Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Belle Gunness

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Over the next several years, the farm prospered, better than Belle's luck with men. Farmhand after farmhand that she hoped would turn into a husband left her dry, often in the middle of harvest, when muscle was especially needed. Time after time, it appeared that perhaps one of them, such as hefty Peter Carlson, was turning into a suitor; some even talked marriage openly — then disappeared in the dead of night.

Nineteen-year-old Emil Greening, son of a neighbor, often came forward to offer his services between Belle's would-be suitors, but of course he had no attraction to the older woman. His interest lay in Jennie, who had developed into a lean, rosy-cheeked blonde of dimples and giggles. But, his interest in the Gunness place waned after Jennie suddenly decided to go to college in San Francisco and left without nary a farewell. Emil was heartbroken.

Then came Ray Lamphere.

Belle had first seen the curly-headed 30-year-old odd-job carpenter about town in the spring of 1907 and, knowing he was looking for work, asked him to hire on as her farmhand. He was glad to have the work, if for nothing else than to support his drinking habit, and took up residence in Belle's spare room on the second floor. According to de la Torre, Lamphere was "not too bright," but was talented with hammer and nail and not afraid of work. It wasn't long after that they were seen together arm in arm about town, he as lean as she was overweight. In the gin mills, which he frequented, Lamphere would boast to his pals that she had seduced him because she thought he was "quite a man," then display the watch she gave him, or the vest, or the beaver hat, or the high-top leather boots.

But, something wayward happened to the affair and as the Christmas season of 1907 rolled about, Belle was suddenly traipsing about La Porte with a new man who, like most of her others, seemed to materialize out of the ether. More stunned than anyone was Lamphere when he learned the couple had paused at Obbereich's Department Store to purchase a wedding ring.

No sooner had the fires of jealousy begun to send Lamphere to the saloons to rant and rave to his comrades about the treacheries of femaledom than this latest of suitors vanished. But, the farmhand's relief was short lived, for shortly thereafter yet another gentleman appeared to have captured Belle's devotions.

Andrew Helgelein
Andrew Helgelein

This time, neighbors said, it looked like true love. Described as "a big Swede," Andrew Helgelein beamed when he strolled the country lanes and town byways with his woman. He was a slap-happy, good-natured man who seemed in his usual high spirits when he stopped at the town bank to withdraw all his funds from another bank in his native South Dakota. He announced to the teller that he and Belle were getting married.

That evening, Belle asked Ray Lamphere to vacate his quarters at her residence and find other lodging. She was turning the room over to Helgelein until the wedding day, which wasn't far off. Lamphere, vehement, took it a step further by quitting his position and wishing his employer bad luck. Again he was seen and heard at the bars spouting hellfire to Belle Gunness and "that big Swede."

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