He was a handsome and charismatic local minister; she was the church choir’s beautiful soprano soloist. In 1922 they were found together, brutally murdered, along a secluded lane in New Brunswick, New Jersey—a popular spot for lovers’ trysts. Each of the victims was married—to someone else. And although the police believed this would be an easy case to crack, it became one of the most high-profile unsolved crimes of the decade.
At first, the primary suspects seemed obvious—the betrayed wife and husband of the slain lovers. The minister’s wife was one of the town’s wealthiest and most socially prominent citizens; the soprano’s husband was a man of modest means, working as the church sexton. But as the investigation progressed, new suspects were uncovered and key eyewitness testimony was found to be false—deepening the mystery surrounding the murders.
Combining elements of adultery, wealth and social prominence, revenge, a long and colorful list of suspects, and conflicting political agendas, this case dominated New York newspaper coverage in its time. It was said to have played a part in inspiring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby. And today, it remains an intriguing mystery—inspiring continued debate.
Dr. Katherine Ramsland outlines the major and more obscure theories regarding the killer’s identity in fascinating detail—and uncovers compelling new evidence that has yet to be considered in investigations.
Every killer presents a puzzle: Why did he do this? Thus, killers intrigue us. Each is unique, but some have a truly unusual mystique that commands our attention. The media offers simplistic motives for serial lust murder, citing factors such as a head injury or sexual abuse. But what about a gifted young man from a middle-class family who attended an Ivy League university and who was not injured or abused? While at school, he was socially active and became involved with several beautiful young women. He became engaged to one. However, as his relationships failed, along with his dream of the perfect life, he became addicted to violent sexual fantasies that inspired him to become a predator.
Dr. Ramsland, drawing on her extensive expertise in forensic psychology, provides deep insight into a seemingly promising man who hunted down, raped and murdered eight young women. The same character disorder that supported his sense of entitlement prompted him to insist upon his execution, despite the state’s determined efforts to avoid using the death penalty.
(A 69-page True Crime Short with photographs) H. H. Holmes was a central character in Erik Larson’s hugely successful The Devil in the White City, which is planned as a movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Holmes is commonly viewed as a real-life Hannibal Lecter, a devious and cunning serial killer. Holmes used the persona of a successful doctor and entrepreneur to draw untold numbers of young women to his three-story Chicago hotel to experiment on before killing them. He would often deflesh the corpses to sell the skeletons to medical schools.
Holmes enjoyed trying out methods of murder and watching his victims die. Scientists from his era believed Holmes’ brain would unlock the secret of his perversity, but he denied them the chance to find out. Today, neuroscience allows us to unlock the brains of sadistic psychopaths, so we can better understand what his brain – if dissected – would have revealed. We can research killers to decode Holmes’s vile behavior.
"After the girls died, he’d enjoy viewing ‘their blackened and distorted faces’ before he dug a shallow grave, removed their clothing, and dumped them into it with ‘fiendish delight.’ Holmes considered that ‘for eight years before their deaths I had been almost as much a father to them as though they had been my own children.’
"It is precisely this behavior that most puzzles the ordinary person and draws the researcher’s attention: how can a man torture and asphyxiate children, or burn them and view it as entertainment? How can he ‘befriend’ them for years, knowing the whole time that he will end their lives? How can he describe it as pleasurable? This is the reason the psychopath holds our fascination. It’s why researchers even during Holmes’s era tried extracting criminal brains post-mortem for study. They hoped to locate the seat of disturbed moral consciousness."
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