The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City Part 4, Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In July 1895, Geyer goes to Toronto and confirms that Holmes has traveled there with three separate parties. No one can remember seeing Holmes. But he then receives a tip from a man named Thomas Ryves who says that he remembers seeing Holmes. Geyer is leery of this tip, since the national press coverage of his case leads to dozens of fake tips.
Geyer alludes to the national press coverage his case is attracting. This reinforces how difficult it becomes to solve crime in the modern world — it’s not just that there are more people and more crimes, it’s also that detectives have to avoid becoming distracted by the people giving them false information.
Themes
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At this time, Geyer is famous throughout the country. He’s seen as a hero, doing difficult but necessary work relating to a shocking crime. Geyer is indifferent to his fame, and annoyed that he has yet to find the children. He understands that Holmes moved the children for his own amusement, more than any financial reward.
Geyer’s indifference to his image contrasts markedly with the image Holmes carefully cultivates in prison. Yet Geyer’s indifference is more modest, and therefore more convincing. Because Geyer focuses on the case and not the press, he’s able to gain valuable, though disturbing, insights into Holmes’s personality.
Themes
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Thomas Ryves tells Geyer that he remembers a blue-eyed tenant who asked to borrow a shovel to dig a hole for burying potatoes. Geyer goes to the cellar in the building where Holmes seemed to have stayed, and begins to dig. Three feet below the ground, he finds human bones. He calls an undertaker, who helps him uncover three naked children’s bodies. One child, Nellie, has had her legs amputated — to make her more difficult to identify, Geyer realizes.
The description of the discovery of the children’s bodies is frightening and a little disgusting, particularly the detail that Holmes cut off Nellie’s leg. This detail reinforces that Holmes doesn’t kill out of passion; he carefully plans every murder he commits, so that he won’t leave any incriminating evidence.
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Mrs. Pitezal learns about her children’s deaths in the newspaper; Geyer has been unable to telegraph her. She travels to Toronto, where she seems as if she’s about to faint. She’s able to identify the corpses as her children, due to Nellie’s distinctive black hair.
Even with all the caution Holmes brings to his murders, he can’t render the bodies completely unrecognizable — in fact, he leaves behind one of the children’s most identifiable features. Perhaps Holmes never thought that he’d be arrested in the first place.
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The coroner guesses that Holmes locked the three girls in a large trunk and gassed them. Geyer is amazed that Holmes was able to kill three children in the big city of Toronto without drawing any suspicion.
Geyer, like Larson himself, is amazed at how easily Holmes got away with his crimes. Implicit in his amazement is a sense of disgust with modern America’s indifference to other people’s actions.
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Geyer is proud of finding the children, but continues to wonder where Howard is. Mrs. Pitezal continues to think that Howard is alive, possibly checked into an institution, as Holmes had suggested. Geyer is unsure whether Howard is alive or dead.
Mrs. Pitezal’s faith that he son might be alive is particularly moving since it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Howard is dead, along with his siblings.
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