Belle Gunness Postcard

Vintage Belle Gunness postcard
A 1908 postcard featuring a collage of images associated with the Gunness investigation

Historians refer to the years 1905 – 1915 as the “Golden Age of Postcards” in America. Advances in printing and photography, as well as the expansion of Rural Free Delivery mail, were just a few of the factors which led to the widespread popularity of postcards during this period.

Back then, cars and telephones were distant dreams for most people, and they relied on the postal service to stay in touch with distant friends and relatives. It was quite common to send “news from home” via postcard – and there was no bigger news story at the time than that of Belle Gunness.

Gunness, born Brynhild Paulsdatter Størset in Norway, was a serial killer whose grisly crimes were revealed after her LaPorte farmhouse was destroyed by fire. A subsequent investigation found four bodies believed to be Belle and her children inside the charred ruins, plus the dismembered remains of at least eleven others buried in the yard and pig pen. It was discovered that the Widow Gunness had been luring lonely men to her farm, robbing, and murdering them for years, all without arousing suspicion. Her luck had recently run out, however, when the brother of one of her victims was able to trace the missing man to her.

Ray Lamphere, Belle’s handyman/side piece, was convicted of arson but claimed he’d acted at the behest of the murderess: burning down the house with her children inside had been her desperate attempt to mislead investigators. Despite the fact her dentist had identified dental work on a jawbone found in the fire as belonging to Belle, Lamphere insisted the remains were that of yet another victim. According to him, Belle had murdered a housekeeper for the express purpose of faking her own death before disappearing into the dark LaPorte night, probably to kill again.

Lamphere died in prison soon after his conviction, but Belle Gunness lived on in the public consciousness. There were sightings of the Lady Bluebeard all over the United States for more than twenty years after her official death.

The full extent of Belle Gunness’s crimes may never be known. She is believed to have killed as few as 14 and as many as 4o people, including both her husbands and the step-children from her first marriage. Some of her victims still remain identified.

This Day in Infamy: The Birth of a Monster

Young Jim with one of his many pets. As he grew older, the animals would mysteriously die
one after another. Jim then presided over each of their funerals, offering prayers
of comfort to his grieving friends.

May 13, 1931 – James Warren Jones was born to James Thurman Jones and Lynetta Putnam in the small community of Crete. By all accounts, little Jim was a strange, lonely child who was obsessed with religion and death. He also showed signs of delinquency, often stealing and cursing at his adult neighbors.

Forty-seven years later, then-Reverend Jim Jones coerced his followers to commit mass suicide/murder in a Guyanese jungle under the guise of political activism. More than 900 people died that day.

This Day in Infamy: The Murder of Terry Lee Chasteen and Her Children

Young mother of three, Terry Lee Chasteen

April 28, 1978 – Divorced mother Terry Lee Chasteen was taking her three small children – Misty (5), Stephen (4), and Mark (2) – to the babysitter when another driver motioned for her to pull over. Terry pulled to the side of I-465, and the man pulled in behind her, explaining something was wrong with one of her rear tires. He offered to look at it for her, and the young mother gratefully accepted.

Tragically for Terry and her children, their supposed Good Samaritan was actually a conniving, violent criminal named Steven Timothy Judy. Once he had access to Terry’s car, Judy disabled it under the guise of fixing the nonexistant problem with her tire. Then, when she was unable to drive away, he convinced her to accept a ride.

Within an hour, Terry and all three children were dead.

After initially proclaiming his innocence, Judy later confessed to raping Terry before strangling her to death in full view of her children. Then the remorseless killer threw each of the kids, one by one, as far as he could into the cold water of White Lick Creek and watched as they drowned.

Steven Timothy Judy was executed in Indiana’s electric chair on March 9, 1981.

Historical Infamy: Dillinger Wanted Poster

Identification Order No. 1217 for John Dillinger issued on March 12, 1934.

Gangster, gang leader, armed robber, depression-era antihero and Indianapolis native John Dillinger became a federal fugitive when he drove a stolen Lake County sheriff’s car across the Indiana-Illinois state line, violating the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act.

This Day in Infamy: Birth of a Serial Killer

April 7, 1947 – On this day in Indiana Infamy, Herbert Richard Baumeister was born in Indianapolis to Herbert E. Baumeister and his wife Elizabeth. Almost 50 years later, he was posthumously identified as a serial killer believed to have been responsible for the deaths of at least a dozen men, some of whom he disposed of on his Westfield property.

In Their Own Words: Lynetta Jones, Mother of Jim Jones

The following is a poem written by Lynetta Jones, an Indiana native and mother of the infamous Reverend Jim Jones:

The Molder

I took a piece of plastic clay,
And idly fashioned it one day,
And as my fingers pressed it still,
It molded – yielding to my will.

I came again when days were past,
The bit of clay was firm at last,
The form I gave it, still it wore,
And I could change that form no more.

A far more precious thing than clay,
I gently shaped from day to day,
And molded with my fumbling art,
A young child’s soft and yielding heart.

I came again when years were gone,
And it was a man I looked upon,
Who such godlike nature bore
The men could change it – NEVERMORE
.

This Day in Infamy: Charles Manson in Juvenile Court

Clipping from the Indianapolis News

March 7, 1949 – Charles Manson, a 14-year-old petty criminal from Indianapolis, learned Juvenile Court Judge Joseph O. Hoffman had granted his request to be transferred to Boys Town in Nebraska. Local priest Reverend George Powers, who helped facilitate the request, referred to the future cult leader and mass murderer as “a very genuine lost little kid.”

This Day in Infamy: The Death of A Serial Killer

March 6, 1994 – Convicted killer and Indiana native Larry William Eyler (41) died of complications related to AIDS in the infirmary of the Pontiac Correctional Center (IL). Two days after his death, Eyler’s defense attorney released a posthumous statement in which Eyler confessed to the murders of at least 21 young men. In the confession, he also alleged Robert David Little (52) of Terre Haute had been his accomplice in some of the killings, and was the sole person responsible for the death of Daniel Bridges. Little, an Indiana State University professor with whom Eyler had lived for seven years, was brought up on charges in connection with one of the murders but later acquitted. He then returned to teaching.

This Day In Infamy: A Mother Wrongly Convicted of Murder

Kristine Bunch, photographed during her incarceration

March 4, 1996 – A Decatur County jury deliberated only three hours before sentencing 22-year-old Kristine “Kristi” Bunch to 60 years in prison for the death of her son Anthony.

Although Prosecutor William O. Smith had not presented evidence of a motive during the trial, Indiana Fire Marshals Bryan Frank and James Skaggs asserted they’d found evidence “the fire was deliberately set, that accelerants had been used to cause the fire, that there were ‘pour patterns’ in the burned-out home where accelerants had been poured, and that the fire had started in two separate locations, one of which was the bedroom in which Anthony was sleeping.”

A report by William Kinard, a forensic chemist with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, had further substantiated those findings.

Ten years later, Bunch filed a petition challenging her conviction. It was then revealed that Kinard had initially disagreed with Skaggs and Frank’s conclusion of arson. However, key portions of the ATF chemist’s report were later deleted or altered in order to coincide with the opinions of the fire marshals.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Bunch’s conviction on March 21, 2012, and all charges were dropped later that year.

By then, she had already lost seventeen years of her life behind bars.

Kristine, who was pregnant at the time of her arrest, is a free woman today and has reconnected with the son she gave birth to in prison.

This Day in Infamy: The Meat Market Murder

1934 article from The Indianapolis Star

February 26, 1934 – The body of Lloyd C. Gleason (40) was found in the basement of his Yorktown meat market by his sister, Pearl Jefferson. The butcher had been shot three times – once in the forehead, once behind the left ear, and once in the back of the head – and had bruises consistent with a beating. Additionally, his lower left leg and shoe had been severely burned. “A long-barrel .22 caliber pistol” was found nearby.

The victim’s son, James “Marvin” Gleason (21), was taken into custody the next day. Marvin admitted to ownership of the gun but initially denied having anything to do with his father’s death, despite saying the older man had been an abusive alcoholic and adulterer who had caused the family hardship. Marvin’s story changed a few hours later, however, when police found his bloodstained clothing.

This time, Marvin claimed he’d been in an altercation with his father over a bottle of whiskey, and the fight had culminated in the shooting. He also admitted to trying to dispose of his father in the furnace, but he’d had to abandon that part of his plan when he couldn’t lift the corpse high enough to clear the furnace door.

After Marvin confessed, his mother told reporters her son had previously been to a psychiatric clinic in Detroit. Dora Gleason also claimed a physician there had recommended committing Marvin to a sanitarium to cure his dementia praecox, a generic term used for schizophrenia at the time, but the family lacked the funds to do so. The young man, who had been awarded but did not accept a Rector Scholarship at Depauw University, stayed instead at his grandparents’ home after graduation.

Within days of Dora’s statement to the press, Marvin gave another confession, this time implicating his mother as an accessory. He claimed that he and his mother had “reached an understanding” that he would kill his father, and she’d given him the idea of cremating the body in the furnace. On March 5th, one week to the day after the death of her husband, Dora was arrested . A grand jury later failed to indict her though, and charges against her were dismissed.

The following May, Judge L. A. Guthrie ruled Marvin Gleason “mentally incapable of standing trial” and confined him to the hospital for the criminally insane at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, where he would remain for almost six years. After his release, he changed his name and went to stay with his mother, who had remarried.