One man stood trial for her presumed death…and revealed her horrifying secrets…
On April 28, 1908, Belle Gunness’ farmhouse was burned to the ground. The bodies of an adult female and Gunness’ three children were found inside. However, the adult female body has never been conclusively identified as Gunness—as the corpse was found decapitated. Gunness’ jealous former lover, Ray Lamphere, was tried for her murder, but was only found guilty of arson.
Lamphere died of tuberculosis in 1909, after serving only one year in prison. But on January 14, 1910, Reverend E.A. Schell—who had comforted the dying Lamphere—came forward with a startling confession. Lamphere told the reverend of Gunness’ crimes and that she was still alive—having killed her children and a woman that she then dressed as herself, hoping that those who found the bodies would think Gunness also perished, before setting fire to her own home. But that wasn’t the end of it: According to the Lamphere, Gunness had murdered over 40 men—baiting potential suitors with newspaper ads, and then killing them and burying their bodies in her hog pen.
Lillian de la Torre’s stunning Edgar Award finalist tells the true story of the woman who led a secret life as a serial killer in the early 20th-century Midwest.
There was a widespread burning interest in “the Gunness system” of matrimonial bait. The federal government turned a severe eye on courtship by mail, and the press published everything it could dig up on the subject. From the editor of Skandinaven, a Norwegian-language paper, newsmen extracted the text of Belle’s last ad. The indefatigable woman had opened a new campaign in March, 1908, announcing to the world:
WANTED—A WOMAN WHO owns a beautifully located and valuable farm in first class condition, wants a good and reliable man as partner in the same. Some little cash is required for which will be furnished first-class security.
This no-nonsense appeal was designed to fetch good solid farmers, and it fetched them. A Mr. Carl Peterson had been attracted. When the Gunness system became front-page news, he came forward with the come-on letter that Belle had written to him. It was dated April 14, 1908, just two weeks before the fire, and it told him crisply:
There have been other answers to the same advertisement. As many as fifty have been received. I have picked out the most respectable, and I have decided that yours is such.
My idea is to take a partner to whom I can trust everything and as we have no acquaintance ourselves I have decided that every applicant I have considered favorably must make a satisfactory deposit of cash or security. I think that is the best way for parties to keep away grafters who are always looking for such opportunities, as I have had experience with them, as I can prove.
Now if you think that you are able some way to put up $1,000 cash, we can talk matters over personally. If you cannot, is it worth while to consider? I would not care for you as a hired man, as I am tired of that and need a little rest in my home and near my children. I will close for this time.
With friendly regards,
MRS. P. S. GUNNESS
Mr. Peterson was lucky. He did not have $1,000.
Still luckier, in his own opinion, was Mr. George Anderson of Tarkio, Missouri. He had answered an earlier ad, he told the press, liked the lady’s replies, and decided to go to La Porte and look things over.
On the second day of his visit, Mrs. Gunness asked him point-blank how much money he had. He had only $300, but he had a big farm in Missouri. Belle told him to go home and sell it and come back with the cash.
That night, in the small hours, Mr. Anderson woke with a start. Mrs. Gunness was bending over his bed. When he spoke, she ran out.
Mr. Anderson took fright. On the instant he dressed and ran away. Perhaps because he felt he had made a fool of himself, he told nobody of his alarming adventure.
Some people wondered if he should have been so very much alarmed. Ole Budsberg, they pointed out, had been perfectly safe at Belle’s—until he went home and sold out.
Then what was Belle after? Did she bring her suitors love before she brought them death? Was that the charm she used to make grown men willingly give up to her every cent they had?
Thinking of the hog lot, Mr. Anderson was still shuddering over his narrow escape. He recalled how Myrtle had looked at him as on a doomed man. “She would eye me with a pitiful look,” he recalled, “and when I glanced at her during a meal she would turn white as a sheet.”
Frank Riedinger of Delafield, Wisconsin, also went to visit Mrs. Gunness. A letter came back, not in his handwriting, to say he had decided to “go West.” When the hog lot gave up its secrets, those he left behind too quickly lost hope and sold him out. Riedinger, who had in fact left La Porte in one piece, had to sue before he could convince them that he was alive and could claim his possessions.
People all over the country were convinced that missing relatives had ended up in the hog lot. Sheriff Smutzer was pestered to death about it. When a wayward girl eloped, when a henpecked husband deserted his wife, the first thing the bereaved thought of was the Gunness farm. Inquiries poured in. Some were foolish. Others made sense. At least ten other Norwegian men, the inquiries showed, had taken their savings and gone off to La Porte, never to return. Were their bones still buried somewhere on the farm? If Smutzer kept notes on disappearing fellows that he really ought to dig for, they must have read something like this:
George Berry left home in July, 1905, saying he was going “to work for Mrs. Gunness.” He had $1,500. Provisionally identified as the second body in Gurholt’s grave in the hog lot.
Herman Konitzer took $5,000 and left home “to marry a wealthy widow in La Porte” in January, 1906. Posted one letter from La Porte.
Christian Hinkley, Chetek, Wisconsin, in the spring of 1906 sold his farm for $2,000 and left. Changed his Decorah Posten subscription to La Porte. La Porte post office testified that Mrs. Gunness received mail as Mrs. Hinkley.
Olaf Jensen, 23, Norwegian, in May, 1906, wrote to his mother in Norway that he had reflected on a matrimonial ad in Skandinaven and decided to marry the lady, a widow from Norway who lived in La Porte. Went down for a visit, returned home to turn his belongings into cash, and went back to La Porte. Never seen since.
Charles Neiburg, 28, left Philadelphia in June, 1906, saying that he was going to marry Mrs. Gunness. Took $500 in cash with him. Had a hobby of answering matrimonial ads.
Abraham Phillips, Belington, West Virginia, told relatives he was leaving to marry a rich widow in Indiana. Had a big roll of bills, a diamond ring, a Railway Trainmen badge. Disappeared in February, 1907. A railroad watch turned up in the ashes of the Gunness house.
Tonnes Peter Lien saw an ad, sold his farm, and left Rushford, Minnesota, for La Porte to marry Mrs. Gunness. His brother reported that he helped to sew $1,000 in bills in the sleeve of Tonnes Peter’s coat, and asked if a heavy silver watch initialed “P. L.” had been found. It had. Since Lien left home April 2, 1907, and all burials about that time were accounted for, his body had not been found.
E. J. Thiefland of Minneapolis sought by a private detective. Described as a tall man with a sandy mustache. Saw an ad in a Minneapolis paper on August 8, 1906. Corresponded with Mrs. Gunness. On April 27, 1907, wrote to his sister saying he was going down to La Porte “to see if this lady is on the square.” Never heard of since.
Emil Tell took $5,000 in May, 1907, and left Osage City, Kansas, to marry a rich widow in La Porte. Q. Was he the man with the pointed beard seen at the Gunness place in June, 1907?
John E. Bunter of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, fifty-two, light gray hair, left saying he planned to marry a widow in Indiana. Went away on November 25, 1907. Q. Did he accompany Mrs. Gunness into Oberreich’s in December to buy a wedding ring?
S. B. Smith missing. Ring initialed S. B. found in ruins.
Paul Ames disappeared. Initials P. A. on ring found in ashes …
Sheriff Smutzer soon admitted that there needed to be more digging. By fits and starts more digging went on…
In a disused privy vault they found a detached head of a woman with long blonde hair. They never found the woman’s body that went with it, and they never found out who the woman might be.
They never found the man’s head that was missing from Gurholt’s grave.
(Source: The Lineup)
Nightmare at Murder Farm: The Story of One of America’s Most Prolific Serial Killers
Children in La Porte, Indiana grow up listening to graphic horror stories about the gruesome murder’s committed by Belle Gunness on her farm at the end of McClung Road. The most disturbing part about these grisly stories is that the gory parts are not fiction. Belle Gunness (also known as Lady Bluebeard, The LaPorte Black Widow, The Mistress of Murder Farm, and Hell’s Belle) was probably one of America’s most prolific serial killers who likely killed between 25 and 30 people, including women and children, at the turn of the 20th century.
Belle’s crimes were discovered on April 28th, 1908 when authorities were called out to the Gunness farm to investigate a fire that razed the farmhouse. When officials combed through the ashes they found the remains of a headless woman and three children. The remains were thought to belong to Lucy and Myrtle Sorenson, ages 9 and 11 respectively, and Phillip Gunness, 5.
During the investigation, Asle Helgelien showed up and insisted that his brother, Andrew, had been murdered by Belle earlier that year. When investigators searched the property, they unearthed the butchered remains of at least 11 people buried near the hog pen on the farm. Crime scene photograph below, shows the remains identified to be those of Andrew Helgelien.
Rumors circulated for the next 100 years that Hell’s Belle didn’t actually die in the fire and she probably faked her death. So in 2007, forensic anthropologist Stephen Nawrocki, and a group of graduate students from the University of Indianapolis exhumed Belle Gunness’ grave at the Forest Home Cemetery in Forest Park, Illinois to see if they could positively identify her body.
When the research team exhumed Gunness’ coffin and sifted through the bones and dirt they found the bones of children comingled with Belle’s remains. This is odd because the remains of the three children recovered from the farmhouse in 1908 were buried separately. In 2008 Nawrocki and his team returned to the Chicago-area cemetery and exhumed the graves of Lucy, Myrtle, and Phillip.
The forensic team had to answer some lingering questions. Did Belle Gunness really die in the fire in 1908? Did the children’s bones, found in Belle’s coffin, belong to her children or did they belong to additional victims?
“Come prepared to stay forever.”
Belle Sorenson Gunness (November 11, 1859 – April 28, 1908) left her native Norway in 1881, at the age of 21, to travel to Chicago. She married her first husband, Mads Sorenson, three years later in 1884. The couple opened an unsuccessful confectionery store that burned down under strange circumstances almost a year later. Belle and Mads collected the insurance on the business to pay for a new home. They had two biological children that survived infancy, Myrtle (b. 1897) and Lucy (b. 1899), and one foster child, Jennie Olsen.
Mads died on July 30, 1900, coincidentally, on the only day his two life insurance policies overlapped. The first doctor to examine Mads’ body believed he suffered from strychnine poisoning. But the Sorensons’ family doctor, who had been treating him for an enlarged heart, overruled the first doctor and determined that Mads died of heart failure. Shortly after Mad’s death, Belle moved to LaPorte, IN where she purchased the 42-acre farm at the end of McClung road.
She soon met a local butcher, Peter Gunness, and they married in April 1902. One week after the marriage, Peter’s infant daughter died while Belle was watching her.Peter died less than a year when a sausage grinder and jar of hot water allegedly fell on him. In this case the coroner believed Peter had been murdered, he showed symptoms of strychnine poisoning, and ordered an inquest.
Because the Belle played a convincing widow in mourning, and there was no hard evidence to convict her, she walked away a free woman and collected on another husband’s life insurance policies. But she was pregnant at the time of Peter’s death, and in 1903 the widow gave birth to a son, Philip Gunness.
The La Porte Black Widow was quick to recover and put ads in the “matrimonial columns” of Midwestern Norwegian-language newspapers.
(See an actual newspaper “want add” placed by Gunness herself quoted above.)
Many men answered these ads and traveled to La Porte to meet Belle. In December of 1907, Andrew Helgelien, a bachelor farmer from Aberdeen, SD was one of these men and exchanged letters with Gunness. In January of 1908 he received a passionate letter from Belle that closed with the ominous line, “Come prepared to stay forever.” Andrew promptly emptied his bank accounts and left North Dakota to meet Belle. That was the last his family ever saw or heard from him.
Early in the morning on April 28th, 1908, a fire destroyed the Gunness farmhouse. When the embers cooled, town authorities found the headless body of a woman, believed to be Belle Gunness, and three of her children of Lucy and Myrtle Sorenson, and Phillip Gunness.
Initially, investigators believed Gunness was the innocent victim of foul play, until Asle Helgelien arrived in La Porte to look for his brother, Andrew. Asle insisted his brother had met with foul play at the hands of Belle, and he insisted they needed to search the farm for his remains. Investigators soon found the dismembered bodies of at least 11 people, which included three adolescents, an infant, and a woman. One of the belonged to Belle’s foster daughter Jennie Olsen, who was last seen in 1906. The butchered body parts were found in gunny sacks buried near the hog pen.
Belle’s dentist said that if Belle’s head or dentures were found, he could positively identify her by examining her teeth. After searching the burnt out remains of the house, investigators found a piece of bridgework consisting of two human teeth, porcelain teeth, and gold crown work in between. The dentist identified them as the bridge he designed for Belle. The coroner’s inquest ruled that the headless female body found in the house belonged to Belle based on this evidence,
When authorities determined the fire was caused by arson Gunness’ farm hand, Ray Lamphere, became the prime suspect. In November 1908, Lamphere was convicted of setting the house on fire, but not of any of the murders. In January of 1910 Lamphere made a deathbed confession to a clergyman. He claimed that he didn’t kill anyone but he did help Belle dispose of the bodies. A list of Belle’s suspected victims can be found here.
Lamphere said that when a man answered an ad and came to the farm to meet Belle, she would invite her prey to dinner. During dinner she would either drug her date and hit him over the head with a meat cleaver, or poison the food with strychnine. Belle would butcher and dismember the corpse, then either feed the remains to the hogs or bury the body parts near the hog pen.
Lamphere also claimed that they traveled to Chicago a few days before the fire to find a body double for belle. They brought back a “housekeeper,” who Gunness killed and decapitated.
Since the men reported missing who visited Gunness outnumbered the bodies recovered, and since the authorities never searched the property thoroughly in 1908, many believe that that remains of many more victims were left on the property, and likely between 25 and 30 people.
Resurrection of a Killer
Many people believed that investigators mishandled and misinterpreted evidence in the early twentieth century, letting The Mistress of Murder Farm escape unscathed. Like Leatherface or Hannibal Lecter who survive to kill another day, Gunness sightings were reported for years after the fire.
The last sighting was in 1931, when a woman named Esther Carlson, who had an uncanny physical resemblance to Belle, died in Los Angeles while awaiting trial on charges she poisoned a man for his money. Not only did Carlson resemble Gunness, but she was also about the same age Belle would have been in 1931, Esther killed with Belle’s M.O., and there was no record of Carlson before 1908.
To find out if Belle and Esther were the same woman a team University of Indianapolis forensic anthropologists exhumed Belle’s coffin in November of 2007. When the coffin was opened, they were surprised to find the skeletal remains of two children comingled with the remains of a woman. The forensic team believed the mysterious remains could belong to other victims whose bones had been buried in the basement, and were carelessly scooped out of the ashes during the original investigation in 190
To forensic anthropologist Stephen Nawrocki this confirmed that the initial 1908 investigations of the fire and murders were bungled. In 2008 the University of Indianapolis forensic team returned to the cemetery to exhume the graves of the three children found with Gunness’ body. They wanted to see if the three children buried in Chicago-area graves were missing the same bones found in the Gunness’ coffin. If not, it’s likely Belle killed more children than originally believed.
The family of one of Belle’s victims gave Nawrocki and his team an envelope sent from the LaPorte Black Widow to one of her suitors. Since the envelope was opened with a letter opener, it was believed that the saliva under the still-sealed envelope flap could contain DNA that the team could compare to the remains in the Gunness coffin. Nawrocki’s team also wanted to do test the DNA of the children’s bones found in the coffin to see if they were her biological offspring.
When the forensic anthropologists measured the bones they found in Gunness’ grave they found the adult remains belonged to a woman who would have stood between 5’6” and 5’9”. Since Gunness was 5’8” or 5’9”, depending on reports, she is well within this range of the bones in the coffin.
Was there a sequel? Did Hell’s Belle die in that fire on April 28th, 1908? The answer to those questions and many others seem unclear even today.
Nawrocki and the University of Indianapolis team were hoping to have DNA test results by the 100th anniversary of the fire on April 28th, 2008. But definitive answers still remained elusive.
The DNA samples on the envelope and stamp were too old to get a viable sample. At the time this article was written the results of the osteological exam of the children found in “Belle’s” coffin in 2008 were not released.
In 2008, one of Nawrocki’s students, Andrea Simmons, announced that she hoped to exhume the graves of Belle’s older sister and Esther Carlson to see if she could get a DNA match.
A version of this story was published on Atlas Obscura for their Morbid Monday series. And there are a number of affordable ebooks, some free, in Amazon.com that cover the story in varying degrees of detail.
Belle’s Story: The Short Version (2012). Retrieved on May 18, 2014 from:
Bien, K. (2011 November 14). HOMETOWN SECRETS: Mystery still surrounds 100-year-old LaPorte serial killer story. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/topic/wsbt-mystery-still-surrounds-100-year-old-laporte-serial-killer-story-20111114,0,7428674.story
Hartzell, T. (2007 November 18). Did Belle Gunness really die in LaPorte? Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2007-11-18/news/26809754_1_exhumed-three-children-dna
Kridel, K. (2008 February 17). Unlocking secrets of Indiana “murder farm.” Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2004186653_farmmurders17.html
Kridel, K. (2008 May 14). Children’s remains exhumed in 100-year-old murder mystery. Retrieved on May 16, 2014 from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2008-05-14/news/0805130697_1_exhumed-murder-mystery-three-children
McFeely, D. (2008 January 6). DNA to help solve century-old case. Retrieved on May 18, 2014 from: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2008-01-06-GNS-murder-me_N.htm
The following links may contain images of the remains of victims of the Gunnes Farm murders that are graphic and may be offensive to some readers. Please proceed with caution…
Table of Contents
9 • Wood • (1976) • novelette by Robert Aickman
28 • The Bird • (1916) • short story by Thomas Burke
34 • A Thing About Machines • (1961) • short story by Rod Serling
51 • A Woman Seldom Found • (1956) • short story by William Sansom
54 • The Squaw • (1893) • short story by Bram Stoker
64 • The Cloth of Madness • (1920) • novelette by Seabury Quinn
83 • The Sea-Raiders • (1896) • short story by H. G. Wells
91 • The Dunwich Horror • [Cthulhu Mythos] • (1929) • novelette by H. P. Lovecraft
125 • Dad • (1976) • short story by John Blackburn
129 • The Cold Embrace • (1862) • short story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon [as by Miss Braddon]
137 • Royal Jelly • (1959) • novelette by Roald Dahl
158 • The Boarded Window • (1889) • short story by Ambrose Bierce
162 • Earth to Earth • (1955) • short story by Robert Graves
166 • A Warning to the Curious • (1925) • short story by M. R. James
179 • The Night of the Tiger • (1978) • short story by Stephen King
190 • The Interruption • (1925) • short story by W. W. Jacobs
200 • Back from the Grave • (1958) • short story by Robert Silverberg
210 • The Derelict • (1912) • novelette by William Hope Hodgson
230 • Vendetta • (1923) • short story by Guy de Maupassant (trans. of Une vendetta 1883)
234 • Edifice Complex • (1958) • short story by Robert Bloch
242 • The Red Lodge • (1928) • short story by H. Russell Wakefield
252 • Mary Postgate • (1915) • short story by Rudyard Kipling
264 • The Cradle Demon • (1978) • short story by R. Chetwynd-Hayes
270 • The Horror of Abbot’s Grange • (1936) • short story by Frederick Cowles
283 • Sredni Vashtar • (1911) • short story by Saki
287 • The Wall • (1976) • short story by Robert Haining
296 • An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street • (1853) • novelette by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu [as by J. Sheridan Le Fanu]
313 • The Whining • (1974) • short story by Ramsey Campbell
319 • Berenice • (1835) • short story by Edgar Allan Poe (variant of Berenice—A Tale)
326 • The Finless Death • (1921) • short story by R. E. Vernède
335 • And the Dead Spake • (1922) • short story by E. F. Benson (variant of “And the Dead Spake …”)
Table of Contents
1.The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
2.Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
3.The Shunned House by H. P. Lovecraft
4.The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
5.Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
6.Southern Horrors by Ida B. Wells-Barnett
7.The Monkey’s Paw by W. W. Jacobs
8.The Vampire by John William Polidori
9.The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
10.The Damned Thing by Ambrose Bierce
11.The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe
12.The Wendigo by Algernon Blackwood
13.Dracula’s Guest by Bram Stoker
14.The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe
15.Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker
16.Four Weird Tales by Algernon Blackwood
17.The Willows by Algernon Blackwood
18.The House of the Vampire by George Sylvester Viereck
19.The Parasite by Arthur Conan Doyle
20. A Thin Ghost and Others by M. R. James
21.Clarimonde by Théophile Gautier
22.The Book of Were-Wolves by S. Baring-Gould
23.The Mummy’s Foot by Théophile Gautier
24.The Mysterious Murder of Pearl Bryan by Unknown
25.The Evil Guest by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
26.The Ghost Ship by Richard Middleton
27.The Parenticide Club by Ambrose Bierce
28.Three More John Silence Stories by Algernon Blackwood
29.The Golgotha Dancers by Manly Wade Wellman
30. Each Man Kills by Victoria Glad
31.The Invaders by Benjamin Ferris
32.The Garden of Survival by Algernon Blackwood
33.The Haunted and the Haunters by Edward Bulwer Lytton
34.There is a Reaper … by Charles V. De Vet
35.The Room in the Dragon Volant by Le Fanu
36.The Monster by S. M. Tenneshaw
37.The Waif Woman by Robert Louis Stevenson
38.The Return Of The Soul by Robert Hichens
39.The White Feather Hex by Don Peterson
40. The Herriges Horror in Philadelphia by Anonymous
41.Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M. R. James
42.By the Waters of Paradise by F. MARION CRAWFORD
43.The Shadows on the Wall by MARY E. WILKINS FREEMAN
44.The Corpus Delicti by MELVILLE D. POST
45.An Heiress from Redhorse by AMBROSE BIERCE
46.The Man and the Snake by AMBROSE BIERCE
47.The Oblong Box by EDGAR ALLAN POE
48.The Gold-Bug by EDGAR ALLAN POE
49.Wolfert Webber, or Golden Dreams by WASHINGTON IRVING
50.Adventure of the Black Fisherman by WASHINGTON IRVING
51.Wieland’s Madness by CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN
52.The Golden Ingot by FITZJAMES O’BRIEN
53.My Wife’s Tempter by FITZJAMES O’BRIEN
54.The Minister’s Black Veil NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
55.Horror: A True Tale by Anonymous
56.The Unknown Quantity by Anonymous
57.The Armless Manby Anonymous
58.The Tomtom Clue by Anonymous
59.The Case of Sir Alister Moeran by Anonymous
60.The Kiss by Anonymous
61.The Goth by Anonymous
62.The Last Ascent by Anonymous
63.The Terror by Night by Anonymous
64.The Tragedy at the “Loup Noir” by Anonymous
65.THE PHANTOM ‘RICKSHAW by R. Kipling
66.MY OWN TRUE GHOST STORY
67.THE STRANGE RIDE OF MORROWBIE JUKES
68.THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
69.”THE FINEST STORY IN THE WORLD”
70. THE EMPTY HOUSE by Algernon Blackwood
71.A HAUNTED ISLAND
72.A CASE OF EAVESDROPPING
73.KEEPING HIS PROMISE
74.WITH INTENT TO STEAL
75.THE WOOD OF THE DEAD
76.SMITH: AN EPISODE IN A LODGING-HOUSE
77.A SUSPICIOUS GIFT
78.THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE SECRETARY IN NEW YORK
79.SKELETON LAKE: AN EPISODE IN CAMP
80. THE BOLTED DOOR By Edith Wharton
81.HIS FATHER’S SON
82.THE DAUNT DIANA
87.THE BLOND BEAST
90. FILMER by H. G. Wells
91.THE MAGIC SHOP
92.THE VALLEY OF SPIDERS
93.THE TRUTH ABOUT PYECRAFT
94.MR. SKELMERSDALE IN FAIRYLAND
95.THE STORY OF THE INEXPERIENCED GHOST
96.JIMMY GOGGLES THE GOD
97.THE NEW ACCELERATOR
98.MR. LEDBETTER’S VACATION
99.THE STOLEN BODY
100.MR. BRISHER’S TREASURE
101.MISS WINCHELSEA’S HEART
102.A DREAM OF ARMAGEDDON
‘I came across a good story while doing some research on the Augusta area, just the type of stuff you ghost hunters out there love to hear about. According to the story, A James Purrington moved from Bowdoinham to a farm on the Belgrade road and subsequently massacred his family with an ax and the committed suicide with a razor. Just another in a long line of oddities coming out of that little burg on the Kennebec River. Have you ever noticed that Bowdoinham’s phone numbers start with 666? … Spooks a lurking behind every door, and a skeleton in every closet, as they say.
Stories like this one, and the Mary Knight murder I posted on a while back are just a few of the interesting events that have occurred across Maine throughout her history. These two excerpts are from a couple of different texts that touch upon this event. You can click on the links to read the story in the original publications from the 1800’s.
I found it particularly interesting that Purrintons body was buried near the road, with a mention that gossip claims that Bowdoin College had secretly exhumed the body and taken it to the college for scientific research. Did the college indeed take the body? Maybe, maybe not, but this story would make a good research project for those interested in these sorts of events in Maine history. A century and six years have passed since that tragic day, and we ask, could the spirits of those poor children and Betsy Purrinton still roam that farmhouse on the Belgrade road?
Read the full article here…
The infamous Amityville Horror house (left), located on Ocean Avenue in Long Island, New York; and Raynham Hall (right), in Norfolk, England are two of the most haunted places on Earth.
The house at Ocean Avenue in the Amityville area of Long Island was the setting of one of the most frightening demonic/ghostly infestations in history involving a family of five—the Lutz family—who stayed in the house, which they had just purchased, for a mere 28 days, before fleeing, taking nothing with them from the home except the clothes they were wearing at the time.
A nonfiction book by Jay Anson (September 1977) was a blockbuster best seller and has never been out of print; and the film, starring Margot Kidder and James Brolin, made in 1979, was also a big hit, and is still watched by new generations. There were a series of post-1979 sequels to the original film, and a scary remake in 2005 with Ryan Reynolds playing the part of Goerge Lutz).
Further Reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Amityville_Horror
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
Raynham Hall, a country house in located Norfolk, has been the seat of the Townshend family for 300 years. It is famous for being the location of a rare ghost sighting, that of the “Brown Lady”, who was captured descending the central staircase in one of the most famous ghost photographs of all time (above, left).
According to legend, the “Brown Lady of Raynham Hall” (left) is the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (right) (1686–1726), the sister of Robert Walpole who was the first Prime Minister of Britain. Dorothy was the second wife of Charles Townshend, who was notorious for his violent temper. The story goes that when Townshend discovered that his wife had committed adultery with Lord Wharton, he punished her by locking her in her rooms at Raynham Hall. (There is another story, according to Mary Wortley Montagu, which states that Lady Dorothy was, in fact, entrapped by the Countess of Wharton at Wharton’s house—where she had invited Dorothy to stay for a few days. knowing that her husband, Lord Wharton, with whom Dorothy had been intimately involved, would never want Dorothy to leave, not even to see her own children.) Lady Dorothy Walpole is said to have remained at Raynham Hall until her death in 1726 from smallpox.
Further Reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brown_Lady_of_Raynham_Hall
Read more about haunted houses here: Ghostly Houses.
“The Story of a Ghost”
From a “Letter to Sura”
Pliny, the Younger*, ca. 70s AD
Our leisure furnishes me with the opportunity of learning from you, and you with that of instructing me. Accordingly, I particularly wish to know whether you think there exist such things as phantoms, possessing an appearance peculiar to themselves, and a certain supernatural power, or that mere empty delusions receive a shape from our fears. For my part, I am led to believe in their existence, especially by what I hear happened to Curtius Rufus.
While still in humble circumstances and obscure, Curtius Rufus was a hanger-on in the suit of the Governor of Africa. While pacing the colonnade one afternoon, there appeared to him a female form of superhuman size and beauty. She informed the terrified man that she was “Africa,” and had come to foretell future events; for that he would go to Rome, would fill offices of state there, and would even return to that same province with the highest powers, and die in it. All which things were fulfilled. Moreover, as he touched at Carthage, and was disembarking from his ship, the same form is said to have presented itself to him on the shore.
It is certain that, being seized with illness, and auguring the future from the past and misfortune from his previous prosperity, he himself abandoned all hope of life, though none of those about him despaired.
Is not the following story again still more appalling and not less marvellous?
I will relate it as it was received by me:
‘There was at Athens a mansion, spacious and commodious, but of evil repute and dangerous to health. In the dead of night there was a noise as of iron, and, if you listened more closely, a clanking of chains was heard, first of all from a distance, and afterward hard by. Presently a spectre used to appear, an ancient man sinking with emaciation and squalor, with a long beard and bristly hair, wearing shackles on his legs and fetters on his hands, and shaking them. Hence the inmates, by reason of their fears, passed miserable and horrible nights in sleeplessness. This want of sleep was followed by disease, and, their terrors increasing, by death. For in the daytime as well, though the apparition had departed, yet a reminiscence of it flitted before their eyes, and their dread outlived its cause. The mansion was accordingly deserted, and condemned to solitude, was entirely abandoned to the dreadful ghost. However, it was advertised, on the chance of someone, ignorant of the fearful curse attached to it, being willing to buy or to rent it. Athenodorus, the philosopher, came to Athens and read the advertisement. When he had been informed of the terms, which were so low as to appear suspicious, he made inquiries, and learned the whole of the particulars. Yet none the less on that account, nay, all the more readily, did he rent the house.
‘As evening began to draw on, he ordered a sofa to be set for himself in the front part of the house, and called for his notebooks, writing implements, and a light. The whole of his servants he dismissed to the interior apartments, and for himself applied his soul, eyes, and hand to composition, that his mind might not, from want of occupation, picture to itself the phantoms of which he had heard, or any empty terrors. At the commencement there was the universal silence of night. Soon the shaking of irons and the clanking of chains was heard, yet he never raised his eyes nor slackened his pen, but hardened his soul and deadened his ears by its help. The noise grew and approached: now it seemed to be heard at the door, and next inside the door. He looked round, beheld and recognized the figure he had been told of. It was standing and signaling to him with its finger, as though inviting him. He, in reply, made a sign with his hand that it should wait a moment, and applied himself afresh to his tablets and pen. Upon this the figure kept rattling its chains over his head as he wrote. On looking round again, he saw it making the same signal as before, and without delay took up a light and followed it. It moved with a slow step, as though oppressed by its chains, and, after turning into the courtyard of the house, vanished suddenly and left his company. On being thus left to himself, he marked the spot with some grass and leaves which he plucked.
‘Next day he applied to the magistrates, and urged them to have the spot in question dug up. There were found there some bones attached to and intermingled with fetters; the body to which they had belonged, rotted away by time and the soil, had abandoned them thus naked and corroded to the chains. They were collected and interred at the public expense, and the house was ever afterward free from the spirit, which had obtained due sepulture.’
The above story I believe on the strength of those who affirm it. What follows I am myself in a position to affirm to others. I have a freedman, who is not without some knowledge of letters. A younger brother of his was sleeping with him in the same bed. The latter dreamed he saw someone sitting on the couch, who approached a pair of scissors to his head, and even cut the hair from the crown of it. When day dawned he was found to be cropped round the crown, and his locks were discovered lying about.
A very short time afterward a fresh occurrence of the same kind confirmed the truth of the former one. A lad of mine was sleeping, in company with several others, in the pages’ apartment. There came through the windows (so he tells the story) two figures in white tunics, who cut his hair as he lay, and departed the way they came. In his case, too, daylight exhibited him shorn, and his locks scattered around.
Nothing remarkable followed, except, perhaps, this, that I was not brought under accusation, as I should have been, if Domitian (in whose reign these events happened) had lived longer. For in his desk was found an information against me which had been presented by Carus; from which circumstance may be conjectured—inasmuch as it is the custom of accused persons to let their hair grow—that the cutting off of my slaves’ hair was a sign of the danger which threatened me being averted.
I beg, then, that you will apply your great learning to this subject. The matter is one which deserves long and deep consideration on your part; nor am I, for my part, undeserving of having the fruits of your wisdom imparted to me. You may even argue on both sides (as your way is), provided you argue more forcibly on one side than the other, so as not to dismiss me in suspense and anxiety, when the very cause of my consulting you has been to have my doubts put an end to.
(*Translated from the Latin by John Delaware Lewis and William Melmoth)
About the Author
Greeks, Ghost Hunts, & the First Haunted House Story
“From ghoulies and ghosties And long-leggedy beasties And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!” ~ Old Scottish Saying
‘Stories of ghosts, the spirit world, and things “that go bump in the night” are common threads found deeply woven into the historical and cultural fabric of most nations and people of the world. The earliest recorded story involving the supernatural is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a 4,000-year-old Sumerian saga describing the journey to the spirit world by a Mesopotamian Priest-King of the city of Uruk in his quest for immortality. To his despair, he finds that the gods retain this gift beyond price for themselves. This epic first set forth the notion that the gods shaped humankind from clay, then breathed into their nostrils the breath of life. In time, that “breath of life” has become the thing that survives corporeal death: the spirit.
However, it’s Greeks that hold the prize for the first recorded tale that has all the trappings of the modern haunted house ghost story. Set down in a letter by Pliny the Younger (lawyer, an author and a natural philosopher of Ancient Rome) sometime during the last century B.C., the story takes place in Athens in a stately, deserted house with a “reputation for being unhealthy.” Hmm, sounds familiar…
As the story goes, residents of the house were tormented night after night by the clamor of clanking chains. The unsettling din would grow louder and louder until the ghost of an emaciated, disheveled old man—shackled and chained—appeared. Eventually no one would stay in the house, and it was abandoned.
One day, the Greek philosopher Athenodorus, intrigued by the story, rented the dwelling, determined to wait for the ghost’s appearance and to discover its purpose. I suppose he might be considered the original ghost hunter and this the first official ghost hunt. At any rate, late that night, as hoped, the clatter of chains began to sound throughout the house, growing ever closer until it filled the room where he waited. Then the decrepit apparition materialized … and beckoned.
Stoically, Athenodorus followed. As the ghost reached an open area in the house, it suddenly disappeared. Quickly, Athenodorus marked the spot with a clump of grass. The following day, under the supervision of a local magistrate, the spot was dug up, revealing the shackled and chained skeletal remains of a man.
So, as you can see, the concept of spirits that walk the Earth and interact with the living has a very old and well-established foundation. Humankind, since earliest antiquity, has believed in the existence of the unseen. Thousands of years of belief have been woven in our collective psyche, allowing for the acceptance (at the very least) of the possibility of ghosts and hauntings. Even the staunchest skeptic carries the seeds of belief. As Mark Twain reportedly once said, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I am afraid of them.”’
The Legend of Bluebeard is a centuries-old folk tale made popular in 1697 by fairy-tale author Charles Perrault. A classic example of psychological and serial-killer horror tropes, Bluebeard tells the tale of a rich nobleman who is also a violent killer, recognized, feared, and hated due in part to his blue beard—that, and, perhaps, the unnatural, rather macabre habit he has of brutally murdering and saving the corpses of his wives. Wife #8, though, is still alive when we come to the story.
One day, Bluebeard sets out on a little trip, leaving Wife #8 the keys to all the rooms in the castle—including the one room which he insists she never enter. We learn that Bluebeard subjected each of his former wives to the very same “key-to-the-forbidden-room test”. Wife #8, being unable to resist the temptation, becomes curious; so, she unlocks the door to the forbidden room.
The Horror! Inside, she discovers the tortured, mutilated corpses of Bluebeard’s former wives—some crumpled, some hanging, but all extremely dead. Wife #8 drops the key in her haste to leave the horrible room. When Bluebeard returns home, early, and discovers the key, he confronts Wife #8 about it and makes a promise to her that she will suffer the same fate as all of his previous wives.
(Art by Sae Jung Choi)
Richard Roberts, discoverer of the Ebu Gogo, says local tales suggest the species could still exist…
“When I was back in Flores earlier this month we heard the most amazing tales of little, hairy people, whom the villagers called Ebu Gogo (Ebu = ‘grandmother’; Gogo = ‘he who eats anything’). The tales contained the most fabulous details; so detailed you start to imagine there may be a grain of truth in them.
One of the village elders told us that the Ebu Gogo ate everything raw, including vegetables, fruits, meat and, if they got the chance, even human meat.
When food was served to them they also ate the plates, made of pumpkin – the original guests from hell (or heaven, if you don’t like washing up and don’t mind replacing your dinner set every week).
The villagers say that the Ebu Gogo raided their crops, which they tolerated, but decided to chase them away when the Ebu Gogo stole – and ate – one of their babies.
They ran away with the baby to their cave which was at the foot of the local volcano, some tens of metres up a cliff face. The villagers offered them bales of dry grass as fodder, which they gratefully accepted.
A few days later, the villagers went back with a burning bale of grass which they tossed into the cave. Out ran the Ebu Gogo, singed but not fried, and were last seen heading west, in the direction of Liang Bua, where we found the Hobbit, as it happens.
When my colleague Gert van den Bergh first heard these stories a decade ago, which several of the villages around the volcano recount with only very minor changes in detail, he thought them no better than leprechaun tales until we unearthed the Hobbit. (I much prefer Ebu as the name of our find but my colleague Mike Morwood was insistent on Hobbit.)
The anatomical details in the legends are equally fascinating. They are described as about a metre tall, with long hair, pot bellies, ears that slightly stick out, a slightly awkward gait, and longish arms and fingers – both confirmed by our further finds this year.
[The Ebu Gogo] murmured at each other and could repeat words [spoken by villagers] verbatim. For example, to ‘here’s some food’, they would reply ‘here’s some food’. They could climb slender-girthed trees but, here’s the rub, were never seen holding stone tools or anything similar, whereas we have lots of sophisticated artefacts in the H. floresiensis levels at Liang Bua. That’s the only inconsistency with the Liang Bua evidence.
The women Ebu Gogo had extremely pendulous breasts, so long that they would throw them over their shoulders, which must have been quite a sight in full flight.
We did ask the villagers if they ever interbred with the Ebu Gogo. They vigorously denied this, but said that the women of Labuan Baju (a village at the far western end of Flores, better known as LBJ) had rather long breasts, so they must have done.
A local eruption at Liang Bua (in western Flores) may have wiped out local hobbits around 12,000 years ago, but they could well have persisted much later in other parts of the island. The villagers said that the last hobbit was seen just before the village moved location, farther from the volcano, not long before the Dutch colonists settled in that part of central Flores, in the 19th century.
Do the Ebu Gogo still exist? It would be a hoot to search the last pockets of rainforest on the island. Not many such pockets exist, but who knows. At the very least, searching again for that lava cave, or others like it, should be done, because remains of hair only a few hundred years old, would surely survive, snagged on the cave walls or incorporated in deposits, and would be ideal for ancient DNA analyses.
Interestingly, we did find lumps of dirt with black hair in them this year in the Hobbit levels, but don’t know yet if they’re human or something else. We’re getting DNA testing done, which we hope will be instructive.
Richard “Bert” Roberts is a University of Wollongong professor and one of the team investigating the Hobbits.
(The Telegraph, 2004)
Black Masses occur at night because fewer people are praying during those hours, and prayers disrupt these rituals. Therefore, we ought to pray at night more in order to prevent these atrocious rites wherein the Eucharist is profaned on a nude woman who serves as the “altar” and is raped at the end of the Black Mass. It is even more imperative to pray on the nights of Satanic feasts (the nights comprising October 31/November 1, February 1/2, April 30/May 1). (generationexorcistblog)