Special Sub-Topic: The Legend of Belle Gunness
|Where was Belle Gunness born?|
Selbu, Norway. Belle was born on November 22, 1859. Her birth name was Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset. She changed her name to Belle in 1881 when she came to the United States.
|Where did Belle Gunness meet her first husband, Max "Mads" Sorenson?|
Chicago, Illinois. Belle and Mads were married in 1884. They opened up a candy store in Chicago. Less than a year later the store burned down. Belle claimed that a lamp started the fire, however no lamp was ever found. The insurance company overlooked that and paid out.
|Belle and Mads had four children. What were their names?|
Caroline, Axel, Myrtle, Lucy. Caroline and Axel died in infancy. The official cause of death was acute colitis. The symptoms are the same as poisoning. Both children had life insurance policies and their parents received the money. Were they Belle's first victims?
|What was Mads Sorenson's official cause of death?|
Enlarged Heart. Mads died on July 30, 1900. Although his symptoms looked like strychnine poisoning, no autopsy was done because he had a known heart condition. Oddly, July 30 was the only day when two life insurance policies on Mads overlapped. Belle took the money and moved to La Porte. Was Mads victim number three?
|After Belle moved to La Porte, she married a man named Peter Gunness. How did he die?|
Meat cleaver fell on him. Peter and Belle were married on April 1, 1902. Less than a week later, Peter's baby daughter died. In December 1902, Belle claimed that an auger from a sausage grinder fell on the back of Peter's head and killed him. The insurance company paid Belle $3,000. Were they victims four and five? In the spring of 1902, Belle gave birth to Peter's son Phillip.
|How did Belle meet most of her victims?|
Personal advertisement. After Peter's death, Belle put ads in newspapers all around the United States looking for a husband. In the ads she would ask the men to bring cash with them. There are claims that she would get the men comfortable, then poison them and take the money. When asked where all of her suitors went, Belle would claim that an emergency came up and that the men had to leave in the night.
|In what way do many people believe that Belle Gunness and her children may have died?|
In a fire. At about 4 a.m. on April 28, 1908 Belle's farmhouse burned down. Inside were the bodies of a woman and three children. These bodies were believed to be Belle and her children, but could not be proven categorically.
|What was it about the fire at Belle Gunness' farm that made the police suspect foul play?|
A downstairs piano was found on top of the bodies.. If the family was asleep on the second floor of the house, the piano could not have ended up on top of the bodies. Also the fact that the woman's body was headless was another clue. It appeared that the people were murdered and placed in the basement. Then a fire was started to cover the murder up. A former farm hand of Belle's, Ray Lamphere was tried for the fire.
|How were the rest of the bodies at Belle Gunness' farm discovered?|
A man came looking for his missing brother. A man by the name of Asle Helgelein came looking for his brother Andrew on May 2nd, 1908. Andrew was supposed to have moved to La Porte to marry Belle. After hearing of the fire Asle decided to dig through the remains. When he had finished, he found 12 bodies, including his brother. He also found numerous body parts, including over 20 right arms!
|Why was the body found in the fire thought not to be Belle?|
All of these choices (The body found was too small to be Belle, The body's dental work was not melted, Ray Lamphere, Belle's former employee, later admitted to helping Belle escape). Belle was much too large to be the woman found in the fire. She was about 5'9" and weighed about 225 lbs. The woman found in the fire was only 5'3". I mentioned that the head was missing from the body. After a lot of digging a jawbone was discovered. Belle's dentist identified her dental work. The only problem was that the gold in the dental work was not melted. Other pieces of gold in the house were melted or at least damaged. Ray's lawyer actually took a human jawbone with gold in it and baked it. The gold melted away. Also many witnesses testified that they saw the discoverer of the jaw plant it. Also on his deathbed, Ray admitted that he had helped Belle dispose of the bodies and fake her death.
|A local man named Ray Lamphere was charged with the fire and murder. What was Ray convicted of?|
Only the arson charge. On November 26, 1908, the jury found Ray guilty on the arson charge. He was sentenced to 2 to 21 years in the state prison. Because there were questions relating to the identity of the bodies, he was acquitted of murder.
|Who did Ray Lamphere claim the headless woman found in the fire was?|
A woman Belle had just hired to be a housekeeper. On December 30, 1909, Ray gave a detailed confession before he died of tuberculosis. He claims that Belle met the woman at a bar in Chicago and talked her into moving to La Porte. The woman was only alive for a few days before Belle murdered her. The woman was never identified. Ray also claims that he took Belle to the nearby city of Stillwell to catch a train to Chicago.
|What is another theory about what happened to Belle Gunness?|
She was murdered by other accomplices, besides Ray. Some think that the only way that Belle could have gotten away with her crimes for so long was that she had a number of accomplices in high places. Ray admitted that there was one other person involved, but refused to give a name. Perhaps someone else murdered Belle to take her riches.
|One person claimed to know more about the murders committed by Belle Gunness. Who was it?|
Elizabeth "Liz" Smith, a close friend of Belle. Liz promised to tell Wirt Worden, Ray Lamphere's lawyer, everything before she died. Liz was Belle's closest friend and had often visited her. Liz ended up becoming ill and dying while Wirt was on a trip out west. No one ever heard her story.
|Was Belle Gunness ever found, either living or dead?|
N. No one has ever proven that the woman who died in the fire at the Gunness farmhouse was Belle. Many people still believe that Belle had escaped. One of the more popular theories about what happened to Belle Gunness is that in 1931 a woman named Esther Carlson was charged with murder. She had murdered a man named August Lindstrom to steal his money. Esther died in jail before her identity was proven. However, two former La Porte residents, who had moved to California, saw the body of Esther and claimed that she was indeed Belle Gunness. Legend has it that the only possession Esther had with her was an old picture of her children. La Porte could not afford to send a detective out the California to investigate. Did Belle Gunness commit over 40 murders? Did she plot her own death? We may never know for sure, but it's an interesting story. I got most of my information from www.alco.org/libraries/lcpl/belle.html.
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