Belle Gunness—victim turned murderer or stone-cold killer? You decide! From poverty to lucky in love, Belle found her happy ending with a man named Mads… or so everyone thought. But when the wealthy Mads died a mysterious death, Belle collected the life insurance policy and remarried… only for her new husband to drop dead.
The following is the first chapter from the book “The Farm from Hell The True Story of Belle Gunness Indiana’s Lady Bluebeard Men Butcher”
The Farm Girl
Little is known for certain about one of history’s most notorious female criminals.
For starters, even the exact date of her birth is unclear. However, writers and historians often agree that she was likely born on November 11th, between 1855 and 1859, in Innbygde; a hamlet in Selbu, Norway, not as Belle but as Brynhild Paulsdatter Størset. She was named after her father, Paul, as per the Scandinavian custom—literally “Paul’s daughter”.
What is known is that her earliest years were a struggle. She was the youngest of her siblings, the eighth born to the aging Paul Pedersen Størset, a husmann or sharecropper, and Berit Olsdatter, a homemaker. The family all lived together in a tiny, cramped cottage on rented land, supported by their father’s equally tight salary. Brynhild’s family was among the poorest in the area, making their living raising livestock on a single acre of land. When farming was not enough, Paul worked as a stonemason during the colder months. His children and wife helped out in whichever ways they were able. Brynhild, in particular, was often tasked with bringing home any twigs she could find scattered on the forest floor, as the family could not afford proper firewood. This earned her the nickname “snurkvistpåla,” which translated to “Paul’s twig daughter” among local bullies.
Photo Credit: legendsofamerica.com
As was common for a girl of her age and standing, Brynhild, at fourteen, began working for a dairy farm, spending her days herding cattle into the pastures to graze, as well as milking cows, churning butter, making cheese, and performing various other chores.
The Størsets were, by all accounts, a hardworking family, but for all their efforts they were always just right above starving. The situation became so dire that, more than once, Paul had to sign up to receive welfare. It is known that their financial situation grew worse in 1878, when Brynhild was eighteen years old, just a few years before she would leave for America.
Unsurprisingly, Brynhild became obsessed with money. It was a love that would live inside her for the rest of her life, driving her to do the unimaginable, time and time again.
Opinions on young Brynhild’s personality appeared to be split among the residents of her hometown. There were those who sang her praises, including her pastor, Agaton Hansteen, at the Evangelical Lutheran Church, as well as her employer. They saw the girl as a good Christian and diligent worker. She was well-versed in the Bible and knew all her prayers. They never had any issue with her misbehaving.
Then there were the others. Many years later, after the news of her crimes reached worldwide infamy, Selbyggen, the local newspaper, ran an article emphasizing that she was “remembered by many people as a very bad human being, capricious and extremely malicious. She had unpretty habits, always in the mood for dirty tricks, talked little and was a liar already as a child… People mocked her and called her snukvistpåla… As a grownup, she was still little respected and was a scum of society.”
Call it an incident of judging the past through the lens of the future, but there is some evidence to suggest that Brynhild’s reputation had been soiled, deservedly or not, long before she began her criminal career.
If the town gossip is to be believed, the future murderess’s life could be divided into two parts: before the pregnancy and after.
The rumor went that, in 1877, Brynhild was seventeen years old when she became pregnant for the first and possibly only time in her life. The father’s identity is unknown, though it was commonly believed to have been a young man from a wealthy family—perhaps even the son of the owner of the very land Brynhild’s family lived on.
Buried Bodies found in Gunness Farm
Photo Credit: legendsofamerica.com
The scandal that arose must have been humiliating for the teenager. Not only would she be shamed for having a baby out of wedlock, but she was also confronted with the fact that she, herself, was unwanted. Another family could have convinced the unborn child’s father to marry Brynhild in order to “make things right,” but if she had been hoping for a commitment from this man, she was sorely disappointed.
She was of low value as a potential bride. Not only was her family poor and of no social standing, leaving them with nothing to offer a groom, but she was also considered to have been physically unattractive. Photographs of her in her younger years show a stern-looking yet plain-faced woman with dark hair and deep features. Others, such as true crime writer Harold Schechter, author of Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men, are less forgiving in their assessment of her looks: “…she was a notably unlovely young woman, with a large head, small eyes, short nose, and a wide, fat-lipped mouth that, when set into a frown, bore resemblance to a frog’s.”
Ugly or not, he nevertheless found her appealing enough to sleep with—but nothing more.
The father of Brynhild’s child wanted nothing to do with her. He had grown to resent her and what being tied to her meant for his future.
Brynhild got the chance to see him again one evening during a country dance. Exactly what happened next is subject to much speculation, but the night ended with a vicious assault that caused her to miscarry.
If there was any latent evil hiding in Brynhild’s psyche before this, it must have been well hidden. Those close to her remarked that the beating caused a rather dramatic change in her personality. It was also said that her former lover ended up dying not long after the incident from a painful illness of the stomach. In retrospect, the symptoms of the unknown disease appeared to closely resemble arsenic poisoning.
Did the cruelty of the world leave her jaded? One must wonder if she became a different person or if she simply decided to reveal her true self. Either way, the diligent, hardworking Brynhild that her family knew was dead, and in her place now was a deeply wicked woman.
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