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A lengthy fictional reconstruction, with details selected from a veritable mountain of documentation, of the horrid, horrid career of Herman W. Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes, etc. etc.--swindler, bigamist, virtuoso liar--who murdered and disposed of, in various gruesome ways, between twenty-seven and one hundred and thirty-three persons before he was arrested (for horse thievery!), tried for murder, and executed in 1896 in Philadephia. In 1871, when he was 11, Herman's first homocide took place in his native Hampshire. The victim was his best chum: ""A wonderfully exhilarating moment"" with accompanying sexual release. His final act as ""Mudgett""--the mother ship of a fleet of frauds (with grisly undertow) to come--involved a friend, a Dr. Leacock, met at Univ. of Michigan medical school, who together with a Dr. Fish wondered where Herman was getting all the corpses he was selling to the school, but ""couldn't bring themselves to ask."" The scare was to take out life insurance on Herman, who'd disappear, then trick out a cadaver to look like Herman. But it's Leacock who'll disappear--permanently--in Lake St. Clair. Over the years Holmes will: marry at least six women (some short-lived); play insurance houses like a harp, via disguised cadavers--at first supplied by nervous Fish, but most newly-minted by Holmes, many within the confines of a 105-room mansion near Chicago, built to Holmes's satanic specifications. Holmes will not be netted until 1895, and it's Philadelphia detective Frank Geyer who'll gumshoe his way around the East, Midwest, and Canada on the trail of vanished children Holmes had taken under his tender care. And it's Geyer's secret knowledge, revealed at Holmes's grave, which in effect ended Holmes's career. Although, after a point, popular historian Eckhert's marathon recital of crime after crime loses its chill, still this exhumation of something particularly nasty in the American woodshed of unspeakable crime has a dusty fascination--but not for the squeamish.

Pub Date: June 28th, 1985
ISBN: 0595089887
Publisher: Little, Brown