Her Crime Story in America
In 1881, she relocated to America where she began to work as a servant.
She married Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson in 1884 in Chicago, Illinois. The couple had a confectionary store which within a year of its unsuccessful run was gutted down by fire suspiciously leading the two to collect insurance amount with which they purchased another house.
Although many researchers opine that the couple were issueless, some report that they had four children, namely Axel, Caroline, Lucy and Myrtle. The former two whose lives were reportedly insured allegedly succumbed in their infancy to acute colitis resulting in payment from the insurance company.
Two life insurance policies on Sorenson reportedly overlapped on July 30, 1900, and coincidentally he died on that very day. Although the first doctor who examined him suggested strychnine poisoning as the cause of his death, the family doctor mentioned a heart failure, thus no autopsy was done.
Upon Sorenson’s death Belle collected $8,500 from insurance companies. Although Sorenson’s relatives accused her of poisoning him to get insurance money and according to records an order of investigation was also given, it remains uncertain whether the inquiry was conducted or whether his body was disinterred for investigation.
She then married Norwegian-born widower Peter Gunness on April 1, 1902. A week later Peter’s infant daughter, who at that time was alone in the house with Belle, died of unknown reasons. Peter died in December that year. Belle mentioned that Peter accidentally got burnt with brine and later said that a portion of a sausage-grinding machine fell on his head proving fatal.
Peter's older daughter, Swanhild was taken away to Wisconsin by his brother Gust proving her to be the only child who remained alive after living with Belle. Peter’s death led Belle to receive another life insurance payout and although an investigation on his death was conducted, Belle managed to come out clean. Her son Phillip was born in May 1903.
She had an adoptive daughter Jennie Olsen whose body was unearthed later from her property.
She hired Ray Lamphere as a single farm hand in 1907.
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In pursuit of luring and victimising wealthy men she gave insertion in the matrimonial columns of many daily newspapers in Chicago and other large mid-western cities. Many affluent middle-aged men responded.
What followed was arrival of several suitors in 1907, none of whom except George Anderson could leave her farmhouse.
She would always keep shutters of her house closed and avoid mingling in the neighbourhood. Farmers passing by her house at night would see her digging the hog pen using a shovel.
Eventually Lamphere, who gradually became an accomplice of Belle, fell for her and became envious of her suitors. Issues started cropping up which led Belle fire Lamphere on February 3, 1908.
Things took a different turn for Belle when on one hand Lamphere started posing a problem for her while Asle Helgelien, brother of one of her victims Andrew Helgelien became suspicious of his disappearance and wanted to have a probe in the matter. She also had Lamphere arrested once for trespassing.
Anticipating trouble in the air Belle made up a plot for her own arson. She met M.E. Leliter, a lawyer in La Porte and said that Lamphere threatened to kill her and set her house on fire and she was worried about her life and that of her children. She however did not go to the police to report against Lamphere. She made a will through Leliter bestowing her entire estate to her children.
On April 28, 1908, Lamphere’s replacement in Belle’s farmhouse, Joe Maxson, woke up in the early hours to find the farmhouse on fire. He tried to call out Belle and her children but getting no response he jumped from the window of his second floor room and rushed for help. By the time help arrived the house was burnt to the ground.
Bodies of Belle’s children were found in their beds while a headless corpse of a woman was also found. It became difficult to identify it as Belle’s body. Lamphere was arrested with charges of murder and arson. He was found guilty of arson and sentenced to 20 years in prison on November 26, 1908. Lamphere succumbed to tuberculosis on December 30, 1909.
Many who knew Belle including her neighbouring farmers C. Christofferson and L. Nicholson and old friends like Mrs. Austin Cutler and Mr. Sigward Olsen examined the headless body and denied it to be that of Belle’s. Other investigations conducted by authorities hinted the same.
On May 19, 1908, her dentist Dr. Ira P. Norton identified a teeth and bridgework found in the debris as a work done for Belle which led Coroner Charles Mack to conclude officially that the headless body was that of Belle.
However, later Joe Maxson and another man testified that they saw Louis "Klondike" Schultz (inducted by authorities to construct a sluice and sift the farmhouse debris) taking out the bridgework from his pocket and putting it in the debris only to be discovered subsequently.
Many bodies including that of Jennie Olson, Andrew Helgelien, John Moe and Henry Gurholdt were disinterred from her farmhouse.
On January 14, 1910, Rev. E. A. Schell revealed a confession made by Lamphere on his death bed. Lamphere narrated Schell the way his employer victimised her suitors, murdered them, dissected their bodies and buried their remains in the hog pen. He said that sometimes she would feed the dissected remains of the victims to the hogs instead of burying them.
Lamphere said Belle made the arson plot. She hired a woman from Chicago a few days before the incident. She killed the woman, beheaded her body, dressed it with her clothes and kept her own false teeth beside the headless corpse so that it is identified as her own body and threw the woman’s head into water. She then killed her children and put the house on fire.
Lamphere admitted that he helped her in the plan but Belle finally betrayed him too, simply disappearing in the woods without meeting him. Some sources opine that he accompanied her till Stillwell from where she took a train to Chicago.
For next few decades many alleged to have seen Belle in different places across the US. It was also reported in 1931 that she possibly garnered huge property in a town in Mississippi where she was leading life of a doyenne. Thus the real fate of Belle remained obscure while the headless body was never definitely identified.