Fans of Jack the Ripper will regard his particular case with an enduring fascination; the canonical victims, the suspects, the motive behind the grisly crimes. We are most enthralled by the mystery that surrounds the man – or woman, depending which theory you subscribe to – himself, working tirelessly more than a century on, to answer the question who was Jack the Ripper?
Of course, while Jack the Ripper is the most notorious of England’s serial killers, he is not a standalone example of the darker side of human nature. As London and much of England cowered in the Ripper’s shadow throughout the Autumn of Terror, parts of the New World faced their own demons, too.
At or around the same time as the Whitechapel Murders, mysterious deaths and menacing serial killers were making headlines across the pond. Learn more about one of the many murderers terrorising they New World at the turn of the century, below.
Belle Gunness was one of Midwest America’s most notorious serial killers, operating primarily at the turn of the 20th century. The killings may have spanned a few decades, but her confirmed kills were between 1900 and 1908. They took place in the states of Indiana and Illinois.
The Norwegian-American was born in Norway (1859) and allegedly died in Indiana, USA (1908). She is believed to have had somewhere between 25 and 40 victims, following the discovery of remains belonging to more than 40 men and children, which were found at her property following her death. Her victims included most of her suitors and love interests, her two daughters, and possibly both of her husbands, as well as their children.
The motive appears to have been financial, with the deaths resulting in her being paid with life insurance and cash. Revenge could also have been a factor, as an 18-year-old Gunness was attacked by a rich man at a country dance she attended while pregnant, causing her to lose the child. The man was never prosecuted.
The details of the case, particularly the convenient and multiple cash-ins on insurance and life assurance policies during her first marriage, show her to be a very clever and calculating woman.
After the untimely end of her second husband, stepchild and adoptive daughter, Belle began seeking new victims. She used personal ads in newspapers to do so, similar to the Bluebeard Murderer (Johann Otto Hoch) before her.
Her spree came to an end when her farmhouse was engulfed in fire, killing all three of her children. However, the fourth body in the fire, first thought to be Belle, was confirmed by the coroner to be an unidentified female who could not possibly have been Belle Gunness. So what happened to her? Where did she go? And did her killings ever truly stop?
Looking at crimes and killers in 19th and 20th century America is certainly interesting, but with so many of them, there is no mystery. While this is good news – to see murderers brought to justice – it does cause less of a sensation than our own Jack the Ripper. The Belle Gunness case is unique because we know about her crimes, but not how her story ended. To that end, she is as shrouded in mystery as our own Ripper.
If reading about Belle has whet your appetite for more mystery, why not indulge your morbid curiosity with a Jack the Ripper tour around London? Book your place today!