For some who chose Dr. HH Holmes' hotel as their lodging during the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, it was a deadly mistake. The 19th-century serial killer, born Herman Webster Mudgett, had fashioned a 100-plus-room house of horrors well-equipped for making people disappear: a building of soundproof, windowless rooms; gas vents controlled from Holmes' bedroom that could be used to asphyxiate guests; and a macabre basement complete with a dissecting table. As for what he allegedly did with the bodies—he confessed to killing 27 or 28—the Washington Post reports many were stripped down to bone via acid or some other means and the skeletons then sold to medical schools. But it's questions about Holmes' own body that is spurring the exhumation of his remains in suburban Philadelphia.
Three years after the fair, Holmes was hanged there after murdering his business partner. But rumors that he conned his way out of death have persisted: Some said he was able to swap places with another inmate; the Chicago Tribune reports others believed he convinced guards to instead hang a cadaver and planned to flee to South America. Now, at the request of three great-grandchildren who have supplied their DNA, those remains will be exhumed from the Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon and tested by the University of Pennsylvania's Anthropology Department. One who isn't expecting a surprise: Erik Larson, who wrote about the killer in his 2003 best-seller The Devil in the White City. "I have absolute confidence the body in that grave is Holmes," he tells the AP. (This US president's body may be dug up ... for a third time.)