ByJancy Richardson, writer at
To avoid fainting, keep repeating 'It's only a movie...It's only a movie...'
Jancy Richardson

In 1908, a historic serial killer was discovered and a legend born: Belle Gunness, the avaricious black widow of La Porte, Indiana became known as one of the most prolific serial killers - female or male - that America has ever seen.

She's been the subject of documentaries and movies, but there's so much we don't know about 'Hell's Belle.' Read on to discover more about this fearsome female serial killer...

Belle Gunness was born in Norway

A young Belle Gunness
A young Belle Gunness

Belle, whose birth name was actually Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth, moved to the US in 1881. Rumor has it that a man kicked her in the stomach at a country dance in her hometown of Innbygda when she was pregnant, causing a miscarriage. The man died shortly after the attack and was possibly her first victim.


The Husbands

In America, Belle married Mads Sorenson. He dropped dead out of the blue and when the doctor wanted to perform an autopsy Belle reportedly screamed and wailed enough to put him off it. Belle netted over $250,000 in equivalent modern money from her first husband's life insurance, using it to buy her farm in La Porte, Indiana.

Her next husband was Peter Gunness, whom she married in 1902. That same year, Peter died from a fatal blow to the head - which Belle claimed was caused by a sausage-grinding machine falling off a shelf...


The Children

Belle with her children Philip, Myrtle and Lucy
Belle with her children Philip, Myrtle and Lucy

Belle was not above murdering her own children, whether for insurance money or mere convenience. Little Caroline and Axel died in infancy of 'colitis' - the symptoms of which bear a striking similarity to strychnine poisoning.

Her other three children Philip, Myrtle and Lucy, as well as her foster daughter Jennie Olsen, all perished at the hog farm in La Porte.


The Suitors

Andrew Helgelien, killed by Belle Gunness
Andrew Helgelien, killed by Belle Gunness

Belle advertised for suitors in the Chicago papers, requesting financially solvent bachelors pay her a visit at her farm. Only one of her visiting suitors made it out alive.

Minnesotan John Moe, Henry Gurholdt, Ole B. Budsberg, Andrew Helgelien and many other men left their homes to wed Gunness and were never seen again.

Belle was reportedly a 6-foot woman weighing well over 200 pounds, giving her the physical strength to overpower grown men and carry their bodies to a suitable hiding place.



Ray Lamphere, Belle's farmhand and jilted lover, began to spread gossip around the La Porte area, endangering Gunness' murderous livelihood. She visited a lawyer to write a will, telling him,

I’m afraid that fool Lamphere is going to kill me and burn my house.

Later that day on April 28, 1908, her hog farm was set ablaze. Four burned bodies were discovered in the wreckage - Belle's three children and a headless female corpse. Did Lamphere kill Belle and her family - or did she fake her own death and escape?


The grisly secrets of the hog pen

Further remains were discovered by police in her pig pen, her favored spot to dispose of bodies. She had many methods of destroying or hiding a corpse, dissolving them in quicklime after a dip in the hog-scalding vat or even chopping up the carcass to feed to her pigs at night...

Gunness is suspected of any where between 40 and 200 murders.


The mystery of Belle Gunness remains...

Forensic scientists exhume old La Porte graves
Forensic scientists exhume old La Porte graves

Although a skeleton found at the hog pen could have been Gunness', authorities were never certain her body was found. Forensic teams in 2007 even dug up graves at the site, examining bones with modern DNA testing - sadly, the results were still inconclusive.

Given her skill at deception, it seems likely that Belle Gunness escaped the farm in La Porte, never to be seen again...


'Hell's Belle' has now reached folkloric status

There are many songs about Belle Gunness, portraying her as a mysterious historical villain - such as Bluebeard or Jack the Ripper - about whom the real truth may never be revealed...


Do you think that Belle Gunness died in La Porte or escaped to live out her murderous life elsewhere?

Sources: Murderpedia, Wikipedia, NY Daily News, Belladonna

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