Real life horror: Belle Gunness


I’ve done a good deal of picking on the guys lately, so I thought I’d switch genders and profile a female serial killer.

This wasn’t easy. Sure, there’s Aileen Wuornos (the subject of Monster, starring Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci, great flick), but as I stated earlier, I wanted to do the not-so-famous killers. Problem is, there are not that many female serial killers. I did find a few killer nurses and black widows, and I was originally going to post on one of them, but then I came across Belle Gunness.

hot widow here, fellas.

Born Brynhild Storset in Norway in 1859, she changed her name to Belle when she immigrated to America in 1881. She married Mads Sorenson in Chicago, Illinois, in 1884. Sorenson died on July 30, 1900, the same day that two life insurance policies on him overlapped. She may or may not have poisoned him; he was being treated for an enlarged heart, so the cause of death was listed as heart failure, and no autopsy was performed.

However, Belle did admit to her husband’s doctor that she’d given her husband “medicinal powders” to help him feel better shortly before he died. Ah, love.

With the life insurance moolah, she moved to Indiana, where she bought a farm on the outskirts of the town of La Porte. In April 1902, she married Peter Gunness, a fellow Norwegian and recent widower. December of that same year would find poor Belle Gunness widowed again. Her new husband, it turns out, was a bit unlucky: a sausage grinder fell from a high shelf in the kitchen and broke its fall on top of his head.

Want to bet there was a life insurance policy on Peter Gunness?

Congrats! You win a Marvel Comics’ No-Prize!

So Belle’s death toll is up to two . . . oh, wait. The body of her adopted daughter, Jennie Olsen, would later be found buried on her property in Indiana. Three.

1907 found Belle hiring Ray Lamphere to help around with the farm. It was apparently too much for a 5-feet, 8-inches-tall, 280-pound woman to take on by herself. Or perhaps she was just lonely; it’s long been suspected that Lamphere and Belle shared more than just hog-slopping duties.

At any rate, later that same year, the following advertisement appeared in several midwestern newspapers:

Personal – comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.

This is the early twentieth-century’s version of CraigsList.

Despite that you couldn’t post nudie pics of yourself in ads back then, Belle found some takers.

Like John Moe, from Elbow Lake, Minnesota, who came to the farm with $1,000 to pay off her mortgage. He was never seen alive again.

George Anderson, from Tarkio, Missouri, was luckier. He awoke one night to find her standing over his bed with a rather sinister look on her face. Anderson freaked and fled back to the show me state.

The suitors kept coming, but none after Anderson would leave the farm. It seems that back then you could order large trunks–large enough to stuff bodies into–without raising any eyebrows, which is what Belle started doing. You were also free to dig in your hog pen late at night. Simpler times.

The men and money kept coming. Eventually, hired hand Ray Lamphere’s jealousy boiled over in February 1908; Belle fired him and later had him arrested for trespassing on her farm. Around the same time, the brother of one of her suitors/victims contacted her, asking for the whereabouts of his sibling. Belle held him off, while also setting the stage for the later burning of her house: she drew up a will at her lawyer’s office and commented that Lamphere had threatened to kill her and burn down her house. 

April 28, 1908: Belle’s new hired hand awoke to find the house ablaze. He tried to get to Belle and her three children, but the intensity of the fire forced him to jump out of a second-story window. With no iPhone handy, he was forced to run to town; by the time the fire department got to the farm, the house was a smoking heap. The floors had collapsed; four bodies were found in the cellar under a piano.

the gunness house's cellar.

Three bodies belonged to Belle’s children . . . the fourth, that’s where things get interesting.

The corpse was a woman, but a 5-feet, 3-inches tall woman who barely weighed 150 pounds. And who was also minus her head. And who was later found to have strychnine in her stomach.

The head, by the way, was never found. But two human teeth were; Gunness’s dentist identified them as hers.

The brother of the missing man who’d been hounding Belle finally arrived; he convinced the La Porte sheriff to look around the Gunness farm. On May 3, 1908, workers found bodies: Jennie Olsen, two unidentified children, and an unfortunate suitor.

The digging continued, as did the corpses. The recovery methods were crude, so the exact number is unknown; it has been approximated at twelve.

She is reported to have killed between 25 to 40 people over several decades, including all of her children.

Ray Lamphere was found guilty of arson, but innocent of murder. He was sentenced to twenty years in the State Prison in Michigan City. He lasted a year, dying of tuberculosis in 1909.

Before he died, he confessed to helping Belle dispose of her victims’ bodies, but denied ever killing anyone. He said that Belle would drug her victims’ coffees and then dispatch them with a meat chopper to the head. Sometimes she’d vary her method and chloroform them as they slept. Disposal of the bodies was done in the hog pen, or by chopping them up and feeding them to the hogs. He also claimed that the headless female body belonged to a woman from Chicago whom Belle had lured in with the promise of a housekeeping job just before the fire.

Belle Gunness, he said, had vanished the night of the fire, with her many suitors’ money. She was never seen again.

Holy shit, what a pleasant woman. Ick.

Look, a kitten in a sweater!

aaawww . . .

info from www.prairieghosts.com/belle.html and Yahoo!

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