Standing six feet tall and weighing in at 200 pounds, Belle Gunness was quite the imposing figure, especially for a woman living in the late 1800s. But it wasn't her size that made Gunness so intimidating — it was the strange ability she had to make all those around her disappear.
Belle Gunness killed between 24 and 40 people over the course of her life. These victims included husbands, suitors, and nearly all of her children. Even more frightening is the fact that she was never punished for her crimes.
Belle Gunness was born Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth in 1859 in Selbu, Norway.
One legend states that she attended a local dance while pregnant, where a man beat her in the stomach and caused her to miscarry.
Belle traveled to Chicago, where she married a man named Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson.
The couple are believed to have had four children, two of whom died in infancy. Sorenson himself died in 1900. Suspiciously, this all happened when multiple life insurance policies overlapped. Gunness requested the insurance money the day after Sorenson's funeral.
In 1902, Belle married a man named Peter Gunness. After just a week into their marriage, Gunness' infant died of unknown causes. A few months later, her husband passed away. Belle told investigators that a sausage-grinding machine had fallen on his head.
Belle made people believe that her adopted daughter, Jennie, was sent away to boarding school. Her body was found on the woman's property years later. A family member took in Peter Gunness' other daughter, Swanhild, who became the only child to survive living with Belle.
After Peter's death, Belle sought suitors by posting ads in local newspapers. Each suitor who visited her promptly met his doom. Only one man, George Anderson, managed to escape.
The corpse of Henry Gurholdt (pictured above) was found in the murderous woman's hog pit.
Belle hired a man named Ray Lamphere to do chores around the house. Lamphere later professed his love for Belle. At first, she saw this as a liability...but she then she saw an opportunity.
In 1908, the Gunness property was torched. The bodies of all of Belle's children were found in the wreckage. A beheaded female body was found as well, and although it appeared to be Belle's, it was too mutilated for authorities to be sure.
Lamphere denied accusations of arson, not knowing that Belle had already told her lawyer that he had once threatened to burn her property.
The headless body was not Belle's, and when the bodies of all of her suitors were found on the property, Lamphere admitted to burying them. He cleared his name and convinced police that he had nothing to do with the murders, but the real perpetrator was already long gone.
For decades, Belle Gunness was rumored to have been spotted in several cities across America, including Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, but she was never caught. There are several cemeteries that claim to host the body of one of America's most notorious murderers, but so far, DNA tests have yet to prove any of them right.