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.

In Their Own Words: Belle Gunness

Beginning in the summer of 1905, the following ‘lonely hearts’ ad began appearing in Norwegian-language newspapers. Translated into English, it read:

WANTED—A woman who owns a beautifully located and valuable farm in first class condition, wants a good and reliable man as partner in same. Some little cash is required and will be furnished first class security.

Anyone interested in the ad was directed to contact “B.G.” in care of the newspaper.

D.J. Hunter, Belle’s postman at her LaPorte Farm, later said she often received as many as eight to ten letters per day from hopeful love interests, including several of her future victims.

On This Day in Infamy: A Serial Killer Exposed

In the predawn hours of April 28, 1908, a fire broke out in a two-story farmhouse in LaPorte. By the time the blaze was extinguished and the ruins sifted through, a serial killer would be exposed and a mystery posed which still remains unsolved to this day.

Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset Sorenson Gunness, better known as Belle Gunness, had a rather unfortunate past. Not only was the hardy hog farmer twice-widowed, but mysterious fires seemed to plague her properties. She’d lost both a candy store and a house in Chicago before purchasing a 48-acre farm on McClung Road in LaPorte, and it was her house that had erupted in flames that early April morning. When the volunteer fire department responded to the blaze, they expected to find the bodies of Belle and her children—Myrtle, 11, Lucy, 9, and Phillip, 5— but ended up finding more than they had bargained for…much more.

By the time the smoldering farm had given up its secrets, at least 13 bodies had been discovered and no one was even sure if Belle’s cadaver was among them. A subsequent investigation revealed she had been running ‘Lonely Hearts’ ads in newspapers, drawing victims to her with the lure of a prosperous farm and the promise of matrimony. The unlucky suitors who responded to her ads were instructed to bring a large cash deposit when they came to visit, in order to prove their financial solvency and worthiness to assume management of the farm. But, once they set foot on the farm, the men were never seen alive again. Belle ruthlessly robbed and killed her unsuspecting visitors before hacking their bodies to pieces and depositing them in various places around her property. The body of Jennie Olsen, Belle’s foster daughter, was also found. Belle had told everyone the girl had gone to school in California.

Ray Lamphere, Belle’s former handyman and occasional lover, was eventually convicted of arson, but he was never convicted of murder because no one was certain that the body found in the burned-down farmhouse belonged to Belle, or if it was she who had killed the children. For one thing, the corpse in question was quite a bit smaller than Belle had been in life, and there were reported sightings of her long after the fire. On his deathbed, Lamphere allegedly told at least one person that he’d taken Belle to a train station after the fire was set and she was waiting for him, living in disguise as a man, until they could be reunited.

Supposed sightings of Belle continued for years. In 1931, a California woman living under the name of Esther Carlson was accused of poisoning a man for his money. It was thought that the woman might be Belle living under an alias, but she died awaiting trail and before a definitive identification could be made. However, former LaPorte residents viewed the woman’s remains and stated that they did indeed believe the woman to be Belle.

In the end, no one knows how much money Belle made from her lethal scheme, just how many people she killed, or even the true circumstances under which she actually died. The bloody mystery of Belle Gunness, LaPorte’s murderous matron, still remains unsolved today.

A Little Ditty About A Serial Killer

Inspiration strikes in the strangest of places.

Belle Gunness was a lady fair

In Indiana State.

She weighed about three hundred pounds,

And that is quite a weight.

That she was stronger than a man

Her neighbors all did own;

She butchered hogs quite easily,

And did it all alone.

But hogs were just a sideline

She indulged in now and then;

Her favorite occupation

Was a-butchering of men

Anonymous, “The Ballad of Belle Gunness”

In Their Own Words: Belle Gunness

“There is altogether too much cunning and humbug in this land. Honesty, sincerity, and righteousness last the longest. Where they are found to be on both sides everything will be all right.”

– Serial killer Belle Gunness, in an excerpt from a love letter she wrote to Andrew Heiglein. Heiglein was lured to her LaPorte farm under the guise of marriage, then robbed and murdered.