A few weeks later, a reverend came forward with a confession that Lamphere made to him before he died. In his statement, he revealed the details of Gunness’ crimes and swore that she was still alive. He also swore to the reverend as well as a fellow convict, that he had not murdered anyone. However, he had helped Belle bury many of her victims.
When a victim arrived, she made him comfortable, charming him and cooking a large meal. She then drugged his coffee and, when the man was in a stupor, she split his head with a meat chopper. At other times, she would simply wait for the suitor to go to bed and then entered the bedroom by candlelight and chloroformed her sleeping victim.
The powerful 48-year-old woman would then carry the body to the basement, where she most often dissected it, bundled the remains, and then buried them in the hog pen. At other times, she dumped the corpse into a hog-scalding vat and then covered the remains with quicklime. And, worse, according to Lamphere, if she was overly tired, she would chop up the remains and feed them to the hogs.
Lamphere also cleared up the mysterious question of the headless female corpse found in the smoking ruins of Gunness’ home. Belle had lured this woman from Chicago on the pretense of hiring her as a housekeeper only days before she decided to make her permanent escape from La Porte. Gunness, according to Lamphere, had drugged the woman, then bashed in her head. Once dead, she decapitated the body, tied weights to the head, and disposed of it in a swamp. She then dragged the corpse to the basement, dressed it in her own clothing, removed her false teeth, and placed them beside the headless corpse to assure it would be identified as Belle Gunness.
She also chloroformed her children, smothered them to death, and carried them to the basement. She then torched the small brick farmhouse and fled.
Lamphere was to wait for her at a designated place on the road after the fire was set. But, she never showed up, instead, she cut across open fields and disappeared into the woods.
The former handyman also stated that Belle had become a very rich woman. By his count, he said she had murdered 42 men and had taken amounts from them ranging from $1,000 to $32,000. By the time she disappeared he estimated that she had accumulated more than $250,000 through her murder schemes over the years — a huge fortune for those days (about $6.7 million today). The investigators had previously checked her bank accounts and though there was a small amount remaining in one of her savings accounts, the money in all other accounts had been completely withdrawn shortly before the fire, suggesting that the evil woman had created a great hoax and evaded the law.
Over the next several decades, Gunness was allegedly sighted in various cities across the nation. As late as 1931, Gunness was reported alive and living in a Mississippi town, where she supposedly owned a great deal of property and lived her life as a prominent citizen.
Another report in 1931 suggested that she may have been a woman known as “Esther Carlson” who was arrested in Los Angeles, California for poisoning August Lindstrom, a Norwegian-American man, on February 9, 1931, for his money. Two people who had known Gunness claimed to recognize her from photographs that were in her possession but the identification was never proved. Carlson died on May 6, 1931, while awaiting trial.
Of the remains found at the murder site, the bodies of Belle’s three children were identified as well as several of her suitors. The headless adult female corpse was never positively identified.
In the belief that the headless corpse was in fact, Belle Gunness, the remains were buried next to Belle’s first husband, Mads Sorenson, at Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois.
On November 5, 2007, with the permission of descendants of Belle’s sister, the headless body was exhumed from the grave by a team of forensic anthropologists and graduate students from the University of Indianapolis in an effort to learn her true identity. It was initially hoped that a sealed envelope flap on a letter found at the victim’s farm would contain enough DNA to be compared to that of the body. Unfortunately, there was not enough DNA so the mystery remains unsolved.
By Kathy Weiser-Alexander, August 2017.