Where in the World is Belle Gunness?
The answer to the whereabouts of arguably America’s most notorious female serial killer is quite simple: she’s either buried in LaPorte, Indiana, the victim of a house fire on April 28, 1908, or in the Los Angeles area, where “Esther Larson” died in 1931 awaiting trial on charges of poisoning a man.
But just because it’s simple doesn’t mean anyone has come close to a definitive conclusion as to what really happened to Belle Gunness. Andrea Simmons, an attorney and graduate student at the University of Indianapolis, is now attempting to do so, as the Indianapolis Star’s Dan McFeely reports in some detail:
The answer could be found in the bones unearthed
from a Chicago cemetery last month — and an envelope that may bear
traces of the killer’s saliva beneath its stamp. In that saliva could
be the DNA clue that clinches the identity of those bones. "Is
it her? That’s what we will be trying to find out," said Simmons, who
will be getting help from the Indiana State Police and the FBI crime
labs.Simmons is working on a book and talking with documentary makers who are interested in filming the story. If this DNA test is not enough, Simmons is ready
to travel to California to dig up two more graves — those of Belle’s
older sister and Esther Carlson, who was accused of poisoning a man for
his money in 1931 and who bore a striking resemblance to Gunness.“I
had often wished that somehow we could prove by present-day DNA, to all
the naysayers, that it was not Belle in that grave!” said Suzanne
McKay, the great-granddaughter of Nellie Larson, Belle’s older sister.
McKay has spent years researching her relative and is eager to know for
certain whether Gunness was buried in that grave.
In an ideal world, DNA testing would prove conclusively that the body buried in LaPorte is or isn’t Belle Gunness. In practice, a 100-year old body will be lucky to yield enough usable material for standard DNA tests (usually from the teeth, but any bones in good conditions help) and more likely, mitochondrial DNA testing, which doesn’t have as high a match probability. No matter the results, it seems like an exhumation order in California is in order because of the questionable identity of Esther Larson. And if the LaPorte body is not Belle, then is she Esther? And if so, what was she doing these past 23 years?
Answers, if there are any, won’t be available for months, if not years. And they may only confirm the mysterious nature of Belle Gunness’s supposed death somewhere.