Voices of the Past would like to bring to you one of the most bizzare unsolved cases of our past.
An active serial killer, between 1884 and 1908, involved at least 14 muders of men who were enticed into a rural home in Indianal, with the promise of marriage. Some believe it is possible that there are as many as 40 murders.
This story is not for the weak stomached individuals!
Belle Gunnes, born Bryhild Paulsdatler Storseth, (Nickname “Hell’s Belle), SUPPOSEDLY died in a house fire in 1908, but popular belief is that she faked her death. She was the youngest of eight children, born November 11, 1859, in Selbu, Norway.
She began working for neighboring farms by milking cows and herding then at age 14 to save money for passage to New York. She moved to the US in 1881. After being processed by immigration at Castle Garden,she changed her name to Belle.
Belle traveled to Chicago to join her sister Nellie who had immigrated several years earlier. Until her first marriage in 1884, she worked as a domestic servant and at a butchers shop cutting up animal carcasses while living with her sister and brother-in-law.
After marrying Mads Sorenson in 1884, Belle and her husband owned a candy store which burned to the ground as well as their home. Both insurance policies were granted payout to the couple.
Insuring two children that lived in their home at the time, the babies died from inflammation of the large intestine, which can result from poisoning. Large insurance checks were granted to Belle and her husband for both children. Having never appeared to be pregnant, rumors circulated by neighbors about the children.
Belle’s husband purchased two life insurance policies. Both were active at the same time. On July 30, 1890, both of these policies were active, only one would expire on that day, while the other would begin. Belle’s husband died that very day of cerebral hemorrhage.
Belle had explained that her husband had come home with a headache. She provided him with quinine powder for the pain. Later she claimed to have checked on him only to find him dead. Belle collected money from both of the insurance policies, being given a total of $5,000, with that money she moved to La Porte, Indiana and bought a pig farm.
A week after marrying Peter Gunness on April 1, 1902, while her husband was out of the house, his infant daughter, left in Belle’s care, died of unknown causes. Peter Gunness died 8 month later due to a skill fracture. Belle explained that her husband had reached for something on a high shelf and a meat griner fell on him, smashing his skull.
After suspecting murder, a district coroner convened a coroner’s jury. Finding nothing, Belle collected $3,000 in insurance money.
Belle placed marriage ads in Chicago newspapers in 1905. Henry Gurholt, a Wisconsin farmhand, answered her ad. After heeeeer traveled to La Porte, Gurhold wroe to his family. He stated he was in good health, he liked the farm, and then requested that they send him seed potatoes. When his family didn’t hear from him after that, they contacted Belle. She told them that he had gone off with some horse traders to Chicagooooo. She kept his trunk and his fur overcoat.
In 1906, a man named Joe Moe also answered Bell’s ad. They had crresponded for several months. He travelled to La Porte and withdrew a large amount of money. MOe was never seen again after that, although a carpenter who occasionally worked for Belle, observed that Moe’s trunk ws still in Belle’s home along with more than a dozen other trunks.
If you are faint of heart or weak stomached, don’t read any further. If your curious, the story gets pretty gory from here.
In April of 1908, when Bell’s farmhouse burned to the ground, her criminal activity finally came to light. Authorities found the bodies of a headless adult women, believed to be Belle, along with her three children.
Eleven additional people were found on the property following further investigation of the ruins.
After this, La Porte police authorities were contacted by Asle Helgelien. Helgelien found correspondence between his brother Andrew Helgelien an Belle. In these letters were petitions for Andrew to relocate to La Porte and bring money. Andrew was told to keep his move a secret.
After Asle Helgelien visited th farm with a former hired hand, attention was paid to “soft depressions” made into a penfor hogs. A gunny sak, that contained two hands, two feet, and one head, Asle believed to be his brother, was discovered, after digging one of these impressions in the lot.
Inspections and further digging of dozens of these “slumped depressions” in Belles’s yard uncovered multiple burlap sack that contained torsos and hands, and arms that had been hacked from the shoulders down. In each of these cases the body had been butchered the same way.
Five bodies were found the first day, an additional six on the second day. Some of thesewere in shallow graves under the hog pen, others were near an outhouse or lake. The police eventually stopped counting the bodies found.
The descriptions of a praise worthy Belle, who died in a fire along with her three children, was reassessed. Most of the remains found at the Belle farm could not be identified even after families were invited to identify, some of the men that had gone missing.
If you found this story intriguing, the story will continue in a late post.
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