Chesterton Tribune

More bodies exhumed to try to solve 100-year-old Belle Gunness mystery

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) _ The bodies of three children who died in a farmhouse fire 100 years ago were exhumed Tuesday by a forensic anthropologist trying to solve a mystery surrounding a LaPorte widow suspected of killing at least 25 people.

“We just finished exhuming the remains,” Andi Simmons said by cell phone from Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, west of Chicago, late Tuesday afternoon.

Simmons hopes that testing of the remains will provide another piece in trying to solve the puzzle left by Belle Gunness. Authorities originally thought that Gunness and three of her foster children died in an arson at her farm on April 28, 1908. But days later, authorities began digging up bodies buried in her yard.

They believed Gunness, nicknamed the Lady Bluebeard, used lonely hearts ads in newspapers to lure men to her farm, then persuaded them to sell everything they had and move to live with her in LaPorte. Once they put their money in her bank account, she would kill them and bury them.

Many now believe Gunness staged her death in a farmhouse fire because she feared someone might be close to catching on to her scheme.

Simmons and other students from the University of Indianapolis dug up the body of the adult who died in the fire in November 2007, hoping to determine if it was Gunness. Instead, she found something unexpected. In addition to containing the body of an adult, the casket contained body parts from two children.

Simmons originally did not believe they belonged to the foster children who died in the fire because the bones had not been burned, but said she decided to exhume the bodies to try to get answers.

“We felt compelled to come back and make sure,” she said.

The bodies exhumed Tuesday were those of 11-year-old Myrtle Sorensen, 9-year-old Lucy Sorensen and 5-year-old Philip Gunness. Simmons said she also hopes to determine not only whether the bones in the casket belonged to the children, but whether the children were related.

Simmons also said Tuesday her attempt to try to determine whether the adult body found in the burned farmhouse was that of Gunness ran into a roadblock when one lab couldn’t find any DNA on a stamp used by Gunness and another lab found multiple DNA on an envelope that Gunness used.

But Simmons said in the past few days she has heard from a woman in Norway who said she is a relative of Gunness’ grandmother who is willing to provide DNA.

“Fresh DNA would be our best choice,” she said.

No matter what happens, Simmons believes she is months from finding the answers she is looking for.


Posted 5/14/2008