), she and her husband, Mads Sorenson, opened a candy store. It would seem as though Belle and Mads had a run of bad luck, with a business and their home burning down and two children dying. It was luck, alright, devised by Belle to cash in on insurance policies. Yes, conventional wisdom says she administered strychnine to her own children.

Later on, Mads died. Surely the fact that he died on the day two insurance policies overlapped was mere coincidence. Surely.

Now a woman of some means, Belle took her remaining children to the small town of LaPorte, Indiana. There, she bought a 42 acre farm. Part of it burned down. I don’t need to tell you it was insured…

By 1902, she found a new beau, Peter Gunness. Gunness, who had two children already, sent one to live with relatives after the other mysteriously died in Belle’s care. It wasn’t long before Peter, too, was dead. There was some concern that Peter showed signs of strychnine poisoning, but the doctor ruled it heart failure.

Belle’s life was like that of Shakespeare’s Macbeth: her greed overtook her ambition. Rather than being content with the cash she already had, she continued on her murder-for-money spree. Now, however, she unknowingly borrowed from H. H. Holmes’ playbook: set up potential lovers. Belle’s version was to get men to “buy” shares of her farm. Once she had the money, the men disappeared. Rumor has it she burned them, buried them, and fed them to her pigs. Handy, those hog farms.

Belle’s fast-track train came to an end in 1908. A relative of one of her “investors” was suspicious and told Belle he was going to come check things out. Soon, the entire farm burned down. In it, Belle’s remaining three children perished, as did Belle.

Or so it seemed.

The missing man’s relative insisted they do a complete search. Eleven bodies were discovered on the farm property. The adult female body discovered in the fire? It likely wasn’t Belle.

Her farmhand, Ray Lamphere, was a prime suspect for arson and murder–that is, until he confessed that she faked her death. The woman’s body in the fire did not match up to Belle’s size.

Twenty years later, in 1931, a woman named Esther Carlson in California was tried for poisoning a man. In her possessions were photographs of children–children who looked very similar to Belle’s.

We know very little about Belle’s childhood. She grew up in a very poor town in Norway, but as to what trauma may have caused her willingness to kill, we’re left to our own devices to make suppositions. Or, perhaps worse, there was no trauma. Perhaps she, like Holmes, was likely born that way.