Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Belle Gunness


The trial was definitely leaning in the direction of the defense. Ralph Smith, though, was not totally unarmed against the expectedly clever counsel antagonist. As the first week of the trial drew to a close, he produced a chilling surprise. According to him, backed by Mrs. Gunness' dentist, Ira P. Norton, they had in their possession the widow's teeth — not merely her dentures, but her real teeth that had been rooted in her jaw. Allegedly, these prizes were discovered in the gutted farmhouse. The dentist had at one time given these teeth gold crowns and recognized his own handiwork.

Smith: Could they have been pulled, Dr. Norton?

Dr. Norton: No, sir, not even a dentist could have pulled the natural teeth from Mrs. Gunness' jaw still attached to the crowns, as these are.

What Dr. Norton professed, therefore, was that if those were Mrs. Gunness' teeth, the only way they could have been loosened was by her death in extreme heat, a fire.

During the testimony, Ray Lamphere was seen staring at the grotesque set of teeth lying mute on the evidence table. Between the hideous objects, the stifling heat of the courtroom and a hint of the case turning smack against him, he seemed to be drawing a pale shade of green. His attorney Worden, must have spotted him, too, for he suddenly leaned over to toss him a glance of reassurance.

Despite the week ending on somewhat of a positive note for the prosecution, everyone agreed...the week belonged to Worden, to the defense, to Lamphere. There were many who pointed out that gold crowns on one's tooth were not a rare thing.... and in the guts of the farmhouse, and all around it, there were other bones and other teeth found everywhere. Who was to say that the tooth definitely belonged to Belle.

The jury remained quiet on decision, as indeed they should have at this stage of the game, but the citizens of La Porte were charged. The weekend brought more gossip in and about town — at the kitchen tables, in the markets, at the park, in the schools, before and after church services, and at the bars. Citizens replayed the highlights of the trial and bantered, bantered, bantered. Pre-assumptions hadn't really changed. Those who wanted Lamphere to hang were even more adamant now. And those who saw him innocent would equally argue their cause to death.

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