Category: Serial Killing
Location: Indiana and Illinois, United States
Date: 1900 - 1908
Crime: Known as one of the most prolific female serial killers in U.S. history, is said to have killed more than 40 people, including two husbands and all of her children at various points in her life. She also killed suitors and boyfriends and dissected their bodies like a butcher, while feeding the remains to her pigs. She evaded apprehension by faking her own death by arson and was never found.
Biography: Accounts of Belle Gunness' life are a web of intentional mis-truths, misunderstandings and bad information. She was born on November 11, 1859 as the youngest of eight children, in a small town in Norway. One story tells of an eighteen year old Gunness who attended a country dance while pregnant. That night, she was attacked by a man and kicked in the abdomen, causing her to lose the child. Her attacker came from a prominent local family and was never prosecuted. Accounts of the incident say that from then on, her personality changed markedly. She came to America in 1881 and soon became 'crazy for money' after living her life in poverty. It is said that she killed her first husband in 1900 and collected $8,500 in insurance money. She was never charged, but one of the doctors who treated him felt that he was suffering from Strychnine poisoning. In the years that followed, four of her children died, many of which exhibited symptoms of poisoning. When her second husband died of a 'tragic accident' in December of 1902, suspicions began to swirl around Belle. Shortly thereafter, an adopted daughter, who was fourteen at the time of her father's 'accident', disappeared. Over the years, several more suitors were lured to the family pig farm by answering 'lonely hearts' advertisements she had placed in the local papers. Many of them were never heard from again. Finally, in 1908, the family home burned down under suspicious means. The bodies of Gunness' children were found inside, along with the body of a female who was believed to be Belle Gunness. The case was closed, but to this day, some are not convinced that the female body found in the ruins was that of Belle Gunness. The remains of the female found couldn't have been taller than 5'3', while Gunness was known to be 5'8' tall and weighed over 180 pounds.