Was Serial Killer Belle Gunness Ever Found?

Belle Gunness may or may not be one of America's most prolific serial killers. As The New York Post noted, she's been tied to at least 11 murders, and possibly dozens more, although the exact number of her victims may likely never be known. What's more, Gunness simply vanished off the face of the earth at the same time her crimes came to light. Was the ever located again?

The reasons for the ambiguity about both the number of victims killed by Gunness and about what happened to her stem from the circumstances of how her crimes were discovered. On April 28, 1908, the Gunness family farm in LaPorte, Indiana, burned to the ground. Police initially found the corpse of an adult woman and three children, and authorities determined that the bodies belonged to Gunness and her three foster children.

However, there were three problems with that conclusion. First, the body of the adult was headless — not something that usually happens in a fire. Second, the mutilated bodies of an untold number of victims were found around the property, presumably murdered by Gunness. And third, a farmhand/accomplice told authorities that he'd worked with Gunness and that she'd planned to flee all along.

Her accomplice said she escaped

The only person ever criminally charged in connection with what happened at the Gunness farm that day was a farmhand named Ray Lamphere. According to SyFy, he did not confess to the murders that had taken place on the LaPorte, Indiana farm, and instead claimed that his employer and sometimes lover had burned down the farm because she suspected the jig was up. Further, he claimed that she'd left a corpse with the hopes that authorities would assume it was her and close the book on the investigation, while she took off into the mist, never to be heard from again.

Indeed, there was a corpse of a woman found on the farm, although there were several problems with it. For one, it was decapitated, which is not something that usually happens in a fire. Second, neighbors said the corpse was too small to be that of the towering and imposing Gunness, according to Mental Floss. And third, Lamphere claimed that the mutilated body belonged to a Chicago woman, lured to the Indiana farm with the promise of a job.

Belle Gunness was never heard from again

Whether or not Belle Gunness truly did die in the fire that claimed the lives of her foster children, whether she escaped into the ether, or whether some other fate befell her remains unclear. What is certain is that April 28, 1908, was the last anyone ever heard from her.

Within weeks after her death, her murder spree had been the topic of newspaper fodder across the country, and soon Americans were reporting seeing her all over the country. According to SyFy, she was supposedly spotted in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, among other places.

In 1931, according to Strange Remains, a woman using the name of Esther Carlson was awaiting trial in Los Angeles, accused of poisoning a man to collect his life insurance money, when she died. According to the website, Carlson had an "uncanny" resemblance to Gunness. What's more, she was roughly the same age as Gunness would have been, had she lived. And, her M.O. was consistent with Gunness'.

Whether or not "Carlson" was actually Gunness is unclear. However, 1931 marked the last reported sighting of Gunness, who would have been roughly 72 years old at the time.