Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lady Bluebeard was Norwegian

Thanks to Thomas MacEntee at Destination: Austin Family for calling this Yahoo News story to my attention: "100-year mystery: did Indiana woman get away with murders?"

Photo: Belle Gunness, date unknown (Laporte County Historical Society). She doesn't look too happy about having her photograph taken, does she?

The Associated Press article begins:

Asle Helgelien didn't believe Belle Gunness' claims that his brother, missing for months after answering the widow's lonely hearts ad, had left her northern Indiana farm for Chicago or maybe their native Norway. Suspicious after a bank said his brother, Andrew, had cashed a $3,000 check — a large sum in 1908 — the South Dakota farmer came to LaPorte and discovered his brother's remains in a pit of household waste. A century later, modern forensic scientists hope to solve once and for all what appears to have been a web of multiple murders, deceit, sex and money orchestrated by a woman dubbed Lady Bluebeard, after the fairy tale character who killed multiple wives and left their bodies in his castle...

Belle Gunness was also thought to have staged her own death 100 years ago to avoid discovery, but for a quarter century afterwards, Gunness sightings were reported all over the country. She is thought to have killed between 25-33 people, mostly for the insurance money gained, and was in the habit of advertising in midwestern Norwegian-language newspapers when she sought a new mate for her diabolical plans. An immigrant who first arrived in Chicago, Gunness apparently had a reputation among Norwegian-American families as a great foster mother. If so, then how can it be explained that the bodies of children were also found on her property? The poor little tykes were probably witness to some things they just shouldn't have seen, and paid the ultimate penalty for it.

She was definitely not your typical Norwegian auntie or foster mother! Gunness will be remembered instead as the sociopathic nordic Lady Bluebeard who advertised for the purpose of murder, and apparently got away with it.


  1. Great post - it starts me to thinking what kind of "scams" our immigrant ancestors were up against when they arrived here? We often think of scams being rather late 20th or early 21st century what with Internet, identity theft, phishing etc.

    But remember how immigrants were told that the streets of America were paved with gold? I wonder how many immigrants felt hoodwinked or fooled and actually returned to their homeland?

    One disappointment for me (I do have some very distant Norwegian blood) would be to realize that I couldn't escape lutefisk in America.

  2. Hey Thomas,

    Better to be chased by lutefisk than by Lady Bluebeard, eh? Thanks for the story...