Holmes establishes a cure of alcoholism in imitation of the Keeley’s cure, and prepares to receive guests for the World’s Fair. He decorates his hotel lavishly, promising money (which he has no intention of paying) to various furniture and jewelry companies. Some of the companies he has promised money to in the past, such as the company that sold him iron for his kiln, tries to repossess their products, but find this difficult since Holmes has conducted business through a fake company, Merchant. Holmes also receives many letters, which he sees as an irritation, from families whose daughters he has murdered. When detectives arrive at his building, looking for women, Holmes says that they have left suddenly, and that he has no further information. The detectives treat him well, and seem not to suspect his involvement in any crimes.
Holmes is a dedicated student of social trends — he always wants to know what people want, so that he can manipulate them more easily. The cure for alcoholism is one in a long list of tactics he’s used to appeal to customers. As always, he pretends to be concerned at the disappearance of the young women he kills. The detectives are so naïve and inexperienced with serial killers that Holmes has only to lie and they move on with their investigation. The “irritation” of letters indicates that Holmes is utterly remorseless — where most people would be consumed with guilt, Holmes only feels a mild irritation at those who even slightly get in his way.
In March 1893, Holmes is looking for a new secretary preferably a young, vulnerable woman. Holmes is excellent at finding women of this kind, just as Jack the Ripper was. Holmes enjoys the feeling of possessing and controlling women; while he enjoys making money off of their corpses, this isn’t his real goal. He finds a new “acquisition” in Minnie R. Williams, a plain, plump woman.
Holmes is a kind of successor to Jack the Ripper, and thus he challenges Chicagoans’ belief that a serial killer could never come to the United States. For all his emphasis on planning, he is not killing women for any practical end, merely for his own enjoyment. He thinks of women as products — “acquisitions” is a very fitting word to describe the way he dehumanizes them.
Minnie and her sister Anna are orphans, and live with several of their uncles. One such uncle leaves her a valuable estate when he dies. Holmes meets Minnie while traveling in Boston under the name Henry Gordon. At a dinner party for Boston’s wealthy families, he learns of Minnie’s fortune, based largely in land located in Texas. Holmes easily woos Minnie by flattering her and buying her gifts; he enjoys the look of need she gives him whenever he leaves Boston and returns to Chicago. Eventually, Holmes tires of traveling to Boston, and begins to feel that Minnie is too slow in committing to him. He visits Boston less often, but keeps sending her love letters.
Holmes insinuates himself into elite society very easily — he has only to change his name and pretend to be wealthy. He is excellent at recognizing people who will respond to his charm — it is heartbreaking to read of the way he seduces Minnie but then neglects her. His interest in Minnie doesn’t derive from love or affection — it’s her shyness and vulnerability, along with her money, that Holmes is most interested in.
Minnie is heartbroken when Holmes stops visiting her. She wants to marry him, but refuses to leave school and move to Chicago with him without marrying him, as Holmes proposes. After she finishes school, she moves to Denver, where she loses money in a business deal. She dreams of Chicago and of Holmes, who she still knows as Harry Gordon. In February 1893, she moves to Chicago, and writes to Holmes to let him know that she is now in his city. Holmes suggests that Minnie work as his personal stenographer; Minnie eagerly accepts this offer, though she is still disappointed that he does not propose marriage.
Minnie’s formal upbringing could have saved her. Holmes wants her to break the usual rules of courtship and come with him to Chicago, and if she hadn’t, she might have survived. It’s interesting to think that these very rules of courtship, for all of their arbitrariness, had at their center a practical purpose — to make sure that the young men who pursued women were trustworthy and safe. In this sense, there is something a little old-fashioned about Larson’s perspective — the women who die at Holmes’s hand are those who break the rules of their society.
After a few weeks, Holmes proposes marriage to Minnie, which she accepts. She writes to her sister, Anna, who is skeptical that such a handsome man would break the rules of courtship and marry her plain sister.
Again, the rules of courtship are useful insofar as they raise a red flag when someone breaks them. Anna isn’t overly supportive of her sister, but ironically her realism about Minnie’s appearance makes her fear for Minnie’s safety.
Holmes receives a letter from Emeline Cigrand’s father, asking for her whereabouts. Holmes responds immediately, saying that Cigrand left his building to get married, and she was considering going to England with her new husband. It is possible that Holmes dictated this letter to Minnie.
Holmes seems to have little trouble keeping the women in his life separate from each other — just as one of them is leaving — in this case, Cigrand — another one is coming in, in this case, Minnie.
Holmes convinces Minnie to transfer the deed to her land in Texas to a man he calls Alexander Bond, actually Holmes himself. “Bond” signs over this deed to another man, Benton T. Lyman, actually Benjamin Pitezal. Holmes claims that the transfer is necessary for an important business deal he is planning. Minnie remains unaware that Holmes is legally married to two other women at the time: Clara Lovering and Myrta Belknap
It seems obvious to the reader that Holmes is conning Minnie into giving up her inheritance, but from Minnie’s perspective, Holmes is a loyal, loving husband who has her best interests at heart. Larson can only do so much to convey Holmes’s charisma — much of it has to be imagined.
Holmes founds a company called Campbell-Yates: a fictional business whose only purpose is to vouch for the promissory notes Holmes writes increasingly often. He convinces Henry Owens, a porter in his employ, to act as a secretary of the company, and sign a document stating that there are multiple other members of the company, in return for which Holmes promises Owens his back wages, a promise he never honors. Meanwhile, Holmes appears to marry Minnie, though no legal record of their union is ever found.
Holmes’s plans become more elaborate as he grows older — thus, he needs to found a business to cover up the crimes he’s committed in the past. Nevertheless, he continues to maintain an appearance of respectability and lovingness, even as the man beneath this appearance grows increasingly daring in his misdeeds.