Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Belle Gunness

Lady Bluebeard

Men dig in the cellar of the Gunness home
Men dig in the cellar of the Gunness

Asle introduced himself to Joe Maxson and Daniel Hutson and offered to help them dig. As he explained later, he "had a hunch." He asked farmhand Maxson if Belle had dug any holes on her property — perhaps for trash or cinders — since January, the time his brother had been there. "As a matter of fact, yes," Maxson replied. "There was a large garbage pit behind the house near the hog pen where she had been throwing old boots, ham bones, coffee tins, things like that. She had me cover it over around March. Why?"

Without reply, Asle picked up a shovel and began to dig where Maxson had pointed. On cue, the two others followed, unearthing clumps of earth at a time. Near the top they uncovered boots, pieces of crate, trash of a general variety. But, then, according to Lillian de la Torre, author of The Truth About Belle Gunness, "an unnatural smell began to assail their nostrils...In a little while the spades struck something covered over with some old oilcloth and a gunny sack. The stench was stronger. The diggers lifted off the covering, and saw a human arm.... (They) lifted from the earth, vivid and rotten, the remains of what had once been a man. Asle looked at the pulpy sightless eyes and fixed mirthless grin of a face he knew. 'That's my brother!'"

Andrew Hegelein's body was in pieces — arms, legs, head, packed hastily in a series of flour and produce sacks. The sheriff was summoned and the digging continued. Before the day was out, they had disinterred four more bodies — two males and two females — packaged in the same manner as the big Swede. Of the women, one was obviously Jennie, the foster daughter who hadn't gone to California after all. Though badly decomposed, her facial features were recognizable; as well, her long blonde hair that flowed so prettily in the Indiana sun still clung to what was left of her skull.

It is a conjecture of the La Porte County Historical Museum that, "Jennie got suspicious because (her stepmother's) suitors always left the farm during the night."

La Porte shrieked with dismay, and in terror. Belle Gunness, lonely Belle Gunness who everyone felt sorry for — she was a Lady Bluebeard with the greed of Mammon and the heart of Satan. Try as he may, Sheriff Smutzer could no longer conceal the truth from the world, and serene La Porte turned into a media circus overnight. Eastbound trains and westbound trains and special flyers chugged into the depot hourly depositing reporters from as near as Terre Haute, Indiana, and as far away as Seattle. They converged on the largest hotel in town, the Teegarden, and quartered its terraced dinette as a virtual newsroom. Between it and the Gunness farm buggies — full of notebook — scratching snoops and busy-fingered photographers rambled night and day. Well into the morning the clitter-clack-clatter-click of their wireless machines clapped out the dirge of Belle Gunness, black widow, who (for dramatic effect) might still be alive!

They intercepted the residents of the town for whatever information they could get about the woman of the hour. Many knew her and expressed their shock. Many replied that, now they think about it, yes, she did act awfully suspicious. And as for those bodies found on her premises... wait, there will be more to be turned up.

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