Belle Gunness the Murdering Victorian Who Strangely Killed After Death
Gunness was a woman who killed forty people. Many believe she then faked her death and carried on killing. Who was this murdering Victorian lady?
Belle Gunness was as mysterious in death as she was in life. Death was not the end of her reign, responsible for killing approximately forty people, including her children. No one was sure whether this Victorian killer was dead, or had faked her death to run away with the fortune she stole from her victims.
Gunness was born in Selby, Norway, to a father who was a stonemason. She was the youngest of eight children. In 1881, when she was twenty-two years old, she moved to the United States to make her fortune. She married Mads Sorensen, her first husband, in 1884. The couple owned a candy shop together; it is also thought that they had two children. Unfortunately, both these children died of inflammation of the large intestine, which was later found to have been caused by poison.
When the candy shop burned down, the couple collected life insurance on the business, Gunness also collected the life insurance on the two children who had perished.
On 7th July 1890, Sorensen took out a new life insurance policy. On the one day when his old and new policies ran concurrently. It was also the day that he suffered a heart attack and died suddenly. Gunness was able to cash not just one life insurance but two. She took the money and brought a pig farm in Indiana.
In 1892, Gunness married her second husband, Peter Gunness. Whilst he was away in the early years, his daughter died whilst in the care of Belle. Eight months after the wedding, Peter would die of a skull injury, his life insurance was collected by the grieving widow.
From this point, Gunness placed advertisements in many newspapers looking for a suitable husband. Many men would visit her at the farm, hoping to marry the wealthy widow. Most of these men were never heard of again.
In 1908, one of the brothers of these men became suspicious and threatened to visit the farm to see if he could find out what had happened. It was then that the farm caught alight and burned to the ground.
When authorities examined the farm, they found the bodies of many men on the properties. They had all been severely mutilated with limbs and heads severed from the torso. Some have suggested there were as many as forty victims. They also found the body of two children and a woman in the farmhouse with no head. The woman was suspected to be Gunness, but this could not be confirmed as there were no dental records.
Ray Lamphere was a hired hand for Gunness; he was also deeply in love with her. He became jealous of other men around the house; Gunness sacked him. He was arrested for murder and arson on 22nd May 1908. He was found guilty of arson, but not of the murders. It was whilst in prison that he told the story of Gunness, that she had asked him to burn the farm down. He also claimed the body found on the farm was not that of Gunness.
Death didn't stop her
He stated that Gunness was a rich woman having amassed a fortune of $250000 ($6.3 million in today's money.)It was found that the majority of this fortune had been removed just before the fire. Lamphere stated that the headless woman was from Chicago and had been invited to the farm to interview for a housekeepers position. There would be various sightings of Gunness throughout the years. Lamphere later died in prison.
In 1931, a woman called Esther Carlson was arrested in Los Angeles for poisoning August Lindstrom for money. Two people who knew Gunness claimed they recognised Carlson as her. However, Carlson's identity was never proved; she too died in prison awaiting trial.
On 5th November 2007, the woman's body in the fire was exhumed and DNA tested against an envelope Gunness had licked. There was not enough to prove either way her identity. Authorities are searching for other DNA sources to make a match.