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Holmes Murder Castle in Fort Worth

Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt erected a second "Murder Castle" in Fort Worth but fortunately, it never became the horror show that was the Chicago "Murder Castle." This rendering comes from the Galveston Daily News, August 5, 1895.

Today's long read tells the story of the Fort Worth Murder Castle! Well, a potential murder castle.

One of the first documented serial killers in the United States was a man who went by the name of H.H. Holmes, who in 1892-1893 erected a labyrinth, three story building in Chicago. There, he killed several women and men to file insurance claims, or just because he could. Along with the building's janitor Pat Quinlan, he dismembered their bodies in the basement of the strange building that featured trapdoors, chutes, and windowless rooms with doors that only locked form the outside. A decade or so ago, the book "Devil in the White City" explained how the city of Chicago, a burgeoning metropolis peopled by transient and unscrupulous men, unwittingly helped him in keeping these murders a secret.

In this period, Chicago was not the only city where non-existent building codes, lax oversight, the unregulated insurance industry, and public disengagement could allow a serial killer to live in the middle of town and even be considered an "upstanding citizen." Holmes, whose real name was Herman Mudgett, tried to replicate his Chicago atrocities in the city of Fort Worth.

Holmes (who I believe was already married to at least two women at this point) persuaded one of his mistresses, Minnie Williams, to transfer to him a piece of property at the southwest corner of Rusk and Second streets in Fort Worth in 1893. He promptly killed her and her sister afterwards, and arrived in Fort Worth as B.T. Lyman and/ or O.C. Pratt. Using their insurance payout, he began to build another labyrinth structure so he could continue his murdering. He would hire, then not pay, the contractors so that no one person knew what the building would be used for.

But his crimes caught up with him. With a trail of dead bodies and defrauded insurance companies in his wake, Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt was sentenced to death for the murder of a partner who had been working with him to swindle money from another insurance claim (he also killed two of the business partner's children). Upon his arrest, as reports appeared about the crimes and horrors committed in the "Murder Castle" in Chicago, Texas newspapers picked up on the fact that Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt had attempted to build a similar structure in Fort Worth -- the Pratt Building, as it was called in Fort Worth, became known as the other "Holmes Murder Castle."

As far as known, Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt did not commit murders at the unfinished building in Fort Worth, but the building itself did not go to waste. Instead, it opened as the St. Elmo Hotel that saw nothing but bad luck, with bankruptcies and fires destroying it over the years. Today, the site of the "Holmes Murder Castle" at the corner of Commerce Street (renamed from Rusk to disengage from its sordid, Hell's Half Acre reputation) and East 2nd Street in Fort Worth is a tony restaurant.

A side note: Mudgett aka Holmes aka Lyman aka Pratt, the builder of a Murder Castle in Fort Worth, was executed by hanging in 1896, but the noose did not snap his neck. Instead, he strangled to death for a good fifteen minutes. A fitting end to such a goon!

The Galveston News drew the strange layout of the second floor of the "Fort Worth Murder Castle" to thrill its readers after Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt's arrest in 1895.

The Galveston News examined Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt's Fort Worth "Castle" in detail when the paper discovered that the notorious criminal tried to operate in Texas.

By February 1907, the Fort Worth "Murder Castle" had become St. Elmo's Hotel, a fairly inexpensive place along Rusk Street just to the north of the city's "Hell's Half Acre." Along with several other structures, it burned a few times in its sordid life. This sketch, published in the Fort Worth Record and Register, sets the scene of the conflagration.

St. Elmo's Hotel, which was once the "Murder Castle" erected by America's first known serial killer, Herman Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt, was resurrected after the fire in 1907 to become a fairly busy establishment. In this 1911 Bird's Eye View of Fort Worth, the hotel's relative location is on view. Today, the southwest corner of Commerce and E 2nd streets in downtown Fort Worth is occupied by a seafood restaurant.

Herman Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes/B.T. Lyman/O.C. Pratt, was executed for the murder of a "business partner" but was responsible of the murder of at least a dozen other people. He apparently confessed to 27 murders, but this number has never been confirmed. Mudgett/Holmes/Lyman/Pratt tried to build a "Murder Castle" in Fort Worth, similar to the one he had built in Chicago in 1892, to continue his insurance fraud schemes.

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