SOCIAL SCIENCES

Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men

Little A. Apr. 2018. 334p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781477808955. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781477808948. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781503944916. CRIME
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La Porte, IN, in the early 1900s was a good place to start a new life—and to disappear. It is where Norwegian American widow Belle Gunness, born Brynhild Paulsdatter StØrset, lured an unknown number of lonely, single men to her farm never to be seen again. Schechter (American literature & popular culture, Queens Coll., City Univ. of New York; The Mad Sculptor) tells Belle's story, from her early immigrant years through the deaths of her first husband and children to her publishing "lonely hearts" ads in Scandinavian newspapers. Once the men turned over their money, they were poisoned, butchered, and buried on Belle's land. Nobody knows the true number of her victims, but it is estimated that between 25 and 40 men died at her hands. Ironically, a falling-out with former lover Ray Lamphere led to her undoing, and she, along with her three children, died in a mysterious house fire. Did Lamphere burn down the house? Did Belle? Was the body really hers? Even Lamphere's trial for arson and murder didn't quell all the questions. Long after Belle's apparent death, her legend continues.
VERDICT This biography of a prolific and brutal serial killer will be of interest to Midwestern regional history buffs as well as true crime fans.

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