In this depraved story of sex, deception, greed, and murder, a veteran true-crime writer offers the first definitive history of Belle Gunness (circa 1859-1908), the most prolific female serial killer in American history.
In previous books, Schechter (American Literature and Culture/Queens Coll.; Man-Eater: The Life and Legend of an American Cannibal, 2015, etc.) trained his shrewd eye for detail and predilection for horror on familiar serial killers like H.H. Holmes (Depraved, 1994) and Albert Fish (Deranged, 1998). Here, the author focuses his expert attention on Gunness, the notorious “Lady Bluebeard” who butchered at least 28 victims at her “murder farm” in La Porte, Indiana, at the beginning of the 20th century. An imposing, severe Norwegian who weighed more than 200 pounds, Gunness immigrated to America in search of a new life far away from the poverty of her youth. Driven by greed and an insatiable hunger for wealth, she used matrimonial ads in immigrant newspapers to lure suitors to her farm, where she would con them out of their money before poisoning them, brutally butchering their remains, and burying them in her hog pen. Ray Lamphere, a hired farmhand who had an affair with Gunness, was one of the only men to leave the farm alive when he was fired in 1908. Lamphere was charged with arson and quadruple murder when the Gunness home was burned down with its owner and her children inside, but the investigation of the fire revealed the true horror: the mass graveyard of Lady Bluebeard’s victims. Schechter interweaves the stories of Gunness and Lamphere with a suspenseful narrative that explores the motives and psychology of murder, the sensational portrayal of gruesome crime in the media, and the terrifying legacy they leave behind. Featuring previously undiscovered details and rich historical context, this authoritative account firmly establishes Schechter as one of America’s leading crime chroniclers.
A fascinating and dramatic page-turner that will be a new favorite among true-crime fans.