The Devil in the White City | Study Guide

Erik Larson

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The Devil in the White City | Part 4, Chapters 51–53 : Cruelty Revealed | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 51: A Lively Corpse

Holmes finds a journalist to arrange for publication of his memoir and continues to claim innocence, now saying Minnie killed the children.

Chapter 52: "All the Weary Days"

Geyer's discovery prompts the Chicago police to more closely investigate Holmes's murder castle, where it is speculated he killed dozens, mostly women; one estimate put the death toll at 200. The basement has a vat of acid, quicklime, and a kiln; the dissection table is stained with blood. The police find bones and articles of clothing and human remains. Chappell comes forward, and the police collect four skeletons. They find a footprint in the vault they believe belonged to Emeline. A child's skeleton is found, probably belonging to Pearl Conner. On August 19 the murder castle in Englewood mysteriously burns to the ground, and the fire department suspects arson.

Geyer returns to Indianapolis and finally finds little Howard's remains in the town of Irvington, stuffed into a chimney. Items that belonged to Howard and Alice help the police make the identification.

Chapter 53: Malice Aforethought

In September 1895 Holmes is indicted in Philadelphia. Grand juries in Indianapolis and Toronto indict him for the murders of the Pitezel children. The New York Times expresses amazement that the Chicago police had no knowledge of Holmes's crimes.

Analysis

These chapters wrap up Holmes's story. He writes a memoir, perhaps because he enjoys the limelight or maybe because he thinks he can influence public opinion. But he is mostly concerned that the journalist acting as his publicist does everything he can to generate sales—once again focusing on how he can make money from his crimes.

The evidence at the murder castle is enough to prove Holmes committed murder there but not enough to reveal whom he actually murdered. Chappell's decision to come forward is perhaps a preemptive move since the police would have likely made a connection between him and Holmes and tracked him down eventually. Larson's account doesn't address whether Chappell faced any consequences for his part in covering up the evidence. The New York Times is astonished that Holmes's murder spree has passed unnoticed, but when the reader takes into consideration the primitive police procedures of the day, the dearth of detectives, and the poor training of police officers, this is perhaps not surprising. Moreover, Holmes was protected by the denial mechanism: People with a moral compass simply refused to see what was in front of them. The existence of serial killers had just become widely known—specifically, the existence of Jack the Ripper. Yet Chicagoans found it hard to believe such a man could exist in their town.

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