HistoryCop was founded by Ray Johnson, a life-long Chicago area resident and history buff who is a former criminal investigator.
An interesting facet of Holmes’ personality is that he never killed any of the women whom he considered his wives. His first wife, Clara Lovering, was left in New Hampshire. His second wife, Myrta Belknap, was alive and well in Wilmette, and his third wife, Georgiana Yoke, was one of the key witnesses against him during his murder trial in Philadelphia.
He met Georgiana in the building at the northeast corner of State Street and Congress Parkway. The building was constructed by one of Marshall Field’s and Potter Palmer’s old business partners, Levi Z. Leiter. The building was erected in 1891, designed by famed architect William Le Baron Jenney, and was home to Georgiana Yoke’s employer, the Siegel & Cooper Department Store. The Harold Washington Public Library is directly across State Street from the building, and if it is during business hours, it is well worth an elevator trip to the beautiful 9th floor of the library. From there you can look through the windows on the east side for a close up view of the inscription on the top of the Leiter Building.
Georgiana was a schoolteacher working in the third school district of Columbus, Indiana, who desperately wanted to be part of the excitement in Chicago surrounding the coming 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. She was a tall, strong, adventurous young woman of 23 years with blue eyes so large some thought them to look odd. She secured a position with the Siegel & Cooper store shortly after arriving in the city in 1892 with the help of her mother Mary’s brother, Isaac Toner.
Georgiana turned 24 on October 17th the year of the World’s Fair, and three months later Holmes whisked her off to Denver, Colorado to be his third wife that we know of. The marriage was performed by the Reverend E.J. Wilcox of the Fifth Avenue Methodist Church on January 17, 1894.The marriage wouldn’t last long, however, as Holmes was soon arrested, tried, and convicted for the murder of his business associate, Benjamin Frelan Pitezel. Holmes was hanged on May 7, 1896 and a key witness concerning Holmes’ whereabouts and state of mind following Pitezel’s murder was his young wife Georgiana.
Siegel & Cooper closed up shop in 1930 and the building became the flagship store for Sears Roebuck and Co. It is now the home of Robert Morris College and was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1997 as the oldest existing department store structure in the city. Much of the interior of the building has been remodeled, but you can still see some of the original ironwork staircase in the lobby of the building.
A wonderful book for further reading is “A Competent Witness, Georgiana Yoke and The Trial of H. H. Holmes” by Judith Nickels
For those of you Divvy Bike riders, the closest Divvy Bike station is one block north on State and Van Buren.