Saturday, July 18, 2015

An Old West Serial Killer by Sarah J. McNeal


Nothing scares me more than a serial killer. I don’t mean a gunfighter who kills a lot of people; I mean the kind of killer who stalks people like prey, even children, and finds ways to torture them, or rape them before they finally kill them. Some serial killers even do horrible things to their victims after death. These are sick people with deeply disturbing psychological defects. They’re the kind of killer even the psychopaths would fear.

In my naive thinking, I believed this kind of killer existed only in modern times. What was I thinking? You would think I didn’t get the memos about Jack the Ripper or Mad Vlad the Impaler. When we think of the old west, we know there were plenty of gunfighters, bank robbers and that criminal sort, but what about those opportunistic killers who lurk in the shadows and prey on their victims for some sort of sadistic pleasure? I get chills just thinking about it. 

Herman W. Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, was just that sort of devious, evil killer. He started out his career as a scammer for insurance until he moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1893 just before the World’s Fair opened there. Like any wicked spider, he built his “castle”, a three story inn, in which he secretly added a gruesome torture chamber. He constructed some of the rooms with hidden peepholes, trap doors, special gas lines, and padding to soundproof them. Other rooms had secret passages, ladders, and hallways that led to dead ends. Holmes created a greased chute that led to the basement where he installed a surgical table, a convenient furnace, and even a medieval rack just for fun.

Holmes "Castle"

How clever to have an inn where ladies might spend the night believing they are perfectly safe while they make their plans to visit the World’s Fair. Even before the World’s Fair opened, Holmes was already leading his victims to his lovely “castle” where he asphyxiated them with poisoned gas before he took them to his basement for his gruesome experiments. Some bodies went straight to the furnace. Those that didn’t go to the furnace were skinned and their skeletons sold to medical schools. Holmes was eventually convicted of the murders of four people, but he confessed to at least 27 more killings before they hanged him in 1896. “Holmes’ Horror Castle” was later turned into a grotesque museum, but the building burned down before it could be opened. I can only believe there was Devine justice at work with that fire.

After recent news in my area near Charlotte, North Carolina of a couple, a registered nurse with whom I used to work, and, of all things, a supervisor for social services in Monroe, N.C., who fostered young children and who tortured the children in their care shook me to my core. That I could know someone so well who could do such a thing haunted me so much it led me to write
Unexpected Blessings in the anthology, Lassoing A Cowboy.

A broken dream…a cancelled wedding…and an unexpected blessing 

When Juliet Wilding’s dreams are crushed, she cancels her wedding plans to Harry O’Connor. But Harry is not about to give up on the only woman he has ever loved.  What neither of them expects is the event that will forever change both their lives.

Lassoing A Bride, from Prairie Rose Publications. Unexpected Blessings will be released as a single and so will my story, When Love Comes Knocking from the 2014 Christmas anthology, A Present For A Cowboy.

A lonely widow…an indiscretion…a gift for redemption

Penelope Witherspoon was charmed into marriage by Evan Thoroughgood only to learn she loved a philanderer, who gambled away his inheritance and drank too heavily. It came as no surprise that four months after their marriage, Evan was shot dead for cheating at cards. Since his death, Penelope has come to depend on his older brother, Gil. In fact, she has come to love and respect him. No two men could be further apart in character. But, if Gil learns of her secret indiscretion, he will want nothing further to do with her. What is Penelope to do? 

I will be giving away digital copies of these two singles and print copies (in the United States) of  The Violin and Harmonica Joe's Reluctant Bride at the Prairie Rose 2 day event on Facebook coming up July 27-28. 

    Author, Sarah J. McNeal

To find out more about my western novels about the Wilding family, click on "The Wildings" link in the above link..


  1. Sarah, even though I'd read about H. H. Holmes before, your post gave me chills--but not as much as the thought of knowing and working with someone who was so evil to children. What a shock that must have been! I love your books and have read all of them so don't count me in the giveaway.

    1. Caroline, thank you so much for reading all my books. I didn't know that. You've really made my day with that.
      All of us who worked with him (the nurse in critical care) were stunned. It creeps me out now and makes me question how I could have so misjudged his character.
      Thank you so much for your comment and your support.

  2. Sarah, I did not know about this man. It is horrendous, but ghoulishly fascinating that someone would construct a 'castle' like this with his horrible experiments in mind. I think that people like the nurse you mentioned sometimes work in "service to the public" jobs to remove the suspicion from themselves for their heinous acts, and also sometimes as a way of "atonement" for what they have done or are doing. I bet you were totally shocked. These people have a way of being charismatic to fool everyone. And to lure their victims.

    Please put your covers up here! We'd love to see those new ones Livia created for your stories!


    1. Cheryl, I think the nurse thought of nursing as a power play. He bragged about the importance of his job in critical care to nonmedical people and demanded great service from waiters and so on using his nursing skills as some kind of standard for them to comply with. He also got into confrontations with other male nurses over technical details. We should have guessed he had it in him to do something dark, but we all believed nurses were honorable. The terrible thing is, he was smart. But I worked with another male nurse who was smart and dark in CCU. He was well credentialed, but he threatened patients and nurses with physical violence, threw things, and when he was fired, pulled a gun on the unite manager. One of the patients knew him and was terrified of him. She said he chained his dog to a tree and beat it to death with a chain. In the end, his wife left him, he lost his nursing license (thank goodness), and ended up committing suicide. And this wasn't even the guy who tortured those children. In 47 years of nursing I've seen a lot, but these 2 guys were the worst. It just freaks me out to think about it. My advice is never let a loved one stay alone in the hospital. I'm not kidding. There are so many good, hardworking, intelligent and ethical nurses out there--but there are those rare ones that have hidden agendas and dark intentions, yet seem, oh, so charming. It's scary, isn't it?
      I'll add those covers in just a bit.
      Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment. I know you're up to your eyeballs in work, so it's much appreciated.

  3. Sarah, I had never heard of H.H. Holmes. What a twisted character! Hanging was too good for him.

    I can only imagine how you must have felt when you learned about your co-worker's horrible crimes. I wonder what makes a person do such unspeakable things. Maybe there really is such a thing as demon possession.

    1. Lyn, it's so good to see you!
      Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could scan human beings with a scanner like groceries at the grocery store and it would let us know some kind of danger level? I'd carry that scanner with me everywhere I went.
      I had heard of H.H. Holmes on The History Channel back months around Halloween I think. I saw a snippet about him on Today in History and knew I had to write something about him.
      It really unnerved me that the woman he lived with was a supervisor in child welfare, and yet she never reported anything he did. That just said to me that kids in the welfare system haven't got a chance. God, that's so sad and disheartening. It's an eerie feeling to realize I worked with a person who would do such horrible things to defenseless kids. Nurses I worked with who are still my friends outside of work were just as stunned as me to learn a nurse we knew so well had done this. Although he had a troubled childhood, I think there was just something broken inside him. Many people who have had troubled childhoods grow up to be good, decent people. It's so disturbing.
      Thank you so much for coming and commenting.

  4. Oh, sheesh. Ugh. I hate this kind of stuff. One of my local writer friends is writing a mystery, and she's thinking up ways to kill someone. I just shudder. Now I can have a cowboy or lawman pull a Colt and blast somebody away. But torture?
    I agree with you that the mansion burning down was divine justice. It needed to be nothing more than a pile of ash.
    I never heard of this character.
    Unbelievable that you actually knew a person who tortured children!
    Good post, even though creepy.

    1. It was creepy, wasn't it, Celia? I don't like real life horror stories. I have to live in the real world. So, when things like this happen by people I knew and worked with, it really gets to me. I don't like horror movies or horror stories. They give me nightmares. This situation had such a negative effect on me. The only way I could disperse the negativity was to write a story where I had control of everything and could create that happy ending. It was therapeutic. This was my inspiration for Unexpected Blessings. Your good opinion matters to me very much, so I was very happy when you said you liked this story.
      I first heard of H.H. Holmes on The History Channel last year. Until then, I had never heard of him either. I'm glad you agree that it's a good thing that hotel burned to the ground. Since it was built with all these horrendous plans in place, I just see the whole building as evil. Good riddance.
      It's always so good to have you visit, Celia. I really care so much about what you have to say.

  5. I never thought about there being serial killers in the old west, but I guess there are bad folk everywhere, Thanks for educating us about that evil man and the nurses that take advantage of ill people

  6. Lynda, isn't it a shame we can't trust those that should always be trusted, nurses, social workers, priests, and such?
    I never thought about serial killers in the old west, either. I just imagined there were gunfighters and bank robbers like everybody else.
    Thanks so much for coming. I was gettin' kinda lonesome.

  7. Sarah, I didn't know of Holmes, but unfortunately these things, while terrifying, don't surprise me. We have our darker sides, but most of us never let them out. Some, when they do, let them grow into the monsters we hear about in the news. One young man I worked with in lock up was convicted of molesting young boys, but he himself had been a victim. He understood what he did was wrong, but didn't know how to do anything else. It was all he knew.

    I usually thing the best of people and truly do love them and the stories they share, but I've also seen the seedier side, and it ain't pretty. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

  8. Never heard of H.H.Holmes. He was certainly a bit case and it indeed was devine justice that his torture chamber wemtvup in flames. Amen. And so very sorry to hear you worked with such an evil nurse--but thank God hexwad csughtvsmd none of you nurses were hurt. You just never know, do you. Thanks for the stroll down gruesome lane--there's a story there somewhere. Bev

    1. Bev, you're welcome for the stroll down gruesome lane. LOL It amazes me how horrific some people are. Like the people who intentionally mistreat animals, these people just don't think like most of us.
      I've worked with some real jerks and sickos in nursing. Some of them can pretend to be charming, but most of us saw through their thin veneer. However,we were all taken by surprise about the nurse who tortured those kids. I didn't see that coming for certain. I will say this again though--never, ever leave someone you love in a hospital alone. I really hate saying it because 99% of nurses and other hospital personnel are hardworking, decent people, but there really is that 1%.
      I'll let you write the story with a psychopath villain, Bev. I can write some villains, but I just can't go deep enough into their dark thinking to feel comfortable writing about them. I love to read stories with really bad villains because the hero and heroine have to rise to the challenge, but I find it difficult to get them out of my head when I write them.
      Thank you so very much for dropping in and commenting, Bev.

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  10. Do you work as a nurse in a prison, Doris?
    Some people are psychopaths--these are the really horrible killers, and they are born broken in this way. They are the truly scary people who have no conscience, no remorse, or mercy. Then there are the people who, through victimization, become twisted in their thinking and desires, and even though they may feel guilty about what they do, as you said, they can't stop doing it. Have you ever heard the expression, "Hurt people, hurt people"? That's this lesser kind of broken person.
    I believe most people are good, too. We all make mistakes and do things we're not proud of. Most people do have a conscience, know right from wrong, and regret when they do something wrong. And they work at changing their lives to become better.
    The truly terrifying people don't think of their victims as real people, but rather like objects for them to do with as they please. They aren't sorry for what they do. They don't really care what happens to their victims or their families. Left to their own devices, they would kill again and again, and the things they do would get worse to satisfy their twisted needs and desires. These, darling Doris, are the people you never wan to run into on a dark, lonely street.
    Thank you for answering my call to visit my blog, Doris. I really do appreciate it.


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