Quarterly by
web mystery magazine

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott

Fall 2003
Volume I,
issue 2


Jennifer Jordan is not the author of strange little cozies. She is not a porn star. She is far from a gospel singer. And she is not a professor in sociology. She is a voracious reader that has allowed her passion for all that is written spill over into compulsive writing. She has written articles for Deadly Pleasures Magazine, Booksnbytes and writes reviews for January Magazine. (Click here to read reviews.) And, as you read, she is writing more. She just can’t help herself.

Direct correspondence to Jennifer Jordan at or to

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The Devil in the White City

             I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing...I was born with the Evil One standing as my sponsor beside the bed where I was ushered into the world, and he has been with me since.

Dr. H. H. Holmes, confession, 1896

             A statement wrought with melodrama from a man that could be described with equal drama as the devil incarnate...

            America’s first serial killer, "Dr." H. H. Holmes comes under scrutiny in Erik Larson’s crime history Devil in the White City. Larson’s interest in Holmes, who is thought to have dispatched 27 to as many as 200 people, began as he was in the early phases of researching his soon-to-be best-seller Isaac’s Storm. Observing that Holmes was at the height of his malevolent activity while the Chicago World Fair was going on, the author was hooked. Larson says, "Taken together, the stories of how Daniel Burnham built the fair and how Dr. Holmes used it for murder formed an entirety that was far greater than the story of either man alone would have been. I found it extraordinary that during this period of nearly miraculous creativity there should also exist a serial killer of such appetite and industry." The author's statement beautifully and succinctly summarizes his book.

             It is the dawn of a new age in America. Two men, each attractive -- even, magnetic, busily set about transforming their parcels of Chicago, circa 1893. Each man had his own agenda and each had a crew of workmen rendering physical reality out of what had been dreams. Each man watched hawk-eyed over every aspect of work, demanding nothing less than perfection. Each man was absuluted caught up in his own ideas, commited to his own vision of heaven -- or hell -- on earth. Unknown to both, their fates were inextricably intertwined.

Daniel Burnham Daniel Burnham, Architect

White City
White City
  One man, Daniel H. Burnham, was the chief builder of the gleaming neoclassical White City, a beautifully planned temporary metropolis wrested from the swamps of Jackson Park, the site of the Chicago World’s Fair. The other man was H.H. Holmes, a handsome young sociopath trained in medicine, with a taste for torture and murder. As Burnham struggled against nature and bureaucracy to nurture his pristine vision to fruition, Holmes quietly and steadily erected his dark gothic "Castle" at 63rd and Wallace.




Dr. H. H. Holmes
Dr. Holmes,
Serial Killer
World's Fair Hotel
Holmes' "Castle"

             The "World’s Fair Hotel" was a bleak and ugly building. Within its confines were trap doors, secret passages, and a wooden slide that descended from the second floor to an iron vault in the basement. The basement itself housed a dissection table, a gas chamber, lime pits, and a 3,000-degree crematorium. Holmes was very particular about the heat it would reach, depending on it to incinerate all evidence of his loathesome deeds. He acquired his domain through his skill in manipulating paperwork and people. Young Dr. Holmes was a master at both.

             As the hotel was being built, Holmes would regularly inspect and astringently find fault with the quality of each builder’s work. As a result of his carping, none of the workers stayed long. This served Holmes' two purposes: he never had to pay for their 'shoddy' workmanship, and the workmen literally never saw the building in its entire conception. No one but Holmes understood what the hotel would be when finished: a machine for killing.

             With an enlightened age on the horizon, for the first time in America’s history, women made their way to the cities in search of work. They found apartments and lived alone, far from the watchful eyes of family. Holmes used this dynamic to his advantage. Because the hotel was so close to the Fair, many young women were persuaded to move in, many never to be seen alive again.

             The World's Fair was a glowing place of magic that filled the hard-working people of Chicago with pride as they strolled the wide boulevards of the White City. To create this magic, Burnham had had a fight on his hands from the very beginning. For many months it had seemed that Chicago wouldn’t be chosen to host the fair, that the honor would go to an Eastern city.

When they’d finally won the selection committee over, the designers were determined to outdo the recent World's Fair in Paris at any cost.

Construction ran over budget and the bills stacked up.

As for outdoing the French, Burnham hoped to top the Eiffel Tower; the 264-foot high invention of an engineer named Ferris demonstrably achieved that goal.

Ferris wheel
The Ferris Wheel:
Bigger & Better than
The Eiffel Tower

             Everyone involved was sure this is what would put Chicago on the map as the New York of the Mid West. Burnham rallied against harsh weather, red tape, ill health and death to make opening day a reality. The gleaming and beautiful architecture his team produced breathed new life into the neo-classical style's influence on architecture throughout America. It brought fame to the man who would go on to design the Flatiron Building and was eventually responsible for Chicago’s Miracle Mile.

             Spawned in in an expansive and optimistic time, Burnham and Holmes both possessed great ambitions. Burnham's drive led him to become a form-giver of the 20th century; Holmes' drives led his victims to an excruciating death and himself to the gas chamber. As Larson himself says, "What better metaphor for the forces that would shape the 20th century into a time of monumental technical achievement and unfathomable evil?"

             Larson researched the entire book himself, preferring literally a "hands-on" approach. His passion for history and keen understanding of the good and evil in man makes this more than just a history or true crime book. The style of each chapter juxtaposing Burnham with Holmes gives the reader a vivid sense of their parallel lives. We watch, riveted, as their fates unfold. In the hands of a master story-teller, the two men's lives becomes an absorbing morality tale, more captivating than any thriller.

Copyright 2003 by Jennifer Jordan

The Web Mystery Magazine is an on-line quarterly journal dedicated to investigating the mysterious genre in print, in film, and in real-life. The Web welcomes well-researched, well-written articles and reviews. Writers are invited to send letters and inquiries to


Quarterly by
web mystery magazine

"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott


Copyright 2003,