Serial killer H.H. Holmes, who stalked his prey at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, is in the cross-hairs of an unusually high-profile development contest.
Paramount has just optioned “The Devil in the White City,” Erik Larson’s bestselling account of the case, for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner’s shingle Cruise/Wagner Prods. and “K-19” director Kathryn Bigelow’s shingle, First Light.
Bigelow is attached to produce and helm the project and “K-19” writer Christopher Kyle is in talks to write the script. Par exec VP Brian Witten and C/W exec Gaye Hirsch will oversee the project.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s production shingle, Appian Way, also is developing a feature about Holmes and the World’s Fair. DiCaprio is attached to star in the pic, which is to be financed by IEG.
Last November, Appian Way tapped Aaron and Matthew Benay to write a script about the Holmes case. The duo, who wrote “Last of the Breed” at Miramax and “Samurai,” now in turnaround at New Regency, are expected to deliver a script shortly.
The two projects have different focal points.
The Larson book, published by Crown in February, is a broad-canvas portrait of two men, Daniel H. Burnham, the architect who against all odds erected the fairgrounds, a spectacular “White City” showcasing the boldest innovations of turn-of-the-century America, including the first ferris wheel; and Holmes, a charming doctor who lured his victims — mostly young women — to a hotel he built not far from the fairgrounds.
DiCaprio, repped by the Firm, is developing the story of Holmes and the Pinkerton detective who tracked him. The Benays are working from public-domain material on the case.
Holmes was arrested and hanged in 1896, and there are ample historical documents on the case.
Long before the Son of Sam Law, the Hearst newspaper syndicate paid Holmes $10,000 to write a prison confession in which he claimed to have killed 27 people.
Larson is repped by Paradigm and the David Black Literary Agency; Bigelow and Kyle are repped by CAA.