The most prolific killer in Northwest Indiana was Belle Gunness.
Gunness was born Nov. 11, 1859, the youngest of eight children who lived on a farm with her family southeast of Trondheim, a large city in Norway. The family was poor, so Belle was an indentured servant for three years to earn her passage to the U.S. in 1881.
Gunness married Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson in Chicago in 1884. The Sorensons opened a candy store, but the business floundered and within a year the shop went up in flames. Some historians reported that there were four children living in the home who died as infants. Then on July 30, 1900 Gunness’s husband died on the only day on which his two life insurance policies overlapped.
She used the insurance money from her husband’s death to purchase a farm in LaPorte.
Her boat and carriage houses on the property in LaPorte burned to the ground as soon as Belle took possession. She married a recent widower, Peter Gunness, in LaPorte the following year and soon after Peter’s infant daughter died. Her second husband died in a tragic accident involving scalding and being hit in the head with a sausage grinder.
In 1903, Belle had a son, Philip, and she killed a foster daughter, Jennie Olsen, sometime during the three years after Philip was born. Jennie’s body was found in 2008, buried on the Gunness farm.
Gunness had begun inserting matrimonial ads in newspapers around the Midwest, and respondents came to LaPorte trying to win her hand. She lured dozens of men with money to come to court her in LaPorte.
During 1906-1908, the Gunness farm was a killing field. In May 1908, after Gunness faked her own death and fled into the woods, her hog pen was dug up. Two small children’s bodies were found, as well as the body of Andrew Helgelien, whose brother was making inquiries about his whereabouts. The bodies discovered in the hog pen included widowers, married men, aspiring handymen, most of Scandinavian descent.
A former handyman said she murdered 42 men before she left and had accumulated a huge fortune, more than $250,000 that she took with her.