The Devil in the White City By Erik Larson Summary and Analysis Part II: Chapter 20 - Chappell Redux

Summary

It is the winter holiday season 1892, and Emeline Cigrand goes to visit her friend, Mrs. Lawrence, to give her a present. In conversation with Mrs. Lawrence, Emeline tells Mrs. Lawrence that she will be going home to Lafayette, Indiana, for the holidays and implies to Mrs. Lawrence that she might stay there. Mrs. Lawrence questions whether or not Emeline's feelings for Holmes have changed. Mrs. Lawrence never sees Emeline again. Eventually, out of concern for Emeline, Mrs. Lawrence asks Holmes about his personal secretary's whereabouts. He tells her that Emeline has gone off to be married. Mrs. Lawrence finds it odd that she didn't know this, being friends with Emeline. With more questioning, Holmes produces Emeline's wedding announcement as confirmation of her plans. Mrs. Lawrence is still suspicious and continues to raise questions with Holmes for quite some time. At this point, Lawrence is convinced that he killed her, but she never goes to the authorities.

Meanwhile, Holmes de-skins the dead Emeline from the waist up, carries her out of the building in a trunk with the help of some unsuspecting residents, ships the trunk off to an articulator who further processes the body, and sells her skeleton to medical science. Although nobody knows at the time, a woman's footprint is left on his vault.

Analysis

So far in the novel, readers have been privy to Holmes's killing one of his victims. Characters such as Ned Conner clearly are suspicious of Holmes. However, what makes Mrs. Lawrence different is her persistent questioning of Holmes. Puzzlingly enough, no one, including Mrs. Lawrence, who is convinced Holmes killed Emeline, ever reports him. This chapter moves just a tiny step closer to uncovering Holmes.

Larson effectively weaves in quotes from his research to create a specific mood and effect. The author uses quotes from Lawrence about Holmes to give a firsthand account of how Holmes could go undiscovered for so long despite suspicions. In another sense, this chapter serves as social commentary about the incompetence of the police in Chicago during the time of the fair, compared to today's standards.

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