The True Story of Belle Gunness the Liar
Belle Gunness, also known as Brynhild Hammer, was a prolific Norwegian-American serial killer whose victims were mostly women. She was also called the Woman Who Surprised the Potomac. She murdered at least 11 people, including some children, using an arsenic-infused pillow. This article examines the possibility that she may have been a serial killer.
Belle Gunness was born in Norwood, England on April Fool’s Day. Her parents, unknown to her, had died when she was young and she was raised by foster parents in Chicago. She was one of six children born to Peter Gunness and Anna Holm.
At the age of eighteen, Belle was already familiar with the name Belle. However, she was only a recent Norwegian immigrant to the United States. The newspaper account reporting the discovery of the bodies of the nine women mentioned above included the name Belle. In the newspapers of the time, it was suggested that this person may be the serial killer known as “The butcher of Chicago” or “the woman who striped half her skin”. It is possible that this was the same woman, although the date of birth for this person is uncertain.
When she was fifteen years old, Belle was arrested in relation to the murder of a man named Richard Sander. He was the general foreman of a large iron foundry in Chicago and was in regular contact with Gunness. According to the court records, the bodies of the dead were cremated. Belle had been questioned about the matter of the bodies being cremated but she maintained her innocence. There is no evidence linking her to the crime.
A twenty-year-old man named Richard Sander died in prison after being in a struggle with another inmate. One of his legs was paralyzed when he was shot in the arm. His death certificate stated that he had died as a result of a shooting by a prison guard. No charges are ever filed against Belle Gunness.
In 1977, another young woman living in southern California named Anna Nicole Johnson came to reside at the Idyllwild Farms, a vacation retreat center near Pelican County. She was staying with her younger sister and younger brother. On the evening of August 7, the foursome left their home and drove to the farm. Anna Nicole’s younger sister reported that her mother, identified as Belle Gunness, arrived first and was carrying a rifle. The sister and her brother said nothing and were scared witless. The two girls returned to the house where their father, identified as George Johnson, opened the door and saw three men outside in a hail of hail which caused them to panic.
Belle Gunness and her older sister arrived at the scene just minutes after the murders had occurred. Her claim that the bodies were burned with acid was considered credible because this was how the bodies were identified after the fact. The couple immediately called the sheriff’s office and notified the FBI that they had two bodies. Their evidence did not convince the press or the authorities that their daughters were innocent. Charges of obstruction of justice were filed against the couple and later dropped. In the midst of all this, Belle Gunness disappeared.
Belle Gunness was finally found dead in a wooded area on the ranch owned by her parents. An examination of the body revealed her own confession to obstruction of justice. The story told the arresting officers and the press; “We were just out there enjoying our afternoon… and she jumped over our fence… jumped on our bed, and we heard a noise that sounded like a gun shot. Then we saw her lying on the ground… bleeding terribly. I ran to save her but she grabbed my hand and started screaming that she had been shot… I tried to pull her to the ground but she just laughed… then I just went over to her and picked her up… “