Hell’s Princess by Harold Schechter

Who the heck is Belle Gunness of LaPorte, Indiana, I ask you? Who?

Missus Gunness was the lady (?) who advertised in the Norwegian newspapers for a husband or partner in the early 1900’s. Just make sure you bring your life savings and deposit them in the LaPorte bank where they will be safe. We’ll make a life of it on my large farm [wink, wink]. The last person to respond was Arthur Helgelien who showed up at her door with suitcases in hand. Belle invited him in and kicked out the handyman. She needed his room for Mister Helgelien.

In a short time, Mister Helgelien came up missing. Belle said he had gone back to North Dakota or Minnesota to pick up the rest of his things. Well, he was the last of the ten strangers to check in with Belle to live the life of Riley. She disposed of him just like she did the others – bashed him in the back of the head with an axe or other heavy object, cut off his arms and legs and buried him in the hog compound.

That’s who Belle Gunness was and what she did for recreation. One morning some people/neighbors looked out their window and saw smoke and flames coming from the windows of her house and before anyone could get organized, the house burned to the ground except for the brick walls. They found Belle, maybe, with her little boy resting on her chest and her two little girls in the cellar burned to a frazzle.

Following rumors, the sheriff and others started digging up the yard and found most of the dead men. Arrested for this horrible crime was Art Lamphere, who had lived with Belle off and on and held a grudge against her for owing him money. Art said he was just walking to work when he saw the blaze, but didn’t offer any help or stop to watch the fire. He was arrested and thrown in jail to await trial for murdering Belle and others.

The rest of the story is interesting with various sightings of Belle alive in places hard to believe. And I recommend you read the book to find out what happened.

I give the book five stars. It was easy to read and understand even though there are a ton of characters and I was kept in suspense right up to the end. And I’m still trying to figure it out. Is Belle Gunness alive or maybe not? The book was well researched and has a large bibliography.