Hell’s Belle – The Matronly Face of a Brutal Serial Killer?

Interestingly, we have a difficult time wrapping our minds around the fact that there have been “female” serial killers throughout history.  Many times these fiendish femme fetales have had a different approach to offing their unsuspecting victims such as with poison, suffocation, and even starvation as opposed to shootings, knifings, and blunt force traumas inflicted by their usual “male” counterparts.

This particular female serial killer had many unusual components to her alleged crimes and some unsolved mysteries that still stand today.  In fact, she was considered a rare psychopath who enjoyed slaughtering her victims for the thrill and... of it and in the most savage manner according to historians and accounts of the events.  There had been speculations of her alleged heinous crimes, which began with a store fire and continued with other fires, many unexplained deaths, disappearances, and insurance money.  In addition, researchers didn’t find any children (as pictured below) that were said to have died, two in infancy from acute colitis.

Belle Gunness was a lady fair,
In Indiana State.
She weighed about three hundred pounds,
And that is quite some weight.

That she was stronger than a man
Her neighbors all did own;
She butchered hogs right easily,
And did it all alone.

But hogs were just a sideline
She indulged in now and then;
Her favorite occupation
Was a-butchering of men…

(Note: Poem about Belle Gunness, author unknown)

Subject:

Belle Sorenson Gunness (Born 1859 – Died 1908?) was a Norwegian-American alleged serial killer.  It was claimed that she killed most of her suitors and boyfriends, and her two daughters, Myrtle and Lucy (pictured above), but it was never definitely proven that she even had children of her own (only according to a U.S. Census in Chicago taken in 1900).  She may also have killed both of her husbands and all of her children including a foster daughter, on different occasions.  Her apparent motives involved collecting life insurance benefits.  She was referred to as “America’s Female Bluebeard” and her home was called a “murder farm” according to newspapers accounts.

Victims:

Reports estimated that she killed more than 40 people over several decades including children, husbands, farm workers, and well to do suitors.  Bizarre incidents, disappearances, and unexplained deaths surrounded Belle Gunness and her farm in northern Indiana.

In 1908, there were a dozen butchered corpses discovered buried around her property.  The farm turned into a macabre tourist attraction and was visited by approximately ten thousand curious onlookers.

Signature:

It was suggested that she used strychnine as her lethal means or modus operandi.  However, the bodies that were dug up on the Indiana farm told a far more sinister story.  They were hacked to death, with the heads, arms, and legs removed in a savage manner.  This indicated that the killer used a specific signature to complete the task.

Was greed her driving compulsion? Or, was it the thrill of the kill?

Span of Killings:

It was believed that she killed for decades, but other reports suggested the span of killing to be from 1900 – 1908.

Ray Lamphere:

Ray Lampehere was a hired farm hand and in love with Gunness.  He was said that he would perform any chore for her no matter how gruesome.  He also became jealous of the many men who visited Gunness and made many scenes.  In early 1908, Lamphere was fired and Gunness declared to the La Porte courthouse that he wasn’t in his right mind.  He later became a murder suspect in the investigation.

Was this a great deception by Gunness to cover her tracks and set up her own death? Was he the fall guy?

Note:

An unverified story surfaced about Belle Gunness from 1877 that she was brutally attacked by a man while pregnant, which caused her to miscarry.  The man was never prosecuted for the crime.

Was this what set Gunness’ killing spree in motion?

Conclusion:

Belle Gunness is said to have died in a house fire in 1908, but many claimed she staged her death and fled the state with the money she had accumulated from the men she killed.  A woman’s body was discovered in the cellar decapitated, but was too small in stature to have been her.  It was never proven that the charred woman’s body was indeed Belle Gunness.

There were numerous stories, many that were unsubstantiated, surrounding Belle Gunness and what went on at her farm.  However, there were too many deaths and unanswered questions with one person in the middle of it to ignore.  It’s my theory that there are definite truths woven in between the stories and deaths, which makes for a chilling account.  We may never know the entire truth, but it makes for an interesting study and inspiration for crime fiction writers.

You can view actual photos of the Gunness Farm here: Gunness Farm Photographs

Was Belle Gunness a cold-blooded psychopathic killer? Was it misinformation, an urban legend or gossip passed down through the generations? What do you think?            

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Author Blog: http://authorjenniferchase.com/
Crime Watch Blog: http://emilystonecrimewatch.wordpress.com/
Book & Crime Talk:  http://blogtalkradio.com/jennifer-chase
Books: Compulsion  Dead Game  Dark Mind  Silent Partner  Screenwriting

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Tags: chase, crime, detective, fiction, jennife, killer, mystery, serial, suspense, thriller

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