Brynhild Paulsdatter Strseth, also known as Belle Sorenson Gunness, was a Norwegian-American serial killer. Belle, a tall, well-built woman who weighed over 90 kg and was six feet tall, emigrated to the US in 1881. Many of the subsequent murders and disappearances of those connected to her netted her insurance money. She is suspected of having murdered her two daughters, Myrtle and Lucy, as well as both of her husbands. To attract wealthy guys, she placed advertisements in newspaper matrimonial sections. The potential suitors showed up at her farmhouse, but then they inexplicably vanished and were never seen again. The majority of her suitors were assassinated by this vicious killer, who may have done so to seize the money and other things they were carrying before having them executed and buried in her farmhouse. George Anderson was the lone exception since he was able to get away from her. Asle Helgelien, the victim’s brother, grew suspicious of his absence, and in April 1908, Belle’s farmhouse mysteriously caught fire. After some time, the authorities discovered the corpses of several men and children there, but Belle had long since vanished. She reportedly killed between 25 and 40 individuals.
Early Childhood & Life
Despite varying information, many sources list her birthdate as November 11, 1859. She was the eighth child of Paul Pedersen Strseth, a stonemason, and Berit Olsdatter when she was born in Selbu, Sr-Trndelag, Norway.
According to an Irish television documentary by Anne Berit Vestby that aired on September 4, 2006, Belle’s demeanor altered noticeably when she had a miscarriage in 1877 as a result of a guy attacking her and kicking her tummy while she was at a country dance. But when the affluent guy passed away soon after, presumably from stomach cancer, the Norwegian authorities chose not to press charges.
Her American Crime Story
She moved to America in 1881 and started working as a servant there.
In Chicago, Illinois, she wed Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson in 1884. The couple owned a candy shop, which was destroyed by fire a year after it opened unsuccessfully, prompting the two to collect insurance money in order to buy another home.
Axel, Caroline, Lucy, and Myrtle were their four offspring; however, many experts believe the couple had no children. The former two, whose purported lives were insured, supposedly died of acute colitis infants and received reimbursement from the insurance firm.
On July 30, 1900, two Sorenson life insurance policies apparently crossed paths; ironically, he passed away on that day. Despite the fact that the family doctor cited heart failure as the reason for death, no autopsy was performed despite the initial doctor who evaluated him suggesting strychnine poisoning as the cause of death.
After Sorenson passed away, Belle received $8,500 from the insurance firms. Although Sorenson’s family claimed she poisoned him to collect insurance money and records show an investigation was also ordered, it is still unknown whether the investigation was carried out or whether his body was disinterred for examination.
On April 1, 1902, she wed widower Peter Gunness, who was of Norwegian descent. Peter’s infant daughter, who was at that time living alone in the house with Belle, passed away a week later for an undetermined reason. Peter passed away that year in December. Peter accidentally burned himself with brine, according to Belle, who also said that a piece of a sausage-grinding machine landed on his head and killed him.
Swanhild, Peter’s older daughter, was transported to Wisconsin by his brother Gust, demonstrating that she was the only child to survive after living with Belle. Although an investigation into Peter’s death was launched, Belle was able to maintain her innocence. Peter’s passing caused Belle to obtain another life insurance payout. Phillip, her son, was born in May 1903.
She had a daughter by adoption named Jennie Olsen, whose body was later discovered on her property.
In 1907, she employed Ray Lamphere as a solitary farm worker.
She placed advertisements in the marriage columns of numerous daily newspapers in Chicago and other major midwestern towns in an effort to entice and victimize wealthy men. Rich middle-aged males replied in large numbers.
Several suitors then showed around in 1907, but only George Anderson was able to leave her farmstead.
She seldom ventured outside of her home and always kept the shutters closed. She would dig the hog pen with a shovel when farmers drove by her house at night.
Lamphere, who over time joined Belle’s side, eventually fell for her and started to harbor jealousy towards her suitors. On February 3, 1908, problems began to arise, and Belle fired Lamphere as a result.
Things changed for Belle when, on the one hand, Lamphere began to cause her problems and, on the other, Asle Helgelien, the brother of one of her victims, Andrew Helgelien, started to become suspicious of the man’s disappearance and wanted to look into it. She previously ordered Lamphere’s arrest for trespassing as well.
Inventing a plan for her own arson, Belle foresaw trouble in the air. She told M.E. Leliter, a lawyer she met in La Porte, that Lamphere had threatened to kill her and burn down her home, and she was concerned for both her and her children’s safety. She did not, however, denounce Lamphere to the police. She left her whole estate to her children in a will she made through Leliter.
Joe Maxson, who took over Lamphere’s duties in Belle’s farmhouse on April 28, 1908, awoke early that morning to see the building ablaze. After failing to get a response to his attempts to summon Belle and her kids, he leaped from the window of his second-floor room and ran for assistance. The house was completely destroyed by the time assistance arrived.
The bodies of Belle’s children were discovered in their beds, and a woman’s headless body was also discovered. It grew more challenging to recognize it as Belle’s physique. Murder and arson charges against Lamphere led to his arrest. On November 26, 1908, he was adjudicated guilty of arson and given a 20-year prison term. Lamphere passed away on December 30, 1909, from TB.
The decapitated body was investigated by many people who knew Belle, including her nearby farmers C. Christofferson and L. Nicholson, as well as her acquaintances Mrs. Austin Cutler and Mr. Sigward Olsen, who all denied it was Belle’s. Authorities’ other investigations suggested the same thing.
Coroner Charles Mack came to the formal conclusion that Belle’s decapitated body belonged to her on May 19, 1908, when her dentist, Dr. Ira P. Norton, recognized certain teeth and bridgework among the wreckage as having been completed for Belle.
Joe Maxson and another man later testified that they saw Louis “Klondike” Schultz, who had been sent in by the authorities to build a sluice and sort the farmhouse debris, take the bridgework out of his pocket and place it in the wreckage before it was later discovered.
Many bodies were removed from her farmhouse, including those of Jennie Olson, Andrew Helgelien, John Moe, and Henry Gurholdt.
Rev. E. A. Schell recounted a confession made by Lamphere on his deathbed on January 14, 1910. Lamphere described to Schell how his employer tortured and killed her suitors before dissecting and burying their bodies in the hog pen. He claimed that occasionally, rather than burying the corpses, she would feed their dissected remains to the hogs.
Belle allegedly created the plan for the arson. A few days prior to the incident, she employed a Chicagoan. She murdered the woman, severed the woman’s head from her body, clothed it in her clothes, placed her own fake teeth next to the headless corpse so that it could be recognized as her own, and then dumped the body into the ocean. She then burned down the house after killing her kids.
Lamphere acknowledged that he played a part in the scheme, but Belle ultimately deceived him as well by vanishing in the woods without ever seeing him. According to some stories, he traveled with her up till Stillwell, where she boarded a train for Chicago.
Many claimed to have seen Belle during the following few decades in various locations all throughout the US. She may have acquired substantial land in a Mississippi hamlet where she was living the life of a doyenne, according to reports from 1931. As a result, Belle’s actual fate remained a mystery and the decapitated body was never positively recognized.
Estimated net worth
The estimated net worth of Belle Gunness is unknown.