Hoosiers are sensitive to other States laying claim to famous people born in Indiana. That always seemed to rook Indiana. Benjamin Harrison was born in Ohio, but made his political fame from Indiana. He was elected to the United States Senate, then served one term as President, sandwiched between the two terms of Grover Cleveland. His grandfather William Henry Harrison's month in office as President still holds the record for brevity and stands as a lesson to all those who would bore the American public with a long inaugural address in a freezing rain. (He died of pneumonia.) "Old Tippecanoe" was born in Virginia, and had a home in Ohio. So Hoosiers' sensitivities in this matter are, perhaps, a bit off.
Belle Gunness was born in 1859 in Norway. Later she came to the United States. By the 1890s she lived in Chicago, where she married. During her marriage, she learned about the windfalls one could gain from the insurance industry---not by investments in stock but by investment via purchase of policies. A confectionery store she and her first husband owned caught fire and burned. They collected insurance proceeds. Two children the couple had died of acute colitis, the symptoms of which are nausea, diarrhea, fever, lower abdominal pain and cramping. The funny (or not so funny) thing is those also are symptoms of various forms of poisoning. The children's lives were insured and the carrier or carriers paid. Her husband died on a day when two policies on his life were said to have overlapped. Sometimes peculiar things happen by mere coincidence. There was some dispute about cause of death. Belle had admitted to administering "pwders" to her husband to help him feel better. The companies paid and Belle did a smart thing---she moved across the line to Indiana and bought a farm near LaPorte. She married Peter Gunness. He died when a sausage grinder fell from a shelf and struck him in the head. She managed to beat a coroner's accusations of murder and collected more insurance money---cha-ching!
Belle began to take out "lonely hearts" ads---today's equivalents are singles dot com or Craig's List---in newspapers whose readership consisted of people of Scandinavian descent. Belle would spark up a romance, entice a man to come live with her on her farm, and insist he bring all his money in cash to begin a life with her. Men disappeared. The last man to accept her invitation had a brother who was insistent about knowing where his brother, who had moved to LaPorte from North Dakota (now there's jumping from the cultural frying pan into the cultural fire) was. The brother advised Belle, by letter, he would travel to LaPorte. The night before his arrival, Gunness's house burned down. The brother arrived as the embers of the fire still burned and a fire crew stood by. The brother saw depressions in the hog lot and asked what those depressions, shaped roughly three feet by five feet, were. Soon the depressions were dug up and human remains were found. A woman's decapitated body was discovered in the ashes of the house. The woman only was estimated to have been 5' 3" tall at most and weigh no more than 150 pounds. Belle stood nearly 6 feet tall and weighed about 200 pounds. The body was buried in Chicago, next to the grave of Gunness's first husband.
Gunness sightings were reported over the ensuing years. In 1931 a woman was arrested in Los Angeles for poisoning a man of Scandinavian extraction to collect the insurance proceeds. She died as she awaited trial.
Andrea Simmons will be our guest on Saturday. She is a lawyer and also has a master's degree in forensic anthropology. (In a blog earlier this week I said she had a master's in history; I was incorrect and for that I apologize.) Andi gave a fascinating lecture several months ago to a gathering of lawyers about efforts, in which she has played a part, in examination of DNA from the body in the supposed grave of Belle Gunness and the grave in Los Angeles. Andi will have some fascinating insights on the case.