In the fall of 1895, Holmes is tried in Philadelphia for the murder of Benjamin Pitezal. Prosecutors aren’t permitted to bring evidence of Holmes’s other crimes, and testimony is grisly. Holmes seems calm, even when Mrs. Pitezal testifies. Holmes is sentenced to death — a sentence that he appeals, unsuccessfully.
Holmes is calm even in the courtroom where he’s sentenced to death. Yet his demeanor can’t save him this time; the facts are more than enough to convict him.
Holmes writes a new memoir in which he admits to killing 27 people, including Alice and Nellie. Some think that he may have killed as many as 200 people, though this number is probably too high. Geyer suspects that if Holmes hadn’t been caught, he would have killed the rest of the Pitezal family. In his memoirs, Holmes says that he feels as if he’s turning into a devil, with his head elongating.
The fact that Holmes writes a new memoir even after he knows he’s going to die suggests that, like many of the other characters in the book, he’s interested in making a legacy for himself. The story about turning into a devil, for instance seems designed to scare people for years to come; this is probably what Holmes wants.
Holmes refuses to allow an autopsy to be performed on his body, and orders that he is to be buried covered in cement, so that his body won’t be stolen. He is executed on May 7, 1896. His guards find it difficult to kill him, since he’s charming, but Holmes tells them to take their time.
Holmes’s politeness on the day of his death is more unnerving than aggression could possibly be. In the end, Holmes seems like a coward — he’s afraid that others will do to his body what he did to so many bodies.
In the years after the execution, the people connected to Holmes’s capture experience strange accidents. Geyer becomes very ill, the warden of Moyamensing prison kills himself, and the jury foreman is accidentally electrocuted. The priest who gives Holmes his last rights is found dead of unknown causes.
Even after Holmes’s death, his legacy as a supernatural killer grows quickly. These coincidences fit Holmes’s purpose in writing a memoir — he wants to be remembered, and feared.
In 1997, Chicago police apprehend a doctor named Michael Swango, who pleads guilty to four murders, all of hospital patients who were in his care. Swango’s notebooks are discovered, and in one of them, the police find a phrase from a book about Holmes: “He could feel that he was a god in disguise.”
Even a hundred years later, Holmes is inspiring murder and evil. Indeed, the specific kind of crime Holmes practices, in which evil is concealed, is attractive to Swango, and presumably to many other criminals. Just as the Fair continues to influence the world, Larson seems to suggest, so too does Holmes.