Article — From the December 1943 issue

The Master of the Murder Castle

A classic of Chicago crime

( 4 of 5 )

IV
 

Toward the end of 1893 matters came to a head for the master and before the year was out he was to be driven from his castle, pursued hotly not by the police but by angry creditors and a fire insurance company he had attempted unsuccessfully to defraud. Old crimes were rising to plague him. In need of money, he set fire to his castle early in November of 1893 and tried to collect on a $60,000 insurance policy. The proof of loss looked fraudulent, so did the building’s ownership. Inspector F. G. Cowie, learning something of Holmes’s reputation, shadowed him. He discovered that Holmes had abandoned his family in Wilmette and his castle, and was living furtively in a small hotel on the South Side with Minnie Williams. They moved frequently, and sometimes Ben Pitzel lived with them. The detective described Minnie as “of medium height, with a well-developed figure, big brown eyes, light hair, and what I call a baby face. She didn’t seem to know a great deal.” Using a fictitious name, Holmes brazenly appeared at the insurance office to collect; while clerks kept him occupied, Inspector Cowie called on Minnie and told her the plot was exposed; she broke down and surrendered the policy. Cowie dropped the matter.

But Holmes’s old creditors began to make serious trouble. He owed them between $25,000 and $50,000, much of it for the castle’s furnishings. Up to then he had managed to keep his creditors segregated and at bay with smooth talk. Now, on November 22, 1893, they met in a body. Holmes appeared before them and represented himself as an honest man who had fallen on hard times. They were not impressed. Their attorneys prepared to swear out warrants for his arrest the next day. Holmes fled from Chicago. His next public appearance was in Denver where, on January 17, 1894, he married his third wife, Georgie Anna Yoke, with Minnie Williams as a witness. (It will be recalled that Minnie once had taught school in Denver.) Georgie Anna was a tall, slender beauty of about twenty-five with flaxen hair and blue eyes so large, one newspaper commented, as to be almost disfiguring. Here is another of the not quite solved mysteries of Holmes’s tangled affairs. It is probable that she was the only one of his women that he really loved. For an astonishing length of time she remained loyal to him. Yet in the end she testified against him at his trial for murder. She was the daughter of a respectable family in the small town of Franklin, Indiana. One newspaper described her as “adventurous.” She met Holmes when she went to Chicago during the Fair to work in an office with which he was connected. Holmes must have seen her often during that busy year of 1893, when Minnie was his mistress, and various women, including Emily Van Tassel and Emeline Cigrand, were his victims. Yet Georgie Anna he neither seduced, murdered, nor so much as threatened. He must have courted her in a more or less conventional way; her mother had the impression that he was wealthy and a gentleman.

Minnie Williams dropped out of sight early that spring of 1894. Georgie Anna had the field to herself. But the great days were done. The master was on the run. It is not known with certainty whether he ever again performed his murderous rites in his castle. By June he was in jail in St. Louis charged with a common swindle and Georgie Anna was hiring an attorney to defend him. Before he was released he had confided to Marion Hedgepath his plot to defraud the Philadelphia insurance company by falsely identifying a planted body as that of B. F. Pitzel. Things went according to plan (for everybody but Pitzel) until Hedgepath denounced the plotters. From then on Holmes was a fugitive.

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