Belle Gunness' Most Likely Motive For Murdering Her Suitors

The serial killer Belle Gunness left a trail of bodies — as many as 40 — in her wake in Indiana and Illinois between 1884 and 1908, according to Biography. The press of the time dubbed her the female "Bluebeard," after the murderous folk legend (per The Huntington Herald) and delighted in describing her horrific crimes in detail. Among her many victims were a string of lonely Norwegian bachelors isolated in a new country without family and looking for love. Gunness, who had emigrated from Norway herself in the early 1880s, seemed like the perfect match, per the La Porte County Library.

Her first victims were two of her own children, in 1896 and 1898, who it's believed she poisoned, followed by her first husband, Mads Sorenson, who died under mysterious circumstances in 1900 (per the La Porte County Library). Not long after, Gunness really got going when she realized that there were lots of lonely hearts looking for love.

What Drove Belle Gunness to Kill? 

The simple answer to why Belle Gunness killed was that she could make a killing from killing. Gunness, born Brynhild Paulsdatter Størset in1859 in Selbu, Norway, came to America seeking wealth and soon discovered one way of acquiring it (per Biography). Her two infants that she murdered were insured, as was her first husband, who worked on the railroad and didn't make all that much in life. But dead, thanks to two life insurance policies, he made Gunness a fistful of cash — the equivalent of more than $286,000 today, per the La Porte County Library.

Insurance scams paid well. Besides murder, arson was among her other go-to money-making schemes. She burned down two of her businesses and one home over the years, according to the New York Post. A stepchild and another husband, Peter Gunness, were her next victims. But her biggest payoff was yet to come. A string of suitors started arriving at her farm and were never heard from again.

Lonely Hearts Bring Cash

In the days before Tinder, newspapers had lonely hearts ads, and Belle Gunness was a frequent user. As The Huntington Herald declared in a May 7, 1908 article, she "lured her victims with honeyed words." She described herself as a "comely widow who owns a large farm" looking for "a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes," according to Mental Floss. And they came calling. She would sometimes get up to eight letters a day from suitors, and in her correspondence with her victims, she always made sure that they were bringing their money when they came to visit (per the New York Post).

On April 28, 1908, a blaze leveled Gunness' La Porte, Indiana farm, per Mental Floss. In the ruins, investigators found the bodies of her three remaining children and what they initially believed was Gunness' body. But the head was missing, and what remained of the body didn't match Gunness' proportions. It was several inches shorter than Gunness and much thinner. Authorities eventually discovered 40 bodies buried on the farm, per Biography. But whether Belle Gunness had died in the fire or escaped to continue her deadly pursuits elsewhere remains a mystery to this day.