Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Belle Gunness

Mrs. Sorenson

Born as Bella Poulsdatter (Paul's daughter) in 1859 in Trondhjeim, Norway, her father was a somewhat successful stonemason whose son, Bella's brother, followed his profession. Sister Anna left for America when Bella was yet quite young and had married a man named John Larson in Chicago. Knowing that her younger sibling was unhappy in a life that was going nowhere, Anna sent for Bella, who joyously sailed to the new world at the age of 24 in 1883. Eventually making her way to the Midwest, she boarded with the Larsons until she could make it on her own. They lived in a highly Nordic community that faithfully clung to each other for comfort in a strange land.

Belle as Mads Sorenson's bride
Belle as Mads Sorenson's

She wasn't in Chicago long when she met department store guard Mads Sorenson, a hard-working conservative who was eager to start a family in the states. Attempts at conceiving a child came to nothing, so Mads and Bella (who Americanized her name to Belle) were in a financial position to adopt children in the neighborhood from parents who could not afford them. Over the next 16 years, the Sorensons fostered three girls, Jennie, Myrtle and Lucy.

Domestic life was happy and troubles were few. Oddly, the family troubles with fires — they had to move three times after a fire consumed their houses (and, miraculously, left the residents all untouched). As well, according to the La Porte Historical Society, the Sorensons owned a small store in Chicago "that only turned a profit after it burned and they collected the insurance." On the whole, Chicago neighbors recalled Belle as a good wife to Mads and a doting mother who rarely raised her voice except once in awhile to scold her children with a simple, "Ja, ya' all eats the broosel sprouts or dere iss no tappey-oca pooddings for da dessert."

Tragedy struck in early 1900 when Mads died suddenly of undetermined causes. His only symptom had been chest pains the day of his death. Doctors signed the death certificate, heart attack. What monetary problems Widow Sorenson might have had were eradicated when a pair of life insurance policies on Mads brought in nearly $8,000, a huge sum in those days.

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