Our 3rd Murderess, Belle Gunness

Belle Gunness was born Brynhild Paulsdatter Strseth on November 22, 1859 in Selbu, Norway. She immigrated to America in 1881, and in 1884 she married Mads Albert Sorenson. Soon after, their store and home burned down. The couple claimed the insurance money just before Mads died of heart failure...On the one day his two life insurance policies overlapped! Belle then married Peter Gunness, who also died, and for whom she also collected insurance money. Belle bought a large farm. She then began meeting wealthy men through a lovelorn column in the newspaper. These men would come to her, money in hand and never be heard from again.

In 1908 her farmhouse burnt to the ground. In the smoldering ruins workmen discovered four skeletons. Three were identified as her foster children. The fourth, believed to be Belle, was missing its skull and unable to be identified. After the fire, the remains of nearly 40 men were were unearthed from their shallow graves around the farm. Belle's hired hand was arrested for murder and arson in May of 1908. He was found guilty of arson, but cleared of the murders. He died in prison, but not before he claimed that Belle had planned the arson as a means of disappearing, and skipped town after withdrawing most of her money from her bank accounts. She was never tracked down and her death has never been confirmed.

Belle was, for several decades, allegedly seen or sighted in cities and towns throughout the United States. Friends, acquaintances, and amateur detectives apparently spotted her on the streets of Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. As late as 1931, Belle was reported alive and living in a Mississippi town, where she supposedly owned a great deal of property and was well respected. Belle became part of American criminal folklore, a female Bluebeard.

The headless adult female corpse was never positively identified, and Belle's true fate is unknown. The body believed to be hers was buried next to her first husband at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois. In 1931, a woman known as "Esther Carlson" was arrested in Los Angeles for poisoning a man for money. Two people who had known Belle claimed to recognize her from photographs, but the identification was never proved. Carlson died while awaiting trial.

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