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Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America's First Serial Killer Mass Market Paperback – 19 Apr 2004

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Mass Market Paperback, 19 Apr 2004

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Product details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 418 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster International; New edition edition (19 April 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743490355
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743490351
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 24.9 x 3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,462,605 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Caleb Carrauthor of "The Alienist"Riveting....Brilliantly detailed....Amazing.

About the Author

Harold Schechter is Professor at Queen's College, The City University of New York. Renowned for his true-crime writing, he is the author of five non-fiction books: BESTIAL, DEVIANT, DERANGED, DEPRAVED and THE A TO Z ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SERIAL KILLERS.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Paula Lees on 21 Aug. 2001
Format: Paperback
Harold Schechter once again delivers a brilliantly detailed account, this time about H.H. Holmes and his Castle of Horror.
Born Herman Webster Mudgett, the alias H.H. Holmes would become famous worldwide for being not only the architect of the infamous "Castle of Horror", but also as an evil genius, who posed amongst others as a doctor and an inventor. His macabre story is covered in mesmerising detail, and together with Schechter's writing style, will definetly keep you avidly turning the pages. Holmes, eventually, was brought to ground by an insurance scam that went awry, and the true horror of his dwelling abode and murderous career was revealed.
Praise must once again be bestowed on Harold Schechter, for his name not only represents pure quality, but guarantees it. Any true crime buff should have a copy of this book and also "Deranged" (Albert Fish) and Deviant (Ed Gein) amongst their collection.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 15 Nov. 2000
Format: Paperback
There's nothing new under the sun. Or at least, very little, particularly this late in human history. Could the Victorians have imagined our world-spanning communications network carrying information at the speed of light in pulses of electricity, for example? Yes, very easily, because they had a network like that too: it was called the telegraph.
And could the Victorians have imagined our salacious, dishonest media concentrating sex and horror in an ever-quickening race to stimulate the public's jaded appetite? Yes, because they had that kind of media too, all the way from sensationalist newspapers to quickie paperbacks brought out to cash in on a currently notorious trial.
Like the trial described in this book, that of Herman Webster Mudgett, alias Henry Howard Holmes, a Chicago doctor, chemist, and fraudster whom this book describes as America's first serial killer. First *known* serial killer, maybe, but disputes over his claim to priority aside, Holmes is certainly one of the most interesting entries in an ever-growing list, and this book, rarely in the true-crime genre, doesn't let an interesting subject go to waste. Brought down by a life-insurance scam that went wrong, Holmes became the center of world-wide attention when the true nature of his giant, jerry-built boarding-house in Chicago was uncovered by police searches. It had been a kind of killing factory, with concealed gas-pipes, peep-holes, trap-doors, and chutes guaranteeing Holmes a steady supply of victims for a sinister cellar complete with dissecting-table, surgical instruments, and furnace.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Courtney T. on 9 Mar. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story of H.H. Holmes is interesting, but this book is not very well written. I would not recommend it, but did finish it.
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By Eilish Dempsey on 26 Jan. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This was a very interesting true story - really well written and fascinating
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 72 reviews
52 of 59 people found the following review helpful
Disappointing book about a fascinating subject 13 Sept. 2005
By Flux - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I picked this book up after after enjoying "Savage Pastimes," another book by the same author, and hoped for an informative and gruesome book about an infamous serial killer. "Depraved" was, in places, but the presentation was lacking, and the book had no focus and far too much irrelevant courtroom drama.

It opens up properly, with a thumbnail sketch of the times, H. H. Howard's infamous crimes, and more background info. It then lists some formative experiences from his childhood, and gives a short bio of his life up to the point he turned to murder. After that it loses its way though, with endless discussion of Holmes' travels around the country as he tries to perpetrate a minor insurance scam, and then far too many pages on his murder trail. Surprisingly, his trial is for the murder of a henchmen in an insurance scam, and he's never charged or prosecuted for the dozens of other far more interesting murders he committed. Unfortunately those are hardly mentioned in the book at all, and are not discussed in any detail.

Going by the middle 80% of the book, you'd think it was a biography about a small time hustler, scam artist, and bigamist who eventually got carried away and murdered a partner, and was subsequently tried and executed for it. The fact that he killed maybe 50 other people, built this incredible murder mansion, tortured dozens of people, and was the world's first documented serial killer, is almost an afterthought.

Let's be honest; the hook of the book, the reason anyone reads it, is that it's about H. H. Holmes, who killed a lot of people in various horrible ways, at a time in history when that sort of thing was almost completely unknown. That's' what the reader wants to know about, in as much detail as possible, with lots more about the, "mazelike corridors, soundproof rooms, sealed vaults, oversized furnaces, and chutes leading down to the cellar" that the book jacket talks about. Unfortunately, you get hardly more detail about those things than the book jacket says, with no detailed descriptions of anything, no charts or diagrams or photographs, no eyewitness accounts, and not even any speculation about how the crimes went down.

What you do get are maybe 200 pages (out of the 360 total) covering his seemingly endless and aimless cross-country travels while dodging the cops and tediously plotting to murder his assistant in a life insurance scam, hoodwink his widow, and dispose of the guy's children. Ten or fifteen pages would have been sufficient for that section, but instead it covers at least 100, most of it of the, "traveled from Chicago to Baltimore, checked into two different hotels under different names, didn't buy the poor girls new shoes, etc..." variety. It's as boring as it sounds from my summary. Worse yet, we then revisit that entire story when it all gets relived during Holmes' trial, which ends in his conviction for the murder of his henchmen, as part of a life insurance scam.

The author covered that section in so much detail for an obvious reason; he could just pluck it all from newspaper articles at the time, since there was extensive coverage of Holmes in the media of the day. Far, far less coverage is given to the castle itself, or Holmes' serial killing, and there's virtually nothing about why Holmes became what he was. We get one short childhood incident, lots of unsourced comments about his practicing torture on animals as a child, and then bang, he's being hung for one minor murder with almost no details about the bulk of his crimes. We know everything about a crime we don't much care about, and almost nothing about all of the crimes we wanted to learn about, and that's a definite flaw. I was skimming paragraphs and whole chapters by page 250 or so; bored with the irrelevant courtroom drama and wanting to get past his conviction for one life insurance scam murder, and on to more about his real crimes.

Basically this is a decent first draft of a book about H. H. Holmes, but it needs substantial editing to add detail about his castle and murders, needs to have at least 50 pages of redundant and boring reportage about his travels removed, and needs much more psychological analysis and discussion about Holmes and the society in which he lived.

My final, seldom-used non fiction scores:

Concept: 7

Presentation: 4

Writing Quality: 5

Presents/Explains the Topic Clearly: 5

Entertainment Value: 4

Rereadability: 3

Overall: 3.5
36 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The Devil of Chicago 2 Sept. 2005
By JMack - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
After reading "The Devil in the White City", I was curious to learn more about H.H. Holmes/Herman Mudgett. Being familiar with some of his other work, Harold Schechter seemed to be a logical choice for the best book on Holmes. While the book was very thorough, some aspects of it left me with mixed emotions.

Parallel to the 1893 World's Fair hosted in Chicago, Holmes began a prolific killing spree. Inhabiting a large building known as the Castle, Holmes seemed to be an outstanding citizen. His charm allowed him to con insurance companies and other businesses. With bigamous marriages and several mistress, he also easily charmed women in a much more conservative time. Behind closed doors is when Holmes became a monster. Often through slow means such as poisoning and suffocation, Holmes disposed of his victims even after he left his house of horrors known as The Castle.

The major complaint I have with the book is that it tends to run a little long-winded at times. Section 3 is the documentation of Holmes fleeing Chicago and criss-crossing the country on various schemes. This is recounted in its entirety in Section 4 as investigators track the steps of Holmes.

This flaw is compensated by the details of Holmes' trial which created some humerous scenarios. The epilogue which discusses the "Holmes Curse" is also quite interesting.

While the two are not directly comparable, I enjoyed "The Devil in the White City" more than "Depraved". However the details of Holmes' life make this a solid read for those interested. Just skip the 4th section.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Natural Villainy 30 July 2005
By Loretta Dillon - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
One of the finest of many books by serial killer expert and prolific author, Harold Schechter, is Depraved: an engaging and historically relevant treatment of Herman Mudgett, alias Dr. H. H. Holmes, whose unprecedented reign of fraud and murder in Chicago and Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century rivals anything in the annals of crime before or since. After learning some of Holmes's techniques to lure women into his life and ultimately into one of the lurid chambers in his "castle," it is apparent that many contemporary serial killers studied his methods.

Depraved is more than merely the chronology of a smooth, sociopathic con man and his hapless victims; the reader is transported back in time to a sepia-tinted tour of American history during the Columbian Exposition (also known as the Chicago World's Fair of 1893), when the industrial age was beginning to transform lives and landscapes across the country. Students of history, crime, and the psychology of evil will uncover fascinating details in this thoroughly researched story. The "Gilded Age" was the perfect backdrop for Holmes's boundless avarice, murderous excess, and seemingly limitless supply of marks. Schechter even shapes his prose to reflect the vernacular and colloquialisms of the era, interwoven with news reports and official transcripts of Holmes's trial, touted at the time as "The Trial of the Century."

Holmes defies many of the stereotypical biographies of a serial killer. He had a relatively normal upbringing, an excellent education, and possessed a canny business sense that would have made him a legitimate fortune had his lust for money not been trumped by his lust for murder. It's possible that had Holmes not attempted his last insurance fraud, he may have gotten away with most of the crimes for which he has been immortalized in legend and lore. He may have grown old and forgotten and his castle demolished like many other lost landmarks in Chicago, its horrible secrets bulldozed to rubble. However, that would never have satisfied Holmes, for his depravity was only exceeded by his ego.

The top two floors of Holmes's castle were lined with small bedrooms that he let to travelers seeking lodging during the fair. Unknown to the hundreds of men hired (and fired) while constructing the castle, with its vault, crematorium, acid vat, dissection room, labyrinthine hallways, body chute to the cellar, and airless compartments, Holmes had created a gothic murder trap where an untold number of guests disappeared.

But there is much more to the Holmes saga than his hotel of horrors. His modus operandi is a blueprint for mass murder. Schechter tracks Holmes back to his early days as a druggist and entrepreneur, through his three bigamous marriages, numerous mistresses, business schemes, insurance scams, and his final cross-country odyssey that eventually leads to a noose around his neck. The second half of the book recounts a relentless investigation, a sensational trial and Holmes's shocking confession that stunned the nation.

Holmes's intriguing personality will leave you wondering - what preternatural obsession drives men to such acts?
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Interesting and entertaining 11 Sept. 1999
By Michael Bulger - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Depraved" tells the story, at least so far as it can be known (and perhaps a little farther than it can be known) of Harold Mudgett, alias H.H. Holmes (among others), who the book jacket will tell you was "America's first serial killer." I seriously doubt that he was, but the story is fascinating nevertheless. Holmes was a career con man who, using credit only as a source of financing, built a strange and imposing edifice in suburban Chicago ca. 1890 called "The Castle." He was a relentless schemer, dreaming up numerous quack inventions along with real-estate and insurance scams. His more sinister crimes, however, included at least nine murders, usually of his mistresses but including one of his co-conspirators and three of the man's children. This alone makes for an amoral monster, but the odd architecture of "The Castle"--with its airtight safe, asbestos-lined rooms, and greased chutes to a cellar containing vats of chemicals and a furnace fit for cremation, hinted at even more sinister deeds. Unfortunately, most of these crimes must remain the subject of speculation, as Holmes was an inveterate liar whose confessions were wholly unreliable, and little evidence of any additional murders actually exists. This naturally has not stopped Schechter from noting that some writers have estimated Holmes' body count at more than 100 people.
Like all of Schecter's books, this one refrains from a dry or staid recitation of the facts as they are known. Although these are woven into the narrative skillfully enough, it is clear that Schechter is of the school of biographers/historians who freely mix fact with "re-creation," or to put it more honestly, "fiction." Although he steps back now and then to note that we cannot know what was going through his mind at such-and-such time, a great deal of extrapolation went into this book. Nevertheless, I would hesitate to say that anything here is falsified or sensationalized. The writing is nothing inspired by muses, but chugs along at a breezy pace. Perhaps the most surprising fact to me is that Holmes is not as notorious today as he was then, or as other serial murderers are now. Overall, an interesting and entertaining bit of crime history.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Strap yourself in for a loooooooooong ride! 28 Mar. 2000
By Tempestuous1 - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have read many books out there about serial killers, mass murders, as well as being a criminal justice major. The topic of perverse, hateful, and demented individuals really gets my blood flowing. Don't take that wrong of course. This book I might add does just the trick. Schechter, one of my favorite authors on the subject, leads us down a path in which there is no turning back from. Once you find out about the amazing Mr. H.H. HOlmes...the "other" serial killers look like an old pair of panties that your great grandmother used to wear. READ THIS BOOK. I am about to embark on the journey once more...because it is immensely gratifying...(if you're interested in these kooks of course!)
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