The death penalty – a fitting end for any serial killer. Which is exactly what ended the life of Chicago serial killer H.H. Holmes, widely regarded as America’s first serial killer.

Or did it?

There has long been speculation that H.H. Holmes actually cheated his own death and escaped to South America before he could be hanged. A con man with almost no rival, this would have been the ultimate victory to cap off his legacy of vicious deeds. This speculation is hoped to be put to rest when his body is exhumed from the Holy Cross cemetery, where he was said to be buried.

Courtesy of Indiana’s Digital Newspaper Program

NBC Chicago recently published a story about the long-dead killer and his descendent’s quest to put this story to rest for good. His great-grandchildren petitioned the Pennsylvania courts and received approvement for a DNA examination. John Mudgett, Richard Mudgett, and Cynthia Mudgett Soriano want to know whether or not Holmes is really buried where it says he is.

Known at birth as Herman Webster Mudgett, Holmes was the mastermind behind a real-life house of horrors in Chicago. In his “murder castle” located on 63rd and Wallace, a purported 200 women were slain. Holmes would confess to over two dozen. While it’s not clear on the exact count, what is clear is that the house was a place of secret rooms and shrieks of murder.

The Anthropology Department of the University of Pennsylvania will be conducting DNA tests on the body once exhumed. Some have theorized that shortly before his death, H.H. Holmes conned the hangman and got away with replacing an unknown substitute in place of himself. He requested layers upon layers of cement to be lain over his casket after death, ensuring that no one would ever find out about his final great escape.

Whoever is buried in Holmes’ grave will have 120 posthumous days of freedom before it is required to be put back in its rightful place of burial. Holmes or not, the body is going back in the ground. According to the court order, filed March 9th of this year:

In the event it is determined that the remains are not those of Herman Webster Mudgett or are unidentifiable, the Petitioners (Mudgett’s descendants) shall be responsible for purchasing a cemetery marker in addition to requirements for interment.

While the true story of H.H. Holmes’ body count and murder castle may forever be shrouded in mystery and exaggeration, the question of his final escape will soon be answered. And if it’s not him who is in that grave?

Well, some secrets last forever, don’t they?

Courtesy of Indiana’s Digital Newspaper Program