When someone thinks of a serial killer, you’ll think of people such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or David Berkowitz. We consider female serial killers a relative rarity by today’s standards. This may be due to general differences in aggressiveness, or being better at hiding it, thus allowing them to fly under the radar. This week’s Nightmare Fuel looks at a female serial killer who flew under the radar for years and whose crimes make for a great horror movie premise, Belle Gunness.
Belle Gunness, whose original name was Brynhild Paulsdatter Storseth, was born in Selbu, Norway, in 1859. She moved to America in 1881 and changed her name to Belle before settling in Chicago, IL, where she met her first husband, Mads Sorenson. They had four children together, but lost two in their infancy to acute colitis. They also adopted a ten-year-old girl, whom they named Jennie. In 1900, Mads died of what one doctor thought was strychnine poisoning on the same day two of his life insurance policies overlapped. While this may sound suspicious, the family’s doctor concluded that it was simple heart failure, and she never got charged. Shortly after collecting the insurance money from her husband’s death, Belle moved to a farm she purchased in La Porte, IN. This would be the site of her dastardly deeds.
In 1902, Belle married Peter Gunnes, a butcher from Norway she knew previously . Within a week of the ceremony, his infant daughter died of uncertain causes. By the end of the year, Belle would be a widow for a second time when she said that a sausage grinding machine toppled off a top shelf onto Peter’s head. Suspicions followed, but nothing ever stuck.
Belle eventually placed an advertisement in the lovelorn column of large Midwestern newspapers seeking the joining of fortunes. In correspondence with those who answered the ad, she promised romance if they brought money or items of value. Instead of a relationship, she killed a confirmed fourteen people, although people believe the victim number may be over forty. The murderess then buried the bodies or fed them to the farm’s hogs if she was tired.
On April 28, 1908, a fire broke out in the Gunnes home. The police found the charred remains of her three children and an adult woman inside. The woman’s body was first identified as Belle, even though it was missing the head and the body dimensions didn’t match her five foot nine inch, two hundred pound frame. Many believed she staged the scene so she could escape, which was later supported by sightings of her nationwide in the decades that followed.
The story of Belle Gunness is a tragic mystery that remains unsolved today. It is also one that seems made for Hollywood, like ‘Psycho’, ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, and the Hannibal Lecter movies. You never know if or when her story may come to a theater or bookshelf near you.
Until next time, Addicts.