Saturday, May 08, 2010

Another historic abortion death

Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes (pictured, right), was the first famous American serial killer, a contemporary of Jack the Ripper. He was also an abortionist. He admitted on the gallows to being guilty of two women's abortion deaths. He disposed of their remains the same way he disposed of his other victims' remains -- by destroying their flesh and selling their skeletons to medical schools.

We only know the identity of one of the victims of Holmes' abortion practice.

Holmes, a physician, was running a pharmacy out of the first floor of his elaborate, custom designed building, dubbed "The Castle" by others in his suburban Chicago neighborhood. Inside the pharmacy was a jewelry counter, run by a man named Ned Conner, who rented rooms on the second floor of The Castle, where he lived with his wife Julia and their 8-year-old daughter, Pearl.

Julia (pictured, left) worked in a clerical capacity in Holmes' mail-order medicine business. She and Holmes became lovers. In addition to cuckolding Ned, Holmes swindled him, selling him the debt-saddled pharmacy. Ned, disgusted, divorced Julia and left town.

Once divorced, Julia started pestering Holmes to marry her. He kept stalling. Finally, Julia announced that she was pregnant. Holmes used the promise of marriage to convince Julia to submit to an abortion. It took a lot of persuasion to convince the young mother to abort her child. He had performed many abortions as a medical student, he assured her. She would be perfectly safe in his hands. When she finally consented, she was too upset to even be able to put Pearl to bed. Holmes took the child upstairs and settled her for the night.

He took Julia to his basement abortion room -- he had a room in The Castle dedicated to this use -- on Christma Eve of 1891. Julia died from the dose of chloroform, though sources differ as to whether her death was accidental or deliberate. Holmes at one point claimed that he'd tired of Julia, wished to upgrade to another woman, and thus would have likely gotten rid of her anyway.

With Julia dead, Holmes went to Pearl's room and killed her with chloroform as well. The remains of a child later found at The Castle are believed to be those of Pearl Connor.

When the other boarders asked about the whereabouts of Julia and Pearl, Holmes said that they'd gone to live with Julia's sister in Iowa. As for what became of Julia's body, Charles M. Chappell, who did odd jobs for Holmes, later said that about two months after Julia and Pearl had vanished, Holmes offered him the chance to make some money by articulating a skeleton to sell to a medical school. The body Chappell was presented with had already been skinned and largely denuded of flesh; Chappell assumed at the time that it was simply one of Holmes' patients that had been autopsied. For $35, Chappell cleaned and articulated the skeleton, which Holmes then sold for $200 to Dr. Pauling, a surgeon, who often pondered the six-foot-tall female skeleton and wondered how the woman had died.

Only after Holmes murdered his business associate as part of an insurance scam, then murdered three of the associate's five children, did the reality of The Castle (pictured, right) become known. It was a custom built house of horrors where Holmes had murdered and dissected at least nine people, possibly as many as fifty. In one of his many memoirs and confessions, which he churned out in prison, Holmes admitted to his crimes -- though on the scaffold, he protested that he was guilty only of the abortion deaths of Julia Connor and the unnamed woman.

Sources:
  • H.H. Holmes
  • The Murder Castle of H.H. Holmes
  • Malice, Madness, and Mayhem: an Eclectic Collection of American Infamy
  • Into the Abyss: H.H. Holmes
  • 4 comments:

    OperationCounterstrike said...

    I think Thomas Neil Cream, the doctor who poisoned people with strychnine, also did abortions, and did them badly, was responsible for several patient-deaths.

    GrannyGrump said...

    Thanks for the tip. I'll look him up.

    Crimm said...

    I'm confused... are you saying that Julia's death was the result of an abortion? She was killed because Holmes was a serial killer. He was going to kill her anyway; the fact that he convinced her to get an abortion was just the most convenient way.

    If you're really interested in Holmes, you should check out The Devil in the White City. It uses details from detective reports and interviews to tell the story.

    Christina Dunigan said...

    Julia died from the dose of chloroform, though sources differ as to whether her death was accidental or deliberate. Holmes at one point claimed that he'd tired of Julia, wished to upgrade to another woman, and thus would have likely gotten rid of her anyway.

    So you see, I did concede that the death might have been a murder, rather than an accidental chloroform overdose as preparation for an abortion.