The Devil in the White City


The Making of a Murderer

January 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

The antagonist and an integral part of The Devil in the White City, H. H. Holmes is a character that is oftentimes difficult to fully understand. Attempting to grasp why Holmes committed such terrible crimes is a natural curiosity and is explored briefly by the author Erik Larson at the end of the book. From his childhood to his hanging in Philadelphia, it is majorly clear that Holmes was not an ordinary person by any stretch of the word. Taking into account internationally famous serial killers like Jack the Ripper, Holmes’ medical background and Holmes’ psychological issues, the motives for his killings are plenty and vary drastically.

In the late 1800s, coinciding with the time that Holmes’ was taking victims into his Murder Castle, Jack the Ripper committed his now infamous killings of an unknown amount of female prostitutes in London. This news entranced and obsessed millions in and out of England. Never before had there been a serial killer of this caliber and many Americans were obsessed. “Every Chicago resident who could read devoured these reports from abroad, but none with quite so much intensity as Dr. H. H. Holmes” (Larson 70). The unknown murderer could have brought something out in Holmes that was deeply hidden away, or could have added to a fire that was already burning. Jack the Ripper inspired hundreds of works of fiction, movies and television shows. Therefore, it is certainly not a stretch of the imagination to believe Holmes received the jump he needed to start killing after witnessing it from England’s most notorious criminal. It is also possible that Holmes was envious of the huge amount of press that Jack the Ripper received. As a young boy, Holmes was often bullied for being incredibly intelligent, leaving him isolated from his classmates. His father was also absent from his life, as he was a violent alcoholic. All in all, it is possible that Holmes developed a yearning for attention that he had never before experienced. Holmes’ obsession with the human body is another possible motive for his crimes. Growing up, he became fascinated with the human skeleton and began to dissect animals. This fed into his pursuit of profession in the medical field. He quickly became well-versed in using medicine and operating on bodies. As he mastered these skills, Holmes began to use them to commit insurance fraud and other crimes in order to make money. Ultimately, his admiration of human biology turned deadly. Holmes became obsessed with how to kill people and dismember them, oftentimes selling their expertly removed skeleton to a local medical school. Combined with the want for the massive attention received by Jack the Ripper and his natural infatuation with the human body, Holmes has potential to be a deadly criminal. Yet it is impossible to ignore another factor: psychological turmoil. Larson describes towards the end of the book that Holmes could very well have been afflicted with “’antisocial personality disorder’” (Larson 395). After being raised by a violent alcoholic father and shunned by his classmates, it is not a surprise that Holmes would have difficulty interacting with others. Throughout the novel, he trusts a very small number of people only to end up murdering them when he no longer needs them. Holmes has multiple wives, often more than one at a time, that he also eventually kills, perpetuating further that he has an absolute inability to maintain meaningful relationships. Nearly all of his murders were pre-meditated, as he built his hotel for the sole purpose of bringing young women to him. Therefore, Holmes’ killings were in no way a moment where he “snapped” – everything in his life was calculated to make him America’s first serial killer.

It is incredibly important to understand why Holmes’ committed the crimes he did. Human beings are created differently physically and emotionally, with an entire range of mentalities that many struggle to decipher. Millions of people live in fear of people like Holmes; those who can seem so kind-hearted and charming but have an incredibly dangerous side to them. Holmes is a prime example of a killer that is predictable yet hard to grasp. His ideal victim was a young, attractive, single woman on her own for the first time. Yet unlike Jack the Ripper, Holmes often chose to get to know who he was going to kill quite extensively. He took them into his hotel, got to know their families and bought them expensive jewelry. This seems like an aspect of Holmes’ possible personality disorder. The charming act he puts on draws in a multitude of victims and he demands their trust by purchasing them items and giving them attention. Holmes is dangerously manipulative, therefore necessary to try and comprehend. Combined with his upbringing and possible psychological disorders, if it is possible to understand why Holmes decided to murder over two hundred people, then it will become immensely easier for detectives and law enforcement to detect serial killers early on. Though every murderer is different, many stem from root causes mentally and in their pasts. If Holmes’ reasoning can be uncovered, this could pave the way for a better understand of serial killers throughout history.

The motives behind H. H. Holmes and his killings will perhaps never be revealed. Yet examples throughout The Devil in the White City are prevalent. Together, Jack the Ripper’s influence, Holmes’ fascination with the human body and Holmes’ mental instability all possibly contribute to how and why he committed his crimes. Understanding why a person chooses to commit murder can be helpful in several ways when it comes to comprehending emotional health in general. All in all, finding the motive behind any murder is vital, especially when it comes to America’s first serial killer.

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