Monday, October 31, 2016

Breakfast with the Murder Demon: the Last Meal of H.H. Holmes, America's First Serial Killer {Serial Killer Supper Series, Part IV}

Choosing the final killer for my Serial Killer Supper series - at least for October; frankly, I'm having too much fun to stop forever - was no easy task. I don't know if you've noticed, but there is no shortage of crazed murderers in this world. That said, how could I resist featuring Herman Webster Mudgett, aka Dr. Henry Howard Holmes aka H.H. Holmes,  the man billed as "America's First Serial Killer?"

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.

But you don't have to be a serial killer to enjoy a soft boiled egg - far from it! I always use Trevor of 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


  1. There is such beauty in savagery such as the lopping off the top of that egg with a knife! Your photos show it so marvelously. It reminds me of the last season of Dexter's serial killer dubbed "The Brain Surgeon". He too took a knife to a hard outer shell in order to enjoy the soft goodness within. As far as I know, The Brain Surgeon did not dab his mouth with a napkin but that would have been a nice touch.

  2. This can't be the end!!! Not fair, just as I was settling in to serial killer days here. Can't you find an excuse to go on? There must be more great killers with wonderful meals? Maybe evil rulers next???

  3. I am in the middle of reading Devil in the White City (Larson's a favorite author of mine).
    It seems almost fitting that he had to twitch about for ten minutes - dispatching him as quickly as lopping off the top of that egg seems too kind.

    Sad this series is coming to an end...

  4. Ohhhhh, I just got in on the tail-end of your series. Am looking forward to flipping back to the others. I happen to like soft-boiled eggs but never make them. Perhaps Trevor and you and Henry just gave me the inspiration to give it a go.

  5. What a phenomenal post! I think a magazine should pick up your series. It's just fascinating!

  6. Such a simple meal, I guess food was just not a priority. Unbelievable what people get away before getting caught with little detective technology. Funny enough that is the exact breakfast my mom would make for me as a child.

  7. Amazing, and you are really creative! I read the series in wrong order, now I have to start reading from Part I! Beautiful photography, and I've never seen soft boiled eggs look this beautiful.

  8. Oh, but I have loved this series. Please, I beg of you, do not let it end. This post is really so beautifully done. And my husband Bart would, I am certain, adore your soft boiled eggs..

  9. I can't say that I'd choose soft boiled egg as my very last meal, but properly prepared it makes for some fine eating. HH Holmes, by the way, is one serial killer who does fascinate me. Amazing he got away with what he did for so long.

  10. Wow- this egg is so graphic-it's making me think of a baby bird! Beautiful pics Trix ;)