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.
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.
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.
In 1982, 19-year-old William Joseph “Billy” Lewis attended a funeral in Texas then left to return to his home in Peru, Indiana, hitchhiking his way across the US.
He was never seen alive again.
In the many years to come, both of his parents would die without ever knowing what had happened to their son. But thanks to advances in forensic science and a determined Jasper County coroner, Billy Lewis has finally come home.
In October 1983, a fox hunter stumbled upon human remains in a rural Jasper County field. Despite collecting clothing and other evidence from the scene, including a distinctive Zippo lighter engraved with the name “Arlene,” police were unable to match the John Doe with any missing person report. No one stepped forward to claim the body. Eventually, Officer Paul Ricker, who was the first officer on the scene when the unidentified remains were discovered, and other first responders crowdfunded a gravestone for “John Doe” at the Sayler Makeever Cemetery.
The first break in the case came in 1994 when, two days after murderer Larry Eyler died in prison, his attorney Kathleen Zellner announced that he had confessed to killing more than 20 men in the late 70’s and early 80’s, including “Jasper County John Doe.” According to the serial killer, he’d picked up the victim on November 20, 1982, as the young man was hitchhiking alone on US 41 near Vincennes. After he got the man selected at random into his vehicle, Eyler gave him beer and Placidyl, a powerful sedative, and then began driving north. Once they reached Jasper County,the hitchhiker was reportedly “semiconscious” and unable to defend himself. Eyler stabbed the victim to death before burying him in a shallow grave.
Despite Eyler’s confession, he claimed not to know the name of the victim referred to as “Jasper County John Doe.” Although DNA was first used in a criminal case in 1986, it still was not widely in use at the time and, without any other leads, the case went cold.
It would remain that way until this past January, when Jasper County Coroner Andrew Boersma hired a geneological forensics company, Redgrave Research Forensic Services, to help identify the Eyler victim. Researchers were able to link DNA taken from “John Doe” to Lewis’s extended family through a geneology website, and it eventually led them to his siblings. Almost 40 years after his death, Billy Lewis reclaimed his identity.
Now that he has finally been found, Billy’s surviving family members plan on giving him a funeral then reinterring him next to his father.
Few things in life are less reassuring than when local police announce seemingly apropos of nothing that, despite what you may have heard, there is not a serial killer preying on your community.
Many Indianapolis citizens were startled a few weeks ago when IMPD issued just such a statement in regard to a rumor making the rounds on local Facebook groups and chat boards at the time. According to a since-deleted post, a Twitter user stated an active serial killer has been targeting women and teenagers, claiming at least a dozen victims before dumping their bodies in wooded areas just south of I-465. The Twitter post then moved over to Facebook, where it was shared hundreds of times. However, authorities say the rumor is false and there is no evidence to support the allegations. “Detectives continue to investigate criminal cases looking at every reasonable motive,” asserted Officer Genae Cook.
As of last month, Indianapolis Metro Police had in excess of 5000 untested rape kits on their shelves, and more than 200 criminal homicides have occurred in their jurisdiction over the last year alone.
Authorities have released an updated sketch of the I-70 Killer, age-progressed to show the perpetrator as he might appear today, nearly thirty years after his crimes. The elusive spree killer preyed primarily on store clerks working alone in shops off the I-70 corridor during the spring of 1992. Beginning with the murder of Robin Fuldauer, a 26-year-old Payless ShoeSource manager in Indianapolis, he is confirmed to have killed six people in three states, but police believe he also may be connected to other crimes.
Based on eyewitness descriptions taken at the time of the murders, he is described as a thin, white male with sandy blond or reddish hair which could have since turned gray. He possibly had ties to Indiana or a job that required him to travel along Interstate 70 in the late ’80s/early ’90s. Additionally, he might have had ties to Texas. If still alive, he’d be somewhere in his fifties to early seventies.
1996: Herb Baumeister Eats His Last Peanut Butter Sandwich
July 3, 1996 – Suspected serial killer Herb Baumeister kills himself with a single gunshot to the head rather than answer questions regarding human remains on his Westfield estate. In his suicide note, the founder of Sav-A-Lot thrift stores states his intention to eat his favorite snack, a peanut butter sandwich, and then “go to sleep.”
The remains of eleven men were found on his property, only eight of whom were eventually identified.
He is also suspected of being the I-70 Strangler, killing at least nine and dumping their bodies along the interstate between Indianapolis and Ohio.
“I’m very aware of what’s happening. I know that Mr. Agan isn’t. And I told him to make his peace with God… And, after waiting those few minutes, then Dave said, ‘Oh, kill the motherfucker.’ I then stabbed Mr. Agan and Dave took another snapshot. I stabbed Mr. Agan, then I stabbed Mr. Agan a couple or three times. I don’t know how many times. I just did them very quickly. And then Dave came over and then he took the knife from me and he stabbed Mr. Agan while he masturbated. And after he stabbed Mr. Agan a few times, then Mr. Agan went limp.”
– Larry Eyler, in a confession he gave to the court while pleading guilty to Steven Agan’s murder*
*Eyler’s alleged co-conspirator was found not guilty
Claim to Infamy: Brown murdered Evansville resident Ginger Gasaway when she broke up with him and demanded the return of her car. After killing her, he dismembered her body with a reciprocating saw and discarded it in pieces around Posey, Gibson, and Warrick counties. While serving his life sentence for Gasaway’s murder, Brown confessed to killing thirteen others. Although some of the details he provided were able to be corroborated, no additional bodies were found to verify his claims. In 2011, he strangled another inmate to death at Miami Correctional Facility at Bunker Hill.
Indiana Connection: A native of Cynthiana, Brown was no stranger to Indiana law enforcement long before he murdered Ginger Gasaway. In 1977, he kidnapped, robbed, and assaulted a friend in Owensville. He had served 18 years of a life sentence for that crime when he was released to kill again.
Current Status: Serving life without the possibility of parole at the Westville Control Unit
Random Disturbing Fact: When the saw blade he was using to dismember Gasaway’s body broke, Brown walked into Home Depot splattered with blood and gore and calmly demanded an exchange. It was given to him, no questions asked.