Holmes was the architect of the so-called Murder Castle in Chicago in the late 1800s, a building which hid many gruesome secrets, including rooms that were outfitted with gas vents that he could control from a closet in his bedroom, chutes and secret passages for conveying bodies to the basement, and implements of torture. During the Chicago World's Fair, Holmes turned his death house into a hotel, and a number of guests checked in but ... well, you can imagine. (In fact, the World's Fair and Holmes are the subject of Erik Larkin's book, Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair the Changed America.)
Holmes was nothing if not an entrepreneur. As well as murder and torture, over the course of his career in crime he dabbled in body snatching, insurance fraud, and bigamy. He confessed to approximately 30 murders, but recanted just before his execution in a Philadelphia prison, claiming that he only killed two women due to malpractice. Experts, however, surmise that the number of those who died at his hand may be closer to 200.
His behavior is classic psychopath - no remorse and little emotion. According to a New York Times article of 1896, on the morning of his death he ate a "substantial, but plain," meal of eggs, toast, and coffee, which "were taken with an evident relish." His attorney, who was in attendance, said, "He enjoyed it more than I could ... He is the most cool and possessed of all in any way involved with the case."
The is the detail that struck me the most about Holmes. While it makes a sort of sense that other mass killers may be able to enjoy a last supper the night before their execution, the idea that Holmes could calmly dispatch a hearty breakfast, in the cold light of day, mere moments before being hanged, is astonishing.
I read somewhere else that his eggs were boiled, and this painted a vivid portrait in my mind of Holmes, the unrepentant murderer, primly whacking the top off of a soft boiled egg and stabbing its warm, viscous insides with crunchy toast soldiers, patting the sides of his mouth with his napkin in between yolky bites. I imagine he held up his pinky while while sipping his coffee, which I expect he took black.
Sis Boom Blog's method - it is foolproof. I do hope the prison cook did something similar for Holmes' breakfast, though I suspect he must have, given the relish with which Holmes reportedly enjoyed his last meal.
Holmes maintained his calm, collected demeanor to the end: "Take your time, don't bungle it," he told the hangman. Unfortunately for Holmes, however, his execution did not go off without a hitch, as his neck didn't snap and it took him a good 10 minutes - twitching the whole while - to die.
Ultimately, though, the Times opined that he had died as he had lived, "unconcerned and thoughtless apparently of the future."
Further reading: Devil in the White City, Erik Larkin
Serial Killer Supper Part I: The Dusseldorf Vampire
Serial Killer Supper Series Part II: The Blonde Borgia
Serial Killer Supper Series Part III: The Butcher of Rostov