Exhumation May Solve One Last Mystery of ‘Devil in White City’

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The Chicago Tribune says the remains of notorious Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes will be exhumed to try to solve a 120-year-old mystery: Did the “Devil in the White City” fake his own execution? History tells us that Holmes — whose macabre murder spree during the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago was detailed in Erik Larson’s 2003 best-seller “The Devil in the White City” — was hanged in Philadelphia in 1896 and buried at nearby Holy Cross Cemetery. But Holmes, whose birth name was Herman Mudgett, was long rumored to have applied his infamous skills of deceit to his own fate, and one legend has it that he paid off jail guards to hang a cadaver in his place so he could escape to South America.

Following a request by a descendant of Mudgett, a court in Pennsylvania has issued an order allowing the remains to be unearthed. The University of Pennsylvania will conduct forensic testing to see if it is indeed Holmes. Holmes confessed to some 27 killings, including the slaying of his own son — purportedly his first victim. Though the body count has always been in doubt, the murders he was convicted of were indisputably ghastly. “The atrocities of which he was convicted are almost unparalleled in the history of crime — shocking alike for their enormity and the cold-blooded, deliberate way in which they were committed,” the Tribune reported in 1896. “He attributed his natural relish for crime to the fact, as he put it, ‘He was born with the devil in him.'”

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