In 1908 a La Porte farmhouse was gutted by fire. Investigators combing the area found three bodies inside the house, one of them headless – and numerous bodies buried on the property. This was the home of America’s most prolific female serial killer, Belle Gunness.
La Porte, Indiana, is part of Trump country. The city population, based on 2016 estimates, is 21,732. Its motto is “live and love.” The county conjures up images of tree-lined streets and two-parent families. Before red campaign hats became in vogue, one hue dominate La Porte – white. Even the immigrants came from Scandinavian countries such as Norway.
This bucolic setting produced many famous American sons and daughters: Zerna Sharp, whose co-creation of the “Dick and Jane” books taught generations of Americans how to read; Frederick C. Mennen, the “Jiffy Pop Corn” inventor; William Scholl, who every podiatrist’s patient can thank for an array of foot-care products, and Brewster Martin Higley, lyricist of “Home on the Range.”
Can one be blamed for being nostalgic for a real-world emblem of simpler times? Make the Indiana steel mills hum again, the thinking goes in some quarters, and all will be well again. Everyone can return to a bygone state or at least prepare their children for the future – validating the trust placed by the formerly Democratic Hoosier precinct in our president.
But this post is not about the imminent midterm elections.
Monochromatic histories can induce selective amnesia. What did Shakespeare say?: “The evil that men do lives after them…” The quote is being used in this context to refer to La Porte’s fair share of criminals, of which Belle Gunness is probably the most notorious example.
In his best-seller, “Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men,” Harold Schechter delves into gory exploits of the Norwegian-American female serial killer. She is thought to have killed up to 40 people over a period of more than two decades.
I agree with other opinions that true crime writer, Schechter, does a marvelous job of humanizing this psychopath, bringing out her sexual neediness and loneliness.
Head over to your favorite book store for this Halloween pick. Happy Holidays.