Story Book

Freaky Friday: The Murderous Belle Gunness

I heard the story of one of America’s most famous serial killers, and I couldn’t resist a Freaky Friday piece.

Belle Gunness (Pronounced Ga-ness) was a Norwegian who immigrated to the USA. She is famously known as “The Lady Bluebeard” and is thought to have murdered her husbands, children and a lot more people in her lifetime.

Just so you know, Bluebeard is a character in a French folktale, who married several times. As the story goes, no one knew what happened to his previous wives. It was strange how he would marry a new wife who would always later discover the murdered bodies of Bluebeard’s old wives. That is how Belle was given the Bluebeard name. Bluebeard was fictitious; sadly “The Lady Bluebeard” was very real!

Let’s have a look at fascinating story of Belle Gunness.

Early Life

Born in Norway, Belle Gunness, then known as Brynhild was born in 1959 in Selbu, Norway. Most people who knew her during her childhood said she was an angry child who had no friends. When she was 18 she got pregnant. She went to a public dance to confront the boy who had impregnated her.

The confrontation got violent and the man punched and kicked her around. The beating was so bad, she miscarried. The man did not face criminal charges. A lot of people say that her personality changed that day – she became colder, darker, even angrier with the world.

What’s interesting is that the man died later after the violent act. Doctor’s reported that he died from stomach cancer.

Moving to the USA

Brynhild moved to the US and changed her name to Belle. She soon after married Moss, another Norwegian immigrant. The couple started a business together. There was a point at which business was challenging, and the couple was struggling to make ends meet. The business burnt to the ground. Luckily they had insurance, which gave them a comfortable pay-out. This could have sparked an idea in Belle’s mind – we’ll come to that later.

A series of “Unfortunate” Events

Later, part of their home burnt down – guess who collected insurance money? Belle.

Shortly afterwards, 2 of their 5 children die – Yes, there was a life insurance policy that Belle benefited from. The symptoms of their sickness was diarrhea, nausea and pain in the abdominal area.

A month afterwards, her husband died. This death drew more suspicion. Before he died, a doctor diagnosed him as suffering from some form of poisoning. The symptoms were similar to those of the children that died. However another doctor blamed death on an enlarged heart. The second diagnosis is was taken as the official diagnosis. Belle cashed in a lot of money, the equivalent of $250,000 today.

Given that there were speculations about the deaths in her family, Belle moved away to another state. It was then that she met her next husband, Peter Gunness, a widower with two children. They married and managed a pig farm together. Soon afterwards, tragedy struck again. One of Peter’s mysteriously died in an accident, while home alone with Belle. Later that year, Peter also had an “accident” an died.

Belle stated that a meat cleaver fell on his head. However, one of her foster daughters was once overheard saying “My mama killed my papa. She hit him with a meat cleaver and he died.” This prompted an investigation into the death. Belle was arrested and charged with murder. However, there was no evidence, and she was let go. Yes, she got a hefty amount of money from Peter’s Life insurance – the equivalent of $81,000 today.

A Killing Spree

After a couple of years, Belle put up an advert in a newspaper, saying:

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.

Many men did answer her ad. They came bearing gifts of cash to prove they wealthy. One of them, John Moe brought $1000 to Gunness and disappeared shortly thereafter, never to be heard from again. No one thought it strange, to everyone, it looked like Belle had many suitors. There were even accounts of a time Belle was seen with a man buying an expensive wedding ring. He soon disappeared. One other suitor withdrew all his money from his bank account before meeting the same fate.

With time, Belle’s foster child, the one who sort of snitched on her also disappeared. Belle told her neighbors she had sent her away to finish school in Los Angeles. The girl, Jennie, was never seen alive again. People started to notice the link between these disappearances and Belle. This is especially because these men who disappeared had people who cared for them.

Secrets Unfold

On April 27, 1908, Belle Gunness could be found writing up her last will and testament, claiming that she feared for her life because her ex-handy man, Ray Lamphere, was deeply in love with her and extremely jealous of her suitors. That same night, her house burned to the ground.

Inside the house, four bodies were found: three children and the decapitated body of a woman. Lamphere was arrested for murder and arson, but there was some speculation about whether or not the body of the woman was actually Belle Gunness; without the head, the dentist couldn’t check dental records, and the shape of the body seemed too small to be Gunness.

That’s when the whole morbid tale began to unfold. Items like watches were being found in the rubble of the Gunness house. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that there was a spot where Gunness buried bodies in. One by one, bodies were uncovered from the ground; one of the bodies was Jennie’s. She had obviously been killed after she became suspicious of her mother’s activities and threatened to expose.

Later, Lamphere the ex-handy man admitted to helping Gunness bury the bodies. According to him she had murdered 42 people in total. She would give the victims a nice meal, and then drug their coffee. She would then smash their head, or cut them into pieces. She would then bury their bodies or feed their remains to the pigs on her farm.

A lot of evidence points to Belle Gunness escaping the fire that killed her children. Lamphere claimed he lured a woman to the house where she was killed and her head was chopped off. Gunness then drugged her children, killed them, and left them in the house to burn. She took off, never to be seen again. Whether or not Lamphere was to be believed, Gunness’ bank backed his story, saying that Gunness had withdrawn nearly all of her money the day before the fire. That, combined with creating a will shortly before her supposed death, made people suspect that she had intended to fake her own death and skip town.

However, Gunness’ dentures were found in May of that year, convincing the dentist and some of the townsfolk that she had indeed died in the fire. That said, the skull wasn’t recovered. Many people remained convinced that she was still at large somewhere, living off the fortune she made from her victims. Her death was never confirmed and she was never tracked down. Numerous sightings were made around the Chicago area, but none of them were confirmed.


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