Click photo for larger image
Belle and her children
Lucy, Myrtle and Phillip
Digging in Belle's basement
after the fire
The following two photos are rather gruesome.
Viewers use discretion.
Body of last victim
Decomposing head of
poisoned by Belle
Belle Gunness display at the museum.
Shed siding in background is from the original building on Gunness property, carved with names and dates of the thousands of curious onlookers who viewed the excavation of bodies.
Woman in photo is a Helgelein descendant.
In 2008, on the 100th anniversary of the Gunness case, several lectures were presented at the museum, as well as a memorial service for the victims. Markers were placed on their graves. Click here to see photos from the events.
Belle Gunness was born in Selbu, Norway in 1858, and emigrated to the United States about 1886. She married Mads Sorenson in 1893. They owned a Chicago store that only turned a profit after it burned and they collected the insurance. In 1900 Sorenson died of convulsions and Belle received about $8,000 from his life insurance.
By 1902 Belle was in La Porte. On April Fool's Day of that year she married Peter Gunness. They worked a farm on McClung Road. Peter died after a coffee grinder fell from a shelf and hit him on the head. The insurance company reluctantly paid on his policy. Belle began advertising in Norwegian language newspapers, "Widow, with mortgaged farm, seeks marriage. Triflers need not apply."
Apparently many answered her letters. Belle would introduce them as relatives. Belle's pretty, 18 year old niece, Jenny Olson, got suspicious because the suitors always left the farm during the night. Soon Jenny was away at school in California, according to Belle.
Andrew Helgelein was the last to answer one of Belle's advertisements. She urged him to sell all he had, and then bring the cash to La Porte. For good measure she included a four leaf clover in her letter. He arrived with $3,000 in 1908.
The lack of letters from Andrew prompted his brother, Asa, to write to Belle and inquire about the suitor's whereabouts. Belle's answers were insufficient and Asa came to La Porte. He was too late.
On the morning of April 28, 1908 the Gunness farmhouse burned. In the ashes were found the bodies of the Gunness children, and the headless body of a woman of a smaller stature than Belle's substantial size. Dental work, purported to be that of Belle, was found as well. When Asa arrived several days later he prompted the sheriff to investigate further. It was then that the full horror of the events at the Gunness farm began to emerge.
The body of Andrew Helgelein was the first to be uncovered in a shallow grave in the garden. Jenny Olson was discovered nearby. At least 12 other bodies were recovered, and some estimated that Belle had buried 40 men on the farm. Curious crowds, numbering in the thousands, visited the scene of the crime.
Ray Lamphere, Belle's hired hand, was eventually charged with murder and arson. He was convicted only on the later charge. Before dying in prison, he maintained that Belle had escaped. For years afterwards there were numerous sightings of the murderess across the country, but none were confirmed.
(Adapted from "La Porte -- Now & Then, 1982 - 1832")
Package of 58 copies of pages of transcriptions of Coroner's Inquisitions -- victims recovered at Belle Gunness farm, prepared by Andrea Simmons. Includes inquisitions of 5 un-
identified persons, Phillip Alexander Gunness, Lucy Bergiat Sorenson, possibly Henry Gurholt, John O. Moe and Ole O. Budsberg. Request package by sending a check or money order in the amount of $12.00 (includes postage and handling) to La Porte County Historical Society, Inc., 2405 Indiana Avenue, Ste. 1, La Porte, IN 46350