Much has been written about the legend of HH Holmes and how he was finally brought to justice. Many believe if it had not been for the fraud he committed, he would never have been caught. Although it was clear that Holmes was a serial killer, it is less clear how many people he murdered in his ‘Murder Castle.’ Some estimates have put it as two hundred or more.
The information about Holmes is vague. The judge at the time refused to hear the information of all the victims. This meant that many of the facts were not committed to record and became lost. Even less is known about his victims. Many of them were not identified. Did the women simply go missing or were they murdered?
Holmes also stripped the bodies on death. With the help of a professional, he turned the skeletons into resources for the local medical hospitals. It is possible that in a dusty cupboard sits a skeleton of a Holmes victim.
One of the stories that is rarely heard of, is that of the beautiful Emeline Cigrand.
Cigrand and Pitezel
Cigrand was born in 1868 in Lafayette, Tippecanoe, Indiana it is thought she was murdered in December 1892. She was discovered by Benjamin Pitezel who was a companion of Holmes and ultimately one of his last victims.
Pitezel was a known alcoholic during his work with Holmes, he was sent to Dwight, Illinois for alcoholism treatment. At the time, a doctor was stating that they had an elixir that would cure him. It is unclear whether he was sent there for the cure or to steal the idea for Holmes. Months later Holmes did produce his own cure for alcoholism.
Whilst there Pitezel met Cigrand, as she was the personal assistant to the doctor. He returned to Holmes with tales of how beautiful this young woman was and how she dazzled. Holmes knew he had to have her for himself.
Cigrand and Holmes
Holmes wrote to Cigrand offering her a job as his private secretary and stenographer. To lure her he offered her twice her salary. She accepted, the pay was favourable and she had long wanted to live in the glamour and excitement of Chicago.
As soon as she arrived, Holmes started to court her. He used his soothing voice, amazing blue eyes and gentle touch to enchant her. It was said that he brought her flowers and expensive gifts including a bicycle, at the time a new invention. Frequently they were observed riding together through Chicago.
Despite several people warning Cigrand about Holmes, it was no good. When his creditors came to his office, Holmes always had a tale to ease her mind. Often he told her that people were jealous of his success.
When Holmes started renting his apartments out in 1892, Dr Lawrence and his wife moved in. They became friends with Cigrand.
She was one of the prettiest and most pleasant young women I ever met. — Dr Lawrence
It was clear to see that Cigrand was infatuated with Holmes who had now convinced her that he was the son of a British Lord.
Throughout her time with Holmes, Cigrand wrote often to her family about the amazing man she had met and how wonderful her life in Chicago was. When the family visited, although, they had concerns about the design of the ‘Murder Castle’ they failed to convince Cigrand.
After one visit, where one of her cousins questioned the dead space in the apartments, describing the space as a corner in a room where the light doesn’t quite reach, Holmes proposed.
Everything seemed to be progressing well with the young couple. Until in December 1882 when Cigrand visited the Lawrences with a handmaid gift. Mrs Lawrence commented that she could have left such a present until Christmas. Cigrand explained she was going home to Indiana for Christmas. She implied this would be a final move and that she was not returning.
It is impossible to know what had changed her opinion on Holmes. Could he have stolen the £800 savings she had arrived with or had his mask slipped?
The Lawrences never saw her again. She never said goodbye for her trip and vanished. Mrs Lawrence asked Holmes several times where she was and he always had a different explanation. Finally, he told her that Cigrand had married Robert Phelps. He even went as far as forging the wedding notices and delivering them to some of her family and friends.
The murder is uncovered.
What was unknown at the time was that Phelps was a well know alias that Pitezel had used in the past. More evidence however would be discovered three years later, when Holmes was imprisoned for fraud.
On the first inspection of the ‘Murder Castle,’ police found a large kiln in the basement. When they opened the door they found a ladies footprint etched on the vault door. It was thought, this was the footprint of Cigrand, which she had made trying to kick her way out of the tomb. Even stranger was the fact the footprint was etched into the door and could not be removed.
The permanent footprint.
The best guess, that scientists have, for the footprint is that Holmes lured the woman into the vault shoeless. As she walked through the room she stood on acid, that Holmes used to increase the temperature in the vault. The mixture of the chemical and burning etched the footprint permanently into the metal door.
A few weeks after Cigrand’s disappearance, LaSalle Medical College received a female skeleton for their courses, from their associate HH Holmes.
Although there is no conclusive proof that Cigrand was murdered by Holmes, she was never heard off or seen again. It would seem unlikely that she had not been a victim of the serial killer, HH Holmes.