The True Crime Historic Serial Killer Thriller That Must Become A Movie

By Charlene Badasie | Published

devil in the white city

As an avid reader, I have come across many stories that have left a lasting impression on me. However, Erik Larson’s historical non-fiction book, The Devil in the White City, is by far one of the most memorable. From the moment I picked it up, I was hooked as the author presents the real-life tale of Daniel Burnham and H.H. Holmes in a manner that is fit for the big screen.

The Devil In The White City

devil in the white city

Published in 2003, The Devil in the White City is set against the backdrop of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The story focuses on two central figures, World’s Fair architect Daniel Burnham, and H.H. Holmes, who is widely known as the first serial killer in America.  The book is divided into four parts. The first three take place in Chicago from 1890 to 1893. The fourth is set in 1895 Philadelphia.

The book weaves together the stories of Burnham and Holmes. As the brains behind the World’s Fair, Burnham is determined for it to succeed by overcoming obstacles and avoiding any accidents. At the same time, Holmes preys on unsuspecting victims and lures them to his meticulously designed “Murder Castle,” a hotel located near the fairgrounds, equipped with hidden rooms and torture chambers.

H.H. Holmes

Devil in the White City

Holmes lured his victims (who were mostly women in The Devil in the White City) to the hotel and claimed to have killed at least 27 people. The hotel was designed to facilitate his criminal activities, with an intricate system of chutes and elevators that allowed him to move his victims’ bodies to the building’s basement, which contained a dissecting table, stretching rack, and crematory.

Holmes is portrayed as a charismatic figure in The Devil in the White City who derived pleasure from planning his crimes, but it is unclear if he really carried out all the murders he claimed to have committed. His crimes have been sensationalized over time, with reports suggesting that he may have killed more than 200 people. However, historical accounts have challenged this notion.

The World’s Fair

While Burnham wanted to prove that America could host a World’s Fair, the event was not without its challenges. He had to contend with fires, funding problems, and had difficulty ensuring the buildings were safe. Holmes used the fair to shop around for victims whom he befriended or romanced before murdering them.

So Much Potential

Despite a few flaws in the historical accuracy, The Devil in the White City has the potential to become a visually stunning, suspenseful film. From Burnham’s tireless pursuit of perfection to Holmes’ chilling facade of normalcy, the story offers a wealth of cinematic opportunities for directors, actors, production designers, and cinematographers.

Attempts To Adapt Have Stalled

leonardo dicaprio

Of course, adapting a book like The Devil in the White City for the screen is no small feat, as there are always risks involved in translating words into images. In 2010, Leonardo DiCaprio acquired the film rights to the book, with Martin Scorsese signed on as director in 2015, along with screenwriter Billy Ray. David Fincher also expressed interest but didn’t pursue it too seriously.

In 2019, plans shifted, and The Devil in the White City project became a miniseries produced by DiCaprio and Scorsese for Hulu. Sam Show, known for his work on Castle Rock, was chosen as the showrunner. After some quiet years, news picked up again in January 2022 when Keanu Reeves was reportedly in talks to join the project. However, he dropped out in October that same year.

Although the project has stalled, with the right creative team, I have no doubt that The Devil in the White City could become a cinematic masterpiece for the ages since it’s a story that deserves to be seen.