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February 16, 1984 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1984-02-16

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The Michigan Daily - Thursday, February 16, 1984 - Page 7

The strange story of
Harry H. Holmes

8mm fares well

W HA TARE YOU going to do
when you get out of here? Are
you going to be a success, a credit to
your school, and a regular contributor
to the alumni fund? Or will you fail,
drift into obscurity, become a black
mark in University annals?
The University is proud of its
heritage, having produced such
notables as President Gerald Ford,
astronauts James McDivitt and Ed-
ward White, actress Gilda Radnor,
and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan.
But not all Michigan alumni become
such model citizens. And it's important
not to forget those who took the less
"approved" paths after their Ann Ar-
bor days. It's important not to forget
the Michigan mass murderers, for
example. Sure, a lot of people know
about Richard Loeb, a Michigan 1924
graduate at age 17, who with Nathan
Leopold attempted a "perfect" mur-
Few people are familiar, however,
with the strange case of Harry
Howard Holmes, born Herman Web-
ster Mudgett.
Mudgett was born and raised in
Gilmantown, near Loudon, New
Hampshire. By the age of 16, he
was employed as schoolmaster in the
town of Gilmartin. Soon thereafter, he
married a local beauty and enrolled in
medical school in Burlington, Ver-
In 1882, Mudgett began study at The

University of Michigan Medical
School as a second-year student. Ac-
cording to a New York Times article
(July 16, 1985), "While at Ann Arbor
he was desperately pushed for means
to continue his educational course,
and, having, even at that early day, no
moral fastenings to speak of, he began
to look about for methods to raise
The scheme Mudgett and a fellow
medical student came up with in-
volved bogus life insurance - and the
medical school anatomy lab.
Mudgett's friend took out a $12,500
policy, and promptly disappeared. A
body was produced, and Mudgett
collected the insurance claim. The
friend returned quite alive from 'his
Connecticut hiding place, and the two
partners split their new-found tuition
Mudgett is reported to have stolen
bodies from the school's anatomy lab
in order to collect bogus life insuran-
ce. Later, he is said to have sold his
victim's bodies to medical schools for
dissecting purposes.
According to John McCouch, Direc-
tor of Financial Development at the
med school, Mudgett did indeed
graduate with a degree in Medicine
and Surgery in 1884. His preceptor
was a N. Wight; the records contain
no further information about Mr.
Whatever Mudgett's Michigan ac-
tivities were (and many local un--
solved murders have been attributed
to him), the real fun began after
graduation. For awhile he worked in a
hospital in Norristown, then in
a Philadelphia drugstore. Finally, he
met his old med school friend back in
Chicago, and the two successfully
pulled off a couple more insurance
Around this time, Mudgett, using
the alias Harry Howard Holmes,
began the construction of a special
house on the corner of 63rd and Wallace
Streets in Chicago. The Holmes
Building included doors that opened
into brick walls, an elevator without a
shaft, a shaft without an elevator, an
oil burner capable of generating tem-
peratures up to 3000F which was just
big enough to hold a human body, and
a cellar with quicklime pits to speed
up the process of decomposition.
The number and identities of
Holmes' victims remains uncertain,
but some estimates went as high as
200. Most of the murdered were
women, seduced by Holmes into
signing away their property.
Justice finally caught up with Harry
Holmes in 1894, in ironical fashion. In
July, 1894, the Fidelity Mutual Life
Association issued a $10,000 life in-
surance policy to Benjamin F. Piet-
zel, Holmes' long-time partner. Shor-
tly afterward, a body was found at
1319 Callowhill Street in Philadelphia,
apparently killed by some sort of ex-

plosion. Although the house was ren-
ted to a B. Perry, Holmes and Alice,
Pietzel's 13-year-old daughter iden-
tified the body as B.F. Pietzel;
Fidelity Mutual paid out, albeit
The insurance company set detec-
tive W.E. Garr on the case; he com-
piled enough evidence to arrest
Holmes in Boston in November of
1894. Actually, Holmes was given the
choice of going to Philadelpia or to
Fort Worth, Texas, where he was
wanted for horse stealing and other
larceny. Holmes knew that horse
stealing was a capital offense in
Texas; what he didn't know was that
he was already suspected of mur-
dering Benjamin Pietzel. Holmes
went to Philadelphia and pleaded
guilty to charges of conspiracy.
On July 15, 1895, the bodies of Alice
and Nellie Pietzel were found in the
cellar of a house in Toronto, stripped
naked and stuffed in a trunk. For
some unknown reason, Holmes had
cut off little Nellie's feet. Positive
identification was made when bits of
their clothing were found stuffed up a
chimney. A short time later, Pietzel's
son Howard was found dead in Boston.
Holmes spent about a year and a
half in prison, during which time he
made numerous and conflicting con-
fessions, denials, and accusations.
Eventually, he was convicted of one
murder (Benjamin Pietzel), had
strong evidence against him in three
murders (the Pietzel children), and
had accused himself of at least 27
murders. He was also charged with
bigamy, train robbery, horse stealing,
and general stealing, in Philadelphia,
Chicago, St. Louis, Boston, Fort Wor-
th, Toronto, Detroit, and California.
His appeal to the governor was
Holmes was hanged in
Philadelphia's County Prison at 10:12
a.m. on May 8, 1896. He was 36 years
old. In the end he admitted guilt in the
slaying of only 2 women, and
vehemently denied any responsibility
for the Pietzel murders.
According to newspaper reports,
Holmes told his executioner, not to
hurry. "Take your time; don't bungle
But death did not come quickly for
Harry Holmes. The hooded man
asked, "Are you ready?" Holmes
responded in a low voice, "Yes, good-
-bye," and the trap was sprung. The
fall did not break his neck, and
Holmes' body twitched convulsively
for about ten minutes. Holmes was
pronounced dead at 10:45.
The body of Harry Holmes was em-
bedded in a ton of cement, placed in a
pine box, and buried ten feet under in
Philadelphia's Holy Cross cemetary,
with services of the Roman Catholic
Church. He's probably still there.

By Bob King
THE DETERMINISTS said it had to
happen, but I was still enthused at
the Film Fest's omnipresent signs of
success: People were flowing steadily
into Auditorium A, most of them real
Bohemes by dress, and modmusic
pushed aside the Midwest atmosphere
between shows. The turnout was splen-
did, splendid enough to make the per-
son next to you annoying. This festival
was for real.
Talking later with Mike Frierson -
TA, doctoral candidate and general of
this whole affair - I found out that the
scene wasn't rolling as smoothly as it
seemed. Carlos Castillo (maestro of the
Caracus Filmfest, paenultimate
authority on Super 8 Film, and more
importantly, director of our Latin
American Retrospective) intended to
arrive earlier than his 10:30 p.m.
Friday appearance. He was scheduled
for Wednesday morning, in fact. His
presence was sorely missed, thus ex-
plaining the ostentatious applause
when he finally did arrive.
U.S. customs officials, it seems, ap-
preciate him as much as film en-
thusiasts, and extended him a two-day
hiatus on his trip to Ann Arbor. For-
tunteyCastillo was only bringing
half of his cache of films with him per-
sonally. Luckily our general Frierson
did a great job organizing the first three
days of the retrospective with the films
that had already arrived.
The Friday show was about to start,
and the music switched to, Jimmy
Cliff's "The Harder They Come . ."
Strangely, I found I'd been thinking of
High Road to China and The Twilight
Zone Movie.
The scene was electric. I knew it,
Jackie knew it, Andy and Eddie knew
it: This was cinema as cinema should
be. Music, celluloid addicts, and film
from only Mike knew how many coun-
tries; it was all right here.
The pink blur on the screen signalled
impending cinematography, and
though it first looked like some Ror-
schack trick to terrorize trippers,
others were soon relieved by the under-
standing that it was merely an im-
pressionistic piece of pre-natal psycho-
control aimed at placating the audience
into a moment of drooling non-entity,
effectively dramatizing the introduc-
tion of each film.
And the films were good. Acquired
mainly through the personal connec-
tions Frierson and his associates made
in Caracus last year (apparently the
standard method of 8mm distribution),
these reels represented the best of the
(Continued from Page 6)
The Philharmonia premiered An-
drew Glowaty's Toulouse - A Sym-
phonic Portrait, a gripping piece in-
spired by a series of paintings by
Toulouse Lautrec. The exceptional or-
chestration of the piece made excellent
use of solo trumpet, cello, piccolo, and
alto saxophone.
From Gounod's Romeo and Juliette,
Eiko Matsunaga sang "Ah; Je Veux
vivre." The purity of her soaring notes
sent shivers down the spine as Mat-
sunaga put all of her energy and con-
centration into these few musical
Following Matsunaga, Laurie Pen-
praze performed the Larsson trombone
Concertino. Although her start was a bit
shakey, her variety of tone and use of
vibrato have a special feel to the com-
position. Her passages in the Allegro
vivace were clean and quick with a
definite sense of phrasing.

8mm repetoire. And though there were
no celluloid divas, there were a few
films, such as the surrealistic Saudade
from Brazil, which drew an exceptional
amount of praise.
The University was represented by
four student-produced films, which
competed for the Meg and Lawrence
Kasdan Award for best student film,
appropriately. James Kubik created
the winning Indecent Exposure which
was an animation of clothing on film
and not, for a change, on bodies. Flash-
dance, as expected, was not screened.
Though on the whole a thrashing suc-
cess, Frierson and Company are
already preparing for an even better
show next year.
"What wereally need is corporate
sponsor," says Frierson, "this year's
show was run on a shoestring."
The focus of such a sponsorship would
be on adding more technical workshops
to the Festival's program, which would
add to the University's already expan-
ding commitment to film production.
Sponsor or not, however, with the
continued improvement it's shown in
the last year or two, the Ann Arbor
8mm Film Festival is becoming a
national film event.

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