Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Belle Gunness

New Home and Husband

Indiana map showing La Porte
Indiana map showing La Porte

Packing up her three foster children — and the cash tight in her purse strings — Belle moved to La Porte, Indiana. LaPorte was an area heavy with fellow Norsemen that her late husband had known about and where he had been planning to eventually retire. She plopped the insurance money down on a farm up for sale by the county, a former house of ill repute that had fallen into disrepair since its madame, Mattie Altie, passed away at a crisp old age. It was a square house of red brick, two stories high, and set on the edge of an orchard on one side and a shallow swamp and forest on the other. McClung Road, which paralleled it, rolled over mild hill and dale south to La Porte whose church steeples peeked from over the patch of woodland a mile south.

Belle swept out the ghosts of its painted women and aired out their cheap sour perfume that dallied in the narrow hallways and recesses. To the Christian relief of her neighbors who had always hated such a "business" operating so near where their children were playing, Belle Sorenson turned the abode into a comfortable home for her and her happy brood.

Explains de la Torre, "Mattie Altie's showy marquetry parlor floor and its dark walnut furnishings were polished until they shone. Simple ruffled curtains of white were put up to brighten the tall, narrow, tree-darkened windows... (A) handsome front fence was put up by a young hardware clerk, Charles F. Pahrman, (who was puzzled however) by the square of Kokomo link fence that penned hogs in the back on the rise that sloped to the swamp." His customer had ordered that the fence be six feet high and topped by barbed wire, unusual for a hog pen... for what hog could ever jump even half that high?

The house had six bedrooms, a spacious dining room, a long kitchen, and a high-beam cellar. Kerosene lamps throughout kept the place well illumined. Carpenters, like Pahrman, were retained to free the clogged-up drain spouts, straighten the sagging shutters and reinforcing the small barn that stood across a patch of a yard.

Not long after she arrived in La Porte, Belle produced out of nowhere a new husband. He was tall, good-looking, blonde and bearded Peter Gunness, a farmer by trade. He brought with him a baby boy from a previous marriage who, not long after moving with his father, contacted a virus and died. The Gunness family's grief soon mellowed out under the many hours of hard work required to keep the cornfields thriving. Irrigating, planting, sowing, everyone had his or her responsibility. Her children helped where they could, feeding the hogs, cleaning the corncrib, raking. Peter Gunness and Belle became regulars in town on trade day, selling their cattle for meat and trading manure for tools.

Then, one winter eve just before the close of 1900, daughter Jennie, hearing clatter below, rushed from her upstairs room to find her stepfather Peter writhing in pain on the kitchen floor. Standing over him, weeping, was Belle who screamed that the large iron meat grinder had fallen off the shelf onto his head. He died before sunrise.

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