In this special Halloween episode, @theBar gets into the spooky spirit with author-historian, podcaster and tour guide Adam Selzer of Mysterious Chicago. Adam regales hosts Trisha Rich and Maggie Mendenhall Casey with tales of Chicago’s haunted past from graveyard ghosts to notorious serial killers. Learn about the Chicago resident who had his house legally declared haunted, the truth behind the Candyman urban legend, the lore surrounding H.H. Holmes and his alleged “Murder Castle,” and much more in this spine-tingling edition.
Special thanks to our
sponsors and .
Trisha Rich: Hello, everyone and welcome to CBA’s @theBar, a podcast where we have unrehearsed conversations with our guest about legal news, events, topics, and other stories that we think you’re going to find interesting. I’m your host today Trisha Rich of Holland & Knight and co-hosting the podcast with me today is Maggie Mendenhall Casey, a lawyer with the City of Chicago. Maggie, thank you for joining us today.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: I’m excited to chat Trish.
Trisha Rich: Excellent, and joining me and Maggie today is author, historian, podcaster and man about Chicago, Adam Selzer. Adam began his writing career writing for young adults where he earned a number of industry accolades. A few years into his career though, he started focusing on history and specifically Chicago History. Now, he’s the author of a number of books related to history and to Chicago and to Chicago History, including the ‘Smart Alecks Guide to American History’, ‘Your Neighborhood Gives Me the Creeps’, ‘The Definitive Story of H. H. Holmes’, ‘Mysterious Chicago’ which I’m currently reading and most recently published just last month, a book about ‘Graceland Cemetery.’ He’s also a podcaster at Mysterious Chicago. You can hit that wherever you download your podcast and anything I missed Adam, welcome to the pod.
Adam Selzer: There’s a book recently called ‘Murder Maps’ that came out as coffee table book full of really gruesome photos.
Trisha Rich: Excellent, excellent. So, everybody should go out and buy that right now.
Adam Selzer: For very strange coffee tables.
Trisha Rich: Adam, thanks for joining us. So, as I’m sure you’re a listener of our podcast and I by the way listen to your podcast. So, I think you probably know we normally have legal guests on, lawyers talking about their cases and such but it’s October and we wanted to do something a little bit different. So thank you for coming on and talking to us about your work.
Adam Selzer: I’m glad to be here. I ended in the legal archives, the law libraries pretty regularly just doing research. I love the legal archives. It’s like something out of Charles Dickens that I think bring you these crumbling piles of Victorian paperwork that are like pinned together because they’re before paper clips.
Trisha Rich: That’s awesome. I don’t know that our — at least our legal listeners have the same affection for legal research but I’m glad to hear a plug for it.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: And I have to break the fourth wall a little bit and say that Adam is joining us live from a cemetery. Live. I have to ask, which cemetery are you at Adam?
Adam Selzer: Right now I am in St. Adalbert Cemetery in Niles. Every Friday I do a thing on my live stream called Find A Grave Friday where I go to a cemetery where we know a particular person is buried but I don’t look up what the grave looks like or where exactly it is. My viewers figure it out and then we play Hot and Cold until I find it. That’s what I’m doing immediately after the podcast.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Busy man, busy man.
Trisha Rich: So Adam, let’s start by talking about speaking of courthouses and records and stuff. Let’s start by talking about one of the stories I read in one of your books. And I heard you talk about on your podcast, the Old Cook County Jail Gallows, and the purported ghosts that have haunt around. Tell us about that.
Adam Selzer: Well, the Old Cook County Jail was a couple of buildings in Illinois in Dearborn, where they were back behind the courthouse that is still standing there on Hubbard. It’s all offices and condos or something now. The Cook County Jail itself was torn down a long time ago, but from about 1873 up until 1927, when the states switched the electric chair just about 100 men were hanged by the neck until they were dead there. You can triangulate, there’s a fire station there now about where the third garage is was where the gallows would have been set up. Sometimes the night before they would set them up in the alley back behind the hanging sandbags to get the spring out of the rope. And even in the 1800s there was already stories about the place being haunted, especially to cell where prisoners would spend their last nights before the execution. There was also two wings of the jail by the end of it there was the new wing and the old wing and even the warden tried to keep from putting anybody into the old wing because it was so spooky there, people got really freaked out.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, I used to live near that fire station. I was right by the old Rainforest Café. I think that’s gone now too.
Adam Selzer: Yeah, the Rainforest Cafe scares me a lot more.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, also a ghost, right?
Adam Selzer: Right.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Adam, I have to say walking in that area and not even knowing that it was a former jail where people were hung. It feels a little bit off, a little bit creepy when you’re walking in that area. And I —
Adam Selzer: All the dude bros make it spooky in their own way.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Perhaps that’s a creepy part of it. I’d love to hear you talk a little bit about the story of Tommy O’Connor and why he’s the reason that they were gallows kept in Illinois until 1977.
Adam Selzer: All right, terrible Tommy O’Connor was a guy who’d been involved in a few different murders between about 1990 and 1921. He kept getting away. They would like catch him on a train in Wisconsin and bring him back and then he would manage to beat the wrap or the witnesses would all mysteriously disappear or change their minds. Finally, they caught him, they convicted him, they sentenced him to be hanged. Then in 1921 he escaped from jail, and they never found him. His sentence said he must be hanged by the neck until he was dead. So if they ever caught him, even years after they switched to the chair, the gallows were still in storage released a few boards of them, because if they ever found Terrible Tommy, they were going to have to hang him. I think by the 1970s, there were articles about this. And you know, obviously, if they catch him, they’re not really going to hang him, are they? They’ll come up with some kind of loophole to get out of it. So eventually, the judge ruled that he must be dead by now and had them get rid of the gallows.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Well, thanks for sharing that us. He’s a particular individual that require those gallows to be kept around for what, over 50 years about hanging —
Adam Selzer: Yeah, over 50 years after he disappeared up until the late 1970s.
Trisha Rich: That’s insane. That’s really interesting. Speaking of gallows, can you tell us about the story of the guy that stole the gallows? I know I’m going a little further south.
Adam Selzer: Oh, that’s a little bit earlier. Yeah, there was a guy named George W. Green. In 1854 he murdered his wife in the middle of a cholera epidemic. He figured well, everybody will just assume she died of cholera. Didn’t stop to think that a doctor might dig the body back up and find traces of strychnine which he did. But after it happened there was a whole True Crime Book about the life of George W. Green, the Chicago banker who murdered his wife. And in it, they claimed that back in 1840 when we had the first official execution in Chicago was a guy named John Stone was hanged out about where the dunes are. What was dunes at the time and be like 26th street now. But the next day, apparently, George Green who was a furniture maker stole the gallows to make into furniture. That’s one of the stories that came up in the book. Even at the time they said they confirmed it by three different sources, but they didn’t seem to quite believe it.
Trisha Rich: So do you think it’s possible those furniture still floating around Chicago that’s made from —
Adam Selzer: Well, my guess is if there was, they probably would have burned up in the Great Chicago Fire.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Please, let them burn in the fire.
Adam Selzer: Well, he eventually hanged himself in jail. There was a daguerreotype photograph taken of his body that you would buy copies of for a while. I’ve only ever seen a drawing of the photograph that was published in that book. I haven’t seen an actual copy of that. I guess they all might have burned up in the Great Chicago Fire.
Trisha Rich: And there’s a copy of the drawing of the photograph in one of your works, right? I think I’ve seen it there.
Adam Selzer: Right. I think I did put it in something.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. One of the things that I read in researching this episode is there are presumably a lot of ghosts wandering around River North as a result of these hangings that were happening in the Old Courthouse. What’s a good ghost story from that historical event?
Adam Selzer: Well, one that they particularly talked about haunting the place was a guy named Johann Hoch, who was one of my favorite people to talk about. Johann Hoch was one of our antique serial killers. He looked like the guy on the Pringles can. Talked like a German character on The Simpsons. When they asked him how can we buried so many wives, he’s like, “Oh, all the victim of Johann go crazy. Yah.” He had married probably at least a dozen women. They suspected more than 50 and seems to have killed quite a number of them too. Arsenic was his weapon of choice. He was hanged after going back and forth and back and forth in the legal system for a while. And they specifically pinpointed him as one of the guys who was haunting what they called the death chamber in the years after. Later on, there were stories about how he had cursed everybody from the gallows, though, if that happened at the time, nobody wrote it down and all the newspaper articles the next day, which is known to happen.
There were also people who were hanged like tied to chairs because they couldn’t keep them standing up. And they were sometimes said to be haunting the place too. Or a guy by the name of George Painter where the rope broke and he ended up landing on his head. And they thought he was already dead from the fall. But the sentence said they had to hang him by the neck until he was dead. So they had to just like slide him back down the trapdoor and let him dangle there for a minute just to be on the safe side. And also there was somebody else later confessed to the crime for which he was hanged. So I would haunt it if I were him anyway, even if he actually did do it.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. So how long did we use hanging as a method of execution in Chicago?
Adam Selzer: Oh, the first was in 1840. They switched to the chair at about 27 or so.
Trisha Rich: And then I assume at some point we went from electric chairs to lethal injections.
Adam Selzer: Somewhere out there. I don’t have data on that. I don’t follow the more modern stuff.
Trisha Rich: I was going to say, and now of course we don’t do any but.
Adam Selzer: Well, will having read through enough of the old, I’ve read through pretty much every hanging story. They were so inconsistent about who would get the death penalty and so many people were convicted on really, really fishy evidence.
Trisha Rich: What do you mean?
Adam Selzer: Well, there are a lot of people who had confessions tortured out of them. People who were told to sign this paper that they couldn’t read but they were told it was an alibi statement and it was really a confession. People who had drugs pumped into them to get them to confess. A lot of people who were sentenced to be hanged just because they were present when the murder took place. But many other people who were not sentenced under similar circumstances. It’s just wildly inconsistent to read through.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Adam, what are your methods for researching these ghosts and the hauntings? Because you’re dealing with people who are long gone, witnesses that are long gone. How do you figure out these stories?
Adam Selzer: I try to get as many primary sources as I possibly can. Sometimes out in Springfield, you can get the trial transcripts, not very often but sometimes. More often especially in the 19th century cases, newspapers would cover the trials and really, really big detail. And especially the executions would get two pages above and below the fold. In the 20th century, it can actually be a little bit harder. They weren’t quite as diligent about reporting. Newspaper articles got a lot shorter in the 20th century for the most part. Sometimes I can get things like prison records, sometimes you can get stuff out of the legal archives. I just try to find as much data as I possibly can and as much good data as I can. Like an article from some Cincinnati newspaper about a case in Chicago is probably not going to be that reliable.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: One of the things that was the most surprising to me in learning about all these historical killings and murders is just the amount of police work that was able to be done prior to some of the technology we have today. So, prior to DNA, prior to all of the CSI stuff that people expect to see, police we’re still tracking down these murderers, digging up people, figuring out that it was arsenic and not cholera. That was pretty interesting to me.
Adam Selzer: Right. Now and then they could bring in an expert for that. The Chicago Police were kind of notorious for not consulting experts back in the 1800s. They eventually got better about this. But for the longest time, your job as a cop was to get a hunch and then just try to get a conviction based on that.
Trisha Rich: I mean, that’s really remarkable.
Adam Selzer: Some of it can be really infuriating to read about now. You know, there wasn’t any training to be a police officer back then. Other than just like what you picked up on the job. There was no academy, there were no civil service exams or anything.
Trisha Rich: I don’t feel like it would be much of a stretch to speculate that maybe the death penalty was used randomly to target certain groups of individuals.
Adam Selzer: Of course it was. And we can find any number of cases. There was one guy who was convicted. He was pardoned at the last minute, but he was convicted as a serial killer. It’s fairly obvious reading through the case now that it wasn’t him. It was one of the members of the family. One of the daughters was probably the one doing all of the killing. And the police having already picked out this appropriately foreign fortune telling guy went out of their way to ignore any evidence that it was her because they knew they could convict him a lot easier than her.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, I suspect that that was commonplace back then.
Adam Selzer: Right. You would find cases with like there were the trunk murderers of the 1880s were the fact that they were Italian was much more of a big deal than any actual evidence against them.
Trisha Rich: What is a trunk murderer?
Adam Selzer: There was a guy who was murdered and mailed to Pittsburgh in a trunk and they traced it back to these three Italian guys. They had a really hard time finding anybody who would represent them in court. One of them was represented by Kate Kane Rossi who was like the only woman lawyer working in Chicago at the time. And there was just recently a book about the case that kind of established that really the evidence against them was not that strong, they just seemed appropriately for an easy enough to pin it on.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, yeah.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Was there a suspicion that there was some organized crime involvement in this because the fact that you would mail the body to someone seems, I don’t know so personalized, meant to send a message.
Adam Selzer: That would seem like it to me. I don’t know if it was like a random address in Pittsburgh or what off the top of my head. That happened a couple of times. Leaving a mail a body someplace just to try to get rid of it.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Sometimes a river can suffice.
Adam Selzer: We got a lake right there.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Right.
Trisha Rich: How did you get into this field Adam? What’s your background?
Adam Selzer: I kind of fell into it. I was an English major. I started writing young adult novels. I was able to parlay those book deals into getting a job as a tour guide. And that was one of the ghost tour companies.
I got suspicious that some of the stories they taught me to tell might not be 100% on the level. I mean, the ghost story part is one thing but there was history stuff behind all of these and I figured, the smartphones were starting to come out, I was afraid people would fact-check me in real time. So, if only to cover my own butt I started digging into the archives and making sure I had a source on everything that I was saying. And of course, I found some things that some of the stories were completely different, and I also found lots of other stories to tell. And it really gets addictive. This archival research, it’s like the same kind of thing is like hunting or fishing to some people I suppose.
Trisha Rich: So what do you think is a really good example of a story that a lot of people in Chicago believe is true but actually is not true?
Adam Selzer: Well, one example that plays in the legal archives is not particularly well known I guess, but there was a guy in the 1910s who had his house legally declared haunted. And the way that this gets retold in books is it’s always this guy, they get his name wrong and they say that he got $4,000 knocked off of the price of his house for tax purposes because it was so haunted because he was so terrified by all the ghosts there. And they usually get his name and address wrong which made it kind of hard to look up the actual figure. When I finally did find that it was a house down in like the back of the yards area or Bilson, maybe up Pilsen, it was one of those neighborhoods you don’t know whether to call it back of the yards or Pilsen or Bridgeport or what.
But it was a guy who was a spiritualist medium by trade, but told the court of course there are no ghosts in my house. It’s just everybody thinks that there are. Ghosts are too dignified to hang around in houses. But he said that no, there was a murder here a few years ago and now people are so convinced that it’s haunted that I can’t rent the place out. And they did knock about $115 off the price of his house. They decided for tax purposes. So legally, the house as a matter of law was haunted. But the way that it got reported, it always got rewritten based on articles that were about three levels of the game of telephone away from the primary ones.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: I mean, whenever way you need to go to get a discount.
Adam Selzer: Whatever you need to go to get your taxed paid —
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: I mean for — yes, exactly. Speaking of myth busting, I’d love to hear your take on the Candyman myth about the murder or murders that occurred in Cabrini-Green. When we spoke a bit earlier, I thought that it was based on truth, but in fact you had to educate me and I’d love you to educate others.
Adam Selzer: To the best of my knowledge, it is entirely made up for the movie. And the movie, they talk about a murder that took place about where Cabrini-Green is now years and years ago, and then now that would at least a legend around Cabrini-Green that if you said his name in the mirror he would appear and start writing lines from Shakespeare on your wall for some reason. And over the course of the movies, they changed the backstory a lot. When I first started doing the tours, they told me that was at least a real urban legend around Cabrini-Green, but the guy who was driving the bus for me at the time grew up there, he said he’d never heard of it until he started doing the tours.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Wow.
Trisha Rich: Thetas so interesting.
Adam Selzer: Certainly, I’ve never found a historical backstory to go back for it either. It was probably just straight method.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Well, I appreciate you educating me and others on that. Prior to speaking with you, I certainly thought it was based on somebody going from abandoned apartment through the medicine cabinet into someone’s occupied apartment in Cabrini-Green. But that in fact is a myth.
Adam Selzer: That could very well happen to but whether the people who made the first Candyman would have been aware of it would have been a whole other thing.
Trisha Rich: Okay, well, I think that is a great place to take our first break. And let’s turn it over to our sponsors and we’ll be right back.
Female: As a lawyer, ever wish you could be in two places at once? You could take a call when you’re in court, capture a lead during a meeting, that’s where Posh comes in. We’re live virtual receptionists who answer and transfer your calls so you never miss an opportunity, and the Posh app lets you control when your receptionist steps in. So, if you can’t answer, Posh can, and if you’ve got it, Posh is just a tap away. With Posh, you can save as much as 40% off your current service provider’s rates. Start your free trial today at posh.com.
Male: Smokeball is a cloud-base practice management software that lets you run your law firm like a well-tuned business. Automatically record your time and activities, easily organize documents and conversations from every matter, complete and send documents quickly with a vast library of pre-loaded forms and work efficiently with robust Microsoft Office integrations. Smokeball puts the power of anytime, anywhere at your fingertips. Schedule your free demo today at Smokeball.com.
Trisha Rich: And we are back with Adam Selzer. Adam, thanks again for joining us today. So, I think you’re known for a lot of things but if there’s one thing I think you’re very well known for, it’s for being an expert on H. H. Holmes, which is probably one of the most well-known serial killers in the Midwest.
And it is just absolutely fascinating story. I’m told there’s a movie about it someday coming. I’ve been told that since I moved to Chicago.
Adam Selzer: Hulu series now.
Trisha Rich: Okay. I’ve been in Chicago now almost 17 years and they’ve been talking about this movie going to be made ever since I moved here.
Adam Selzer: The whole time.
Trisha Rich: Yes.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: I think it’s. going to hit. Dahmer as big now. I think it’s your time now.
Trisha Rich: I hope so. But.
Adam Selzer: I don’t do these modern guys. Again, too much trouble.
Trisha Rich: So one thing that we’ve talked to you about is sort of this idea that Chicagoans have a misunderstanding of the history of H. H. Holmes. So, let’s just say I fell off a turnip truck and just arrived here from Arkansas. What do I need to know about H. H. Holmes?
Adam Selzer: What you’re going to hear about H. H. Holmes is that during the World’s Fair, he built a giant Hotel on 63rd Street that was full of hidden rooms, secret passages, everything you could possibly need to kill a person and everything you could need to get rid of the body. People liked to toss around the number 200 People were traced to the place that had disappeared. And they will call him America’s first serial killer. That’s a pretty good marketing term. It’s a really compelling story. It’s been very compellingly written up in books that are really page turners, but not necessarily entirely accurate. If you read the endnotes in some of these books, they’ll make it pretty clear which parts they’re just making up. And really, this is a result of picking out all the best lines from tabloids and pulps which really what people remember years after a case fades away. It’s something I do see over and over again, that even after a case has been explained away after something has been debunked, people forget about it for a while then when it comes back into the public consciousness. People not only forget that it was ever debunked but also, it’s like added a whole other layer of new elements to it.
Trisha Rich: So what do people misunderstand about H. H. Holmes? And I’ll start by saying, I think if you live in Chicago, the story you have in your mind is probably mostly from reading the Devil in the White City, right?
Adam Selzer: Right. Well, the number one misconception is that he ever operated a hotel. He did have a building on 63rd Street, it was retailed on the first floor, apartments on the second. He added a third floor that he said was going to be a hotel space, but it was never completed or habitable or open for business. He never took out in the advertisements for it. It was never listed among World’s Fair Hotels. That third floor was never furnished, and I don’t think he ever really intended for it to be. He was a swindler first and foremost, and he had figured out early on he could probably make a lot more money pretending to operate a hotel than he could by actually operating one. By adding this third floor, he was able to go to insurers and investors and suppliers and get them to sell him a whole bunch of stuff on credit that he would turn around and sell for cash. He had investors giving him thousands of dollars. He had insurance companies giving him big policies on the place, which strangely enough caught fire that summer. Though the insurance companies were not fooled for one second.
Trisha Rich: So would it be fair to say that he was just kind of a petty criminal first and sort of later moved into more serious crimes?
Adam Selzer: Pretty much. His one true love was buying stuff on credit and then not paying for it. He got a lot of trouble over this.
Trisha Rich: I mean, among us.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Scammer.
Adam Selzer: I found about 60 lawsuits in legal archives related to that sort of thing, mostly related to that sort of thing or not paying back loans, various mechanic liens being put on the building. But there were cases where he got in over his head and the easiest thing to do was just kill people to get rid of them. And he did kill, it wasn’t any 200 people or anything, it was more like nine or ten.
Trisha Rich: A more reasonable number, right?
Adam Selzer: That’s still plenty.
Trisha Rich: That’s still a lot of people to kill.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Nine or ten people in total or nine or ten people that he had some outstanding debts to and I admit I am an H. H. Holmes neophyte.
Adam Selzer: Okay. It was 9 or 10 people were a couple of women that he had gotten pregnant, a couple of people that he just needed out of the way, a business partner and a few of the business partners’ kids who knew too much. Only one of them can ever be described really is someone who had come to Chicago for the World’s Fair and that was the sister of one of the other victims that he had some kind of an affair with going at the time.
Trisha Rich: So, is it fair to conclude that he sort of killed people pragmatically?
Adam Selzer: Yeah, it was always for a reason. It wasn’t just because he got a kick out of it.
Trisha Rich: Okay. So, it was just more of a convenience sort of it, like I got this lady pregnant. That’s a problem for me.
Adam Selzer: Right. It’s entirely possible, too. He did have some training as a doctor, but he wasn’t in practices one. And a couple of his professor said that they only graduated him out of pity. So, it might have been that he was — he said he was fairly consistent in saying the two of them died during abortions and it might’ve just been an accident. He might’ve just —
— been trying to perform one regularly and it was a dangerous operation back then, and wasn’t very skilled at it.
Trisha Rich: Wow!
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: When do people start to suspect that he was a serial killer or systematic killer?
Adam Selzer: Initially, when he was first arrested, he was arrested on suspicion of having faked his best friend’s death, but people started whispering at the time. You know, some other people have disappeared out of that or who were dating that guy or people who were hanging around the building. I haven’t seen around in a while. And for a while, they were accusing him of having killed pretty much anybody to have seen it a couple of weeks. Most of them turned out to be alive and well and living in Omaha or something. The story has got pretty wild. One woman even like walked into the local post office banged or pissed on the desk saying, “I want to issue a statement. I have never been murdered, not by ageing home, not by anybody else.”
Trisha Rich: That’s funny. So, I watched and I think you watch too, Maggie, and the American Ripper series that you were on.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Yes.
Trisha Rich: And there’s a sort of a pervasive internet rumor that H.H. Holmes probably also was ‘Jack the Ripper’. Can you tell us about that?
Adam Selzer: That’s — some of those come up fairly recently. The idea that, well, he existed at the same time as ‘Jack the Ripper’, at least the urban legend version that seems to that would have been the kind of killing that he did. Really, that wasn’t his style, just Berserker killings of people that he wouldn’t have even known is not something that I would really connect with them. And I’ve got all the paperwork showing that Holmes was in Chicago during the time of the Ripper murders. But some people look at it as that’s all fake or maybe he was replaced by a double or maybe the dates are all wrong on or something. Really, it would be a major stretch. The best evidence they found really is people have found the name Holmes on passenger logs, but it was a really common name. There was two or three H.H. Holmes who’s just operating around Chicago at the time.
Trisha Rich: Wow! That’s so interesting. I mean, it seems far-fetched, right?
Adam Selzer: I would say it seemed very far-fetched that Holmes could have had. As near as I can determine, he never really went overseas.
Trisha Rich: Okay. And where was he born? Was he a Chicago native?
Adam Selzer: He was born in New Hampshire.
Trisha Rich: Okay. In the property now, I understand — actually, I’ve been down there. It’s a post office in sort of an empty lot, right?
Adam Selzer: Yeah, most of it. Well, there’s the post office and then there’s like the yard space and the alley around the post office. Most of it would have been in the little bit of green space and the alley just to the left of the post office. It would have overlapped but four to five beats with the post office.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: I’d just be curious as, again, a neophyte. Was he convicted of these murders while he was still alive? Did this come to light after his death? How were these murders solved?
Adam Selzer: Well, he was convicted of one murder, just the murder of his friend, Benjamin Pitezel when he had initially been suspected of faking the guy’s death for the insurance money. There were other murders he was strongly suspected of at the time and if by some coincidence he had gotten acquitted of that one murder, he would have just been extradited to some of these other places. But the only ever put him on trial for the one, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania only had the jurisdiction over the one guy who’d been killed in Philadelphia. So, he was convicted and hanged for that one. It was right before, part of what helped the legend grow was newspapers paid in big bucks for a big explosive confession. So, shortly before the execution, he wrote a confession saying that he had killed 27 people. But of those, about half a dozen were still alive.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Okay.
Adam Selzer: So, several others seemed to have been fictional characters.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: So, his confession would be almost the equivalent of the celebrity tell all biography or something along those lines.
Adam Selzer: Well, look, it’s like read as those. Those features are only much more readable. He wasn’t the most — it wasn’t the most engaging writer we should say.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Can you put his number at 9 or 10, but are there —
Adam Selzer: I would say nine. There is nine that we can generally agree on and a couple of maybes beyond that.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Okay. So, perhaps all the way up into the teens, but nine for sure?
Adam Selzer: The nine, I would say more or less for sure.
Trisha Rich: So, why do you think the H.H. Holmes story is so fascinating to people?
Adam Selzer: Well, even at the time, there was something about of the pickle people’s imagination. This little no account looking guy had been responsible for all of these disappearances and all of this audacious swindling. And plus, by the time, they broke into the building to investigate, Holmes have been out of the place for a couple of years. But the police walked around thinking, “Oh, we found a rope. Maybe, he was hanging people” or “We found this bench. Perhaps, it was a dissection table,” like anything they could find to get think of a possible murder case for it and it just sort of captured people’s imaginations at least for a couple of weeks. After a couple of weeks when they didn’t find anything really concrete, a lot of people started saying, “You know what? Maybe, this is just gotten out of hand.” But then, by the time the story got back into public’s consciousness, it was, “You know what? They found a torture equipment down in the basement” that nobody reported that at the time.
Trisha Rich: It’s funny because I think that’s the idea that we have about it, right, that there were like —
Adam Selzer: Right.
Trisha Rich: It was like a —
Adam Selzer: Right.
Trisha Rich: — murder castle that had all sorts of different rooms with contractions and there was a hanging room and a torture room, you know, —
Adam Selzer: Right. That’s some of that —
Trisha Rich: — that’s exact and —
Adam Selzer: Some of that is from the 1940s stuff. And some of it was rumored at the time, like they announced we found the acid tank down in the basement. Tomorrow, we’ll open it up and find out what’s in there. Then, when they opened it up, they found there was just like a bucket of petroleum and there is no trace of acid or anything. But a lot more papers reports that they found the acid that it turned out not to be an acid pest. Well, a lot of it goes back that there was this one article in the New York World that piece together a bunch of stuff from Chicago Papers plus a bunch of villains from their own imaginations. They were the ones who ever said, “You know, this was a hotel. Maybe, he was luring people here during the World’s Fair.” And they had this one paragraph about it that was reprinted in just about everything written about Holmes thereafter. That article traveled around for a while and kind of invented the whole myth as we know it today. And the fact that even a lot of it at the time was just coming up off the top of their heads or just wild speculating. We kind of forget about that stuff. We remember the wildest stuff, not that it got debunk.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: I appreciate that you did mention a little bit he’s like relative lack of attraction or the fact that he’s not particularly attractive. It’s come up a little bit in conversation about Dahma recently. It’s pretty topical and within the zeitgeist that part of the reason he probably was able to get away with so many things. Dahma was due to the fact that he was attractive and how people may not necessarily like to say that. So, it is interesting.
Adam Selzer: Right.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Right, right.
Adam Selzer: Well, that’s for the topic in Chicago crime for a really long time, like the cases of the musical Chicago were like tip of the iceberg. There, you can find article after article in the 20s talking about how the widow or woman would be convicted a murder or not was directly proportional to how attractive she was. The fine to grumble about to do right now, the livestream is a guy who was murdered by his wife. She had poisoned quite a few different husbands. So, it was a woman named Tillie Klimek. And at the time, there were all these articles saying, “Well, you know that she’s going to get convicted because she’s not attractive. She can’t flirt with the jurors. She’s not wearing any lipstick or makeup.” And some of the articles are — many of them were written by women. A lot of the best crime reporters in the time where women, but a lot of them you read to now, it’s like, oh man, they’re actually calling her dumpy in an article.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Oh, that’s —
Trisha Rich: That’s not nice.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Oh, it’s cringeworthy.
Adam Selzer: Yeah, there’s a lot of cringing that you do really old newspapers.
Trisha Rich: But that’s not too far from what we still do today when we have jury trials, right?
Adam Selzer: Oh, I’m sure.
Trisha Rich: I always hear that these stories where it’s like Casey Anthony’s attorneys made her look like a librarian or Anna Nicole Smith’s attorneys where — you know, there’s a lot of that that we’re still doing, right?
Adam Selzer: Well, of course, I mean, it’s just kind of kind of human nature. They want to try to make people look respectable. If they come in looking like what we think of as a criminal-looking, they’re probably more likely to get convicted.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. And what is your favorite sort of unsolved Chicago mystery that you don’t think will ever get to the bottom of?
Adam Selzer: Oh, there are so many of them. I don’t even know where to start. What I’ve been researching lately is the murder of a guy named Richard Tesmer, who was an insurance man who was shot in the alley behind his place of an Edgewater, and his widow said that she could identify the woman who did the shooting. She only saw her and the pistol flash. But she said, “I know I would recognize that smiling face and the blue eyes anywhere.” And the police brought in several different suspects and she positively ID’ed most of them as the actual killer, which makes it a little bit trickier. The story got wild. One of the police landed on eventually and then they decided this is the person. This is the one we can get a conviction on was a woman named Frances Carrick, who turned out to be what we would now call probably a transgender woman. She lived as a woman full time, but the prison doctors who examined her said, “No, there’s no trace of like intersex or anything. This is a male body.” And she said, “So what? Bring me a razor blade and a shot of gin. I need to shave.” And she ended up giving great copy to the newspaper. As a judge, you can rule that the marriage to a guy named Frank was a valid marriage. A psychiatrist said, “This maybe a male frame, but she should be considered a woman.” This is all really fairly forward thinking for 1923. But she was acquitted of the murder and police kind of stop worrying about who killed Richard Tesmer at that point. It’s still an unsolved case.
Trisha Rich: Oh, that’s fascinating. That’s fascinating. So, let’s talk a little bit about Graceland Cemetery, which is a favorite spot of mine. It’s not far from where I live on Irving Park and Clark, and I know that you just published a book about Graceland Cemetery.
Adam Selzer: Yup.
Trisha Rich: And it’s just this super cool historic place in Chicago. So, tell us about Graceland.
Adam Selzer: Graceland Cemetery is one of the oldest cemeteries in Chicago where the oldest private ones. Burials, there started about 1860.
And as of now, there’s about 175,000 people buried there. It was actually founded by a guy who was H.H. Holmes’ possibly a single biggest swindling victim. While Holmes owed the guy about $7,000 that he never paid up. Thomas Barber Brian was his name. It’s generally known as a cemetery where all the great architects want to be buried. But really, there are so many other people besides the architects there.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, I know Ernie Banks is up there, right?
Adam Selzer: Yeah. Ernie Banks is one of the most requested attractions on the tour.
Trisha Rich: I’m sure. What other things do people want to see up there?
Adam Selzer: Marshall Field is fairly well known and he’s there. They want to say that the big names like Potter and Bertha Palmer there. The names that you recognize for museums and department stores and stuff always come up, but they’re not always the best stories. A lot of these businessmen, like Marshall Field was a really dull individual. Nobody could understand the guy. Mr. McCormick was right by him was absolutely awful. So, his brothers were also there. But then, you know, often with these places you find a really a mausoleum built for a really dull man. But his daughter set the city on fire and her story is fantastic.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: In reading the book, I was rather surprised by how democratic the cemetery seemed to be in the fact that it was integrated. They were very specific about banning barriers between different plots. And I was curious, —
Adam Selzer: Yeah.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Was it like that from the start or is that ethos that was taken on as a cemetery grew with age?
Adam Selzer: For the most part, it is from the stars. I think there were more barriers, more little fences separating lots for the first 15 or 20 years or so. They kind of fell out of fashion in the 1870s. But they’ve never kept track of ethnicity in the records there, which can make it a little hard note. If I’m trying to figure out like the demographics of who was buried there in the 1860s, there’s not really any way to tell because they never kept track. But if I’m looking up like prominent black family for the 1860s, there is likely to be a graves on this anywhere else.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: How did you decide who you wanted to cover in your book?
Adam Selzer: Well, yeah. That was a really — there were like all of the large monuments I knew I would have to at least mention, anything that people would see that and think, “Oh, who’s that guy?” But then, beyond that is strictly my own entirely biased opinion of who’s the most interesting in there. I think anybody who wrote the book would have picked different people. I don’t think any two people would have picked all the same people to feature there and, of course, the book could have been twice as long. I had to keep it to a certain word count.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Can you talk a little bit about the development of private cemeteries and how they didn’t really exist before the Civil War?
Adam Selzer: Well, they started existing. Private cemetery started about a generation before the Civil War. They wrote — they grew up around the same time people got the idea that, “Hey, we should have parkland green space in large cities.” Prior to that, most people who died had been buried in churchyards, the place that they got really overcrowded really quickly. Chicago decided that they would have government burial grounds, the city burial ground, but they didn’t really look into things like irrigation or drainage. They were kind of poorly thought out. But at the same time in the late 1850s, early 1860s, places like Graceland Cemetery in Rose Hill started up that people were a little bit suspicious of these cemeteries for profit. They had to think, well, what about when it fills up and there’s no more money to be made? Are they still going to be taking care of things? Are they going to be having fights over who gets all of the prominent burials? And that they did have a little bit of fights about who got the most prominent people. So, people could be a little bit suspicious of their motives back at the time.
Trisha Rich: So, I hope this isn’t a pedestrian thing. But my favorite corner of Graceland is the Pinkerton area because, —
Adam Selzer: Oh, right.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. And I love you to talk a little bit about that. And it’s I think for two reasons. Number one, I have always loved detectives and mysteries and those sorts of things. So, you know, I’m really drawn to that. But number two, you know, I’ve been at my law firm for almost 17 years long time and I really, really like the people I work with. But I’m not, like, man, I want to be buried next to these people for the rest of my life.
Adam Selzer: Oh, right.
Trisha Rich: So, that really just like it really blows my mind. Your friend, that’s the reason for the rest of my life for the rest of eternity, right, that you have this group of people that all got this plot and they’re all together still. Can you talk a little bit about that? It’s one of my favorite Graceland stories.
Adam Selzer: Oh, sure. Well, Allan Pinkerton who started the Pinkerton detective agency initially came to Chicago to work on the underground railroad and realized that the time we had mayor serving one year term, so every year, the police department was getting shaken up and just to keep their jobs, they had to be really political. So, he started up his own group, the Pinkerton Detective. It’s hard to get really good data about what they were up to, what their stories were because they had to be kind of secretive. But at the same time, he was a shameless self-promoter and really that much as a promotion for the company as anything else, there’s a hold of a plot next to his family plot that was graves for his detective. Some of whom died on the job or —
— died while they were still — died of natural causes while they were working for the agency. And most of the tombstones that are faded away, we can’t really read very many of them. We got the records. We know who’s where. And with a few people have been able to find really interesting stories about them, like Joseph Witcher who’s in that plot was killed by Frank and Jesse James while he was trying to track them down. There’s one guy, Timothy Webster, who was hanged by the rebels during the Civil War who’s not even really buried there. His gravestone is just there as an advertisement for the Pinkertons. Most notably now, Kate Warren, who was the first woman to work for the Pinkertons and about sometimes listed as even the first woman detective overall. I’m always hesitant to call anybody the first anything. There’s always somebody else with a claim out there, but she was certainly a very early example. I think Emily Blunt is going to be playing her in a movie soon.
Trisha Rich: That’s so interesting. I didn’t know there was a movie coming out on that.
Adam Selzer: Yeah, there have been like children’s books and novels coming out about Kate Warren a lot. Not that we really know very much of what she did, a lot of it is not much more than fanfic really.
Trisha Rich: Yeah. What is your favorite Graceland Cemetery story?
Adam Selzer: Whichever one I’m researching at the time. I mentioned Johann Hoch earlier.
Trisha Rich: Sure.
Adam Selzer: I found out too late to put it into the book that his first wife that he killed in Chicago is in a quiet little corner by a tree in Graceland. It’s an unmarked space. You have to really go looking for that one, but she’s there.
Trisha Rich: In today, like, you know, like I said, it’s in my neighborhood. If I want to get buried at Graceland someday, can I do that?
Adam Selzer: Oh, probably. Spaces do come available there. You won’t really get your pick a place just anywhere. But mostly what happens now is they’ll remove a road or th’re allowed do some real landscaping and find a space that hasn’t been used or somebody else sell back the remainder of an unused family plot. I can’t give you any numbers on what it would cost.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, I bet it’s not huge.
Adam Selzer: But there are still burials going on there.
Trisha Rich: Well, Adam, I think we have to leave it there. We are running out of time. We will be right back for our third segment “Stranger Than Legal Fiction”.
As a lawyer, insurance is one of the last parts of your job you want to spend unbillable hours on. That’s why thousands of lawyers have switched to Embroker. Embroker offers A+ rated insurance for law firms. You can quote and buy instantly online. If you need help, they have experts on standby. Go from sign up to purchase in 15 minutes by visiting embroker.com/law. That’s E-M-B-R-O-K-E-R.com/law.
InfoTrack is the only certified Illinois e-filing provider that lets law firms file and serve documents directly from their practice management system with all expenses tracked. Launch InfoTrack from popular software like Clio, Smokeball, LIT, Time Matters, NetDocuments and more and sync back court-stamped copies of your filings automatically. To see how much time InfoTrack can save your firm, visit infotrack.com/atb today.
Trisha Rich: All right, Adam, we are back. Thank you again for joining us today. We’re going to end here with our game we play, “Stranger Than Legal Fiction.” Our audience knows the rules. Maggie and I have both researched a law that is real and along that is fake, and we are going to read those to you today and quiz you and each other about which one is which. So, are you ready?
Adam Selzer: Sure.
Trisha Rich: All right, Maggie, why not you kick us off.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Sure. So, I have a Halloween-themed question.
Trisha Rich: Oh, excellent.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Just about trick-or-treating. So, two of these laws are going to be actually real and then one is fake. I’m sorry to switch up the format.
Adam Selzer: What?
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: That’s what I had. So, if you could pin which one of these is fake? So, in Chicago, Illinois, it is illegal for a 16-year-old to trick or treat. In Bellevue, Illinois, it is illegal for a ninth grader to trick or treat. And in Chesapeake, Virginia, it is illegal for a 15-year-old to trick or treat. Which of those two are correct and which one is false?
Adam Selzer: Hm-mm… Well, the fair you have such specific towns for the latter to make me suspect that those might actually be on the book. So, I’m going to say that the first one is fake.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: Trish, what do you think?
Trisha Rich: I’m going to go with the Bellevue law because it’s weird to measure law in my mind by somebody being in ninth grade.
Adam Selzer: Yeah, but that I’ve also thought of that. The grade-level thing seems like it wouldn’t actually be real.
Trisha Rich: That seems fishy. So, I’m going to say the other two are real and the Bellevue law is fake.
Adam Selzer: You drop out of eighth grade. You can see children trick or treating but as long as you want.
Trisha Rich: Exactly.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: So, Bellevue, this is a heads up to you guys. You may want to change your statute or your ordinance. Bellevue actually does have a law on the books that says that it is illegal for anybody in eighth grade or up to trick or treat. Chesapeake, Virginia also has a law on the book —
— that says a person that is over the age of 14 is guilty of a misdemeanor if they trick or treat. And in Chicago, Illinois, we do not have any age specific laws on the books banning trick or treating. So, those of us in Chicago, if you want to go out and put your costume on and get the candy, feel free.
Trisha Rich: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I know what I’m doing this weekend.
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: There we go. I’ll be joining you, Trish.
Trisha Rich: All right. Okay. Here I go. So, law number one. In Wisconsin, minors can possess and consume alcoholic beverages in bars if they are with their parent, guardian or spouse or number two, in South Carolina, it is illegal for a man to seduce an unmarried woman using a promise to marry her.
Adam Selzer: Oh, breach of promise suits come up all the time. So, I don’t know. That might not still be on the books anymore. I feel like The Rittenhouse thing came up with the drinking alcohol and bars and levels are like a minor under the age of 16. But I would have to say that I guess I can think of examples of either of those but South Carolina specific. I don’t know of any breach of promise suits. So, I’ll say the South Carolina one is fake.
Trisha Rich: Okay, Maggie?
Maggie Mendenhall Casey: That’s a tough one. Both of those actually sound like real laws to me. I guess, I would have to go to maybe the second one. It might be a little bit too specific. I agree with Adam.
Trisha Rich: Okay. So, you’re both right. In South Carolina, it used to be illegal for a man to seduce a woman by promising her that he would marry her. That was repealed just a few years ago in 2016. In Wisconsin, you can still drink in a bar or restaurant or other venue if as a minor, right, and I do not think there’s a bottom end at age as long as you are with a parent or guardian or creepy, a spouse. So, in Wisconsin, you can take your kids to bars and let them drink. It is I will say up to the establishment whether or not they want to allow it though.
Adam Selzer: Right.
Trisha Rich: So, that is our show today. Adam, thank you so much for coming. This is so interesting. We love Chicago History and when that H.H. Holmes series comes out, we want to have you back, okay?
Adam Selzer: Oh, sure, yeah.
Trisha Rich: Excellent. I want to thank my co-host, Maggie, and our executive producer, Jen Byrne and, of course, everyone at the Legal Talk Network family. They are really the very best in the business and we love working with them. Remember, you can follow us and send us comments, questions, or episode ideas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram at CBAatthebar, all one word, or you can email us.
Please don’t forget to rate us and leave us your feedback on Apple Podcast, Google Play, Stitch or Spotify, or wherever it is that you download your podcast. It always helps us get the word out. And until next time for everyone at the Chicago Bar Association. Thank you for joining us and we’ll see you soon At The Bar.
Outro: Getting legal malpractice insurance doesn’t have to be complicated. Let CBA Insurance agency do the heavy lifting for you. We shop to the top carriers to find the best rates. Get a free quote by visiting cbainsurance.org.