(Nashville Republican. May 23, 1908.)
When 38-year-old Belle Gunness placed a personal ad in a Scandinavian
matrimonial magazine, no one could have guessed it would lead to the death of
at least a dozen men—possibly as many as 42.
Comely widow, who owns large farm in one of the
finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance
of gentleman equally well provided for with view of joining fortunes. No
replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with
Belle came to America from Norway when she was seventeen. She married Mads Sorenson (Max in some accounts) in Chicago in 1883 when she was just nineteen. They operated a candy store in Chicago that later burned down. Sorenson’s daughter died a few years after they married. He died shortly after that in 1890 due to complications from an enlarged heart, although one doctor suspected he died from strychnine poisoning. However, an autopsy was never performed, so the allegation faded away.
Belle collected $8,500 on
Sorenson’s life insurance and used the proceeds to buy a 13-acre farm in La Porte,
Indiana, where she lived with her adopted daughter, Jennie Olesen.
Belle was no prize when
she moved to La Porte in 1902. She stood five feet seven, weighed 220 pounds,
and had what one modern writer said were at least a half-dozen chins. ”She had
a big, heavy head, a mop of course hair of a muddy brown, little eyes that just
missed being black, huge hands and arms and legs, and feet, grotesquely small
for the burden they had to support.”