Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Belle Gunness

Woman of Black Luck

Belle Gunness had been born under an unlucky star, so said the kindly, the sympathetic neighbors of La Porte, Indiana. Since she had come to their town and settled in the old Altie house a mile north of town square, she had suffered one disappointment and heartbreak after another — and they admired her quiet suffering, her ability to go on with head held high. Unfailing.

By 1908, Belle's once-hourglass figure had fattened, but her silken blonde hair, accompanied by a full Nordic smile of white teeth and pair of flashing blue eyes, still turned heads. Weighing in at 280 pounds, she nevertheless was able to tighten her corset to emphasize a 48-inch bust and a pair of curving 54-inch hips in an era when curves, no matter how expansive the girth, epitomized glamour and sex appeal.

<em>The Truth About Belle Gunness</em> by Lillian de la Torre
The Truth About Belle
by Lillian de la Torre

"Belle lived at the time of the corn-fed politician and the billowy beauty," says Lillian de la Torre, author of The Truth About Belle Gunness. "In those days, men aspired to the bulk of William Howard Taft, who was about to become President of the United States... Ladies whose facades were not naturally as full and flowing as Belle's stuffed their corset covers with ruffles and wore droop-fronted shirtwaists. Belle Gunness was right in style (with) a waist that would pull into 37 inches. When she donned her ruffled silks and put her diamonds in her ears, men thought her well worth a second glance."

She had been a familiar presence in the hard-working hamlet of La Porte, a weekly frequenter to its wholesale shops, its bank, its grocers, its milliners. Her greetings of good morning had been pleasant to all she passed and her kind stare would be remembered by many. Her Norwegian accent was like a song amid the monotonous plains drawl of the Hoosier frontier. La Porte, with its shingled hoses and its front-porch-sitdown attitude and its slowly growing population of 100,000, was not about to claim, nor want, big city ways. Sixty miles from Chicago, its only connection to the big city was the New York Central Railroad line that traversed it.