Infamous Neighbors

How do people in a neighborhood react when they learn an alleged serial killer had been living among them?

Herman Webster Mudgett (1861 – 1896), better known as Dr. Henry Howard Holmes or H. H. Holmes, was an American con artist and alleged serial killer who lived at South Wallace Avenue and West 63rd Street in Englewood, a neighborhood and community area located on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America is a 2003 historical non-fiction book by Erik Larson that, in part, tells the story of H. H. Holmes.

I read The Devil in the White City with interest and concern because my ancestors lived too close for my comfort to the Holmes “Castle”.

In January of 1891, my great-great grandfather Jacob Koebe Mueller bought a two-story house at 638 West 61st Street* in the Englewood neighborhood.

In July 1895, Chicago police and reporters began investigating Holmes’s building in Englewood, then locally referred to as “The Castle”, after years of suspicious goings-on.

As you can see on the map, these two locations are a mere six minute walk from one another.

Holmes arrived in Chicago in August 1886. He got a job at Holton’s drugstore at the northwest corner of South Wallace Avenue and West 63rd Street in Englewood, eventually buying the store.

Holmes would later begin construction on his house across the street.

Did my great-great grandmother shop at Holton’s drugstore? Could she and her two young children have come in contact with Holmes as they and he visited other shops in the area? Attended church? Went to the 1893 Columbian Exposition?

My great-great grandmother’s sister and brother lived with their spouses and children in the same Englewood neighborhood during this time too. Any one of them could have had a life-changing encounter with H. H. Holmes.

I shudder to think how dramatically different my family history could have been simply because my 2nd great-grandparents lived where they did.

*Chicago streets were renumbered in 1909 and Jacob’s address was changed from 638 to 538 West 61st Street.


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