A New Jersey couple is speaking out after they say they found a handwritten note signed by America’s first serial killer inside a family Bible.
Claire Fanelle told NBC10 she was cleaning out her mother’s old books when she stumbled upon a well-worn Bible.
“The Bible was in a box I was going through,” she said. “We just assumed that it was an interesting Bible.”
As Fanelle’s son read the newspapers stuffed inside, she came across an inscription. It was a note signed with the distinctive signature of notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes, a man who admitted to killing at least 27 people in the 19th century but then changed the number of victims to two.
“And the two of us look at each other like, ‘This is weird,’” Fanelle said.
Fanelle had watched NBC10’s recent report on the family members of Holmes who had exhumed his body at the Yeadon cemetery. They’re trying to verify family lore that Holmes somehow swindled out of his own execution at the Moyamensing Prison in South Philadelphia.
The Bible Fanelle found belonged to the first cousin of her great grandfather, Father Patrick J. Dailey, a Catholic priest at the turn of the century.
Church records indicate Dailey worked at the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary church around the corner from the site of the old prison. Fanelle believes Father Dailey ministered to inmates awaiting execution, including Holmes.
“When he came to walk him to the gallows he probably handed him the Bible back with that inscription in it,” Fanelle said.
That inscription, written in the heavy lettering of Holmes, may provide new clues about him.
“It says, ‘Dear Father Dailey, I must write and make you know the kind feelings I have for you,’” Claire's husband Larry Fanelle said.
The middle of the note is indecipherable. It then concludes with, “I need your prayers after my death. With all of my heart – HH Holmes, May 7. 1896.”
May 7, 1896 was the day of Holmes’ execution.
Holmes is best known for his “Murder Castle” in Chicago. He built the hotel equipped with secret rooms, chambers and a spot dissections in the basement. With visitors from around the globe visiting the city’s World’s Fair in 1893, Holmes’ unwitting guests checked in but some never left.
It’s believed Holmes sold his victims’ bodies, organs and bones. According to Rider University Professor Joe Wojie the going rate was about $8 to $10 a body.
Holmes' story was portrayed in the 2003 book "The Devil in the White City" by Erik Larson.
While Holmes was widely regarded as remorseless, the Fanelle family believes the handwritten letter reveals something unexpected.
“That letter kind of turns around and says, ‘Wait a minute. At the 11th hour he was remorseful,’” Larry Fanelle said. “And he asked for forgiveness.”
Filmmaker and Holmes expert John Borowski told the NBC10 Investigators he’s confident that the inscription was written by Holmes.
“This artifact is definitely an important true crime artifact,” Borowski said.
Borowski doubts Holmes was truly reformed however.
“At that point, on the day of your execution, isn’t it a little too late to ask for forgiveness or your soul to be reprieved from eternal damnation when you’ve basically killed men, women and children?” Borowski asked.
The Fanelles are left with an unexpected artifact from one of the country’s most famous mysteries and a sense that Father Dailey situated them on the right side of history.
“I’ll say I’m glad I’m related on this side,” Claire Fanelle said. “Rather than on the other side.”