The Devil in the White City

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Summary

Part IV: Cruelty Revealed (Chapters 48-53)

Summary Part IV: Cruelty Revealed (Chapters 48-53)

Geyer and insurance investigator W. E. Gary retrace steps through Chicago, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, looking for Howard. They return to Indianapolis because Geyer believes his original instinct is correct.

Geyer and Gary follow 900 leads through every town. Their last hope is Irvington. Finally, a real estate agent named Mr. Brown recognizes Holmes, to whom he had rented a house. It is a victorious moment for the detectives.

A man named Elvet Moorman testifies that he helped Holmes set up a woodstove in the house. Detective Geyer finds Howard’s remains in a chimney flue. His mother identifies Howard through a few objects, including a toy that Benjamin bought for him at the World’s Fair.

Summary: Chapter 53: Malice Aforethought

A Philadelphia grand jury indicts Holmes for Benjamin Pitezel’s murder on September 12, 1895. Indianapolis and Toronto indict him for the murders of Howard, Alice, and Nellie. Holmes maintains that Minnie killed the children. Chicago police are berated for never having heard of Holmes.

Analysis: Chapters 48-53

These chapters serve to introduce Detective Geyer, who brings Holmes to justice through his rugged persistence. Holmes has come full circle and finally carried out his original life insurance fraud plot with Benjamin Pitezel. Ironically, this is the scheme that Holmes had claimed was too dangerous in his post-graduate years, and it is the one that lands him in prison. Pitezel was one of very few people whom Holmes trusted, so the fact that now the police suspect Holmes killed Pitezel is a testament to his depravity. Holmes trusted Pitezel to work for him without asking questions, but that did not invoke any compassion within him for Pitezel or his family. In fact, Holmes puts the Pitezel family through his most twisted scheme of the whole narrative by kidnapping the children. They are pawns in Holmes’ last and longest con.

Geyer represents the rugged hero archetype. He follows an almost invisible trail, retracing Holmes’ footsteps, while everyone in the nation roots for him. He begins his quest hardly believing that the children are still alive, and doubtful that he will find their bodies. Ultimately, he believes his efforts will be fruitless, but he persists anyway. Holmes is already in custody, and Geyer goes on this investigation just to ease Carrie’s pain. Detective Geyer labors intensely with each partner. Larson describes the oppressive heat several times, and we know that the detectives are going off nothing more than Alice and Nellie’s letters. We see Geyer’s commitment to a family he doesn’t even know as he goes one by one to hotels and houses trying to jog people’s memories and decipher possible pseudonyms. The heat represents the heaviness of the toil Geyer goes through. His progress is slow and stale, the subject matter heavy and suffocating.

The public follows Geyer’s journey in the newspapers because, to them, he is like a real-life Sherlock Holmes. He is an ordinary man who takes the time to do a job well done. He embodies what most people want to be: the hero who solves the mystery and defeats evil. Of course, part of the nation’s amazement at this story is its sheer atrociousness. As described in the beginning, while Chicago and other big cities saw their fair share of murder and kidnapping, it was for the mundane reasons of love, lust, and money. But this is children, and Pitezel had done nothing wrong to Holmes; he had only been loyal. Geyer has the incredulous nation as an audience.

Holmes’ bizarre movements in these last chapters make little sense at first, but when Geyer realizes Holmes only cares about power, we realize the extent of Holmes’ evil nature. First, we know Holmes is lying about not killing Pitezel. We know this because of his established character and interest in insurance fraud. Holmes spoke with Ned about taking out an insurance policy, and it seems likely that he would have tried to kill Ned had he agreed. We also discover that Holmes burned the top of his hotel, but abandoned the insurance claim when he couldn’t get around presenting “Campbell” to the insurance investigators. Therefore, it is safe to assume that Holmes actually did kill Pitezel. Our other huge clue is that Holmes claims the children are with Minnie Williams, who we know is dead.

Holmes continues to believe he can get out of every situation with manufactured emotion. His “memoir” and “prison diary,” which Larson suggests are almost entirely fake, are laced thick with manufactured sympathy toward the children, Carrie, Minnie Williams, and his current wife, Georgiana Yoke. The fact that he would write a letter directly to Carrie pleading with her to believe his innocence proves just how narcissistic he is. Even behind bars, Holmes truly believes that he can charm and manipulate people.

Geyer is at first very confused by Holmes’ pattern of staying one or two nights in a hotel and then another few days in a house. When he figures out that Holmes has also involved Georgiana Yoke, and then Carrie with her baby Wharton, he asks why Holmes would move the three groups of people around, seemingly for no reason. Geyer wants to know why Holmes would even bother making sure the children were taken care of for so long if he was just going to kill them in the end. To Holmes, keeping everyone so dangerously close to each other, even though they never knew it, gave him the same satisfaction of power and possession. When he moved them a few blocks away from each other, he got to see them in anguish, wishing to see the other, while only he had the power to unite them.