|Serial murderess Belle Gunness with her alleged children (left to right) Phillip, Lucy and Myrtle. The children were among the four bodies found after a fire destroyed the Gunness home in La Porte. The fourth body was purportedly Belle Gunness.|
Asle Helgelien went digging -- literally -- on the Gunness property (against the wishes of La Porte County law enforcement) and found the decomposing body of his brother. In short order, several dozen more bodies were found, along with bones from possibly dozens more.
I have always found this case haunting, as do many people. There are pictures available of the body of Andrew Helgelien as it was dug up, as well as the decomposing severed head of fellow victim Ole Budsberg, with the very visible crack in the skull from where Gunness hit him with a meat cleaver (she had been a butcher). I won't post the pictures here, because many may find them disturbing. I am someone who has studied history with all its murders and genocides, and bones as part of archaeology, and even I find the pictures of Helgelien and Budsberg gruesome and disturbing.
What is worst for me, though, is something somewhat similar to the case of Mary Jane Kelly, believed to be the fifth victim of Jack the Ripper. By far the best looking of his victims, Jack hacked her face to pieces so no one knows what she looked like. An artist's conception of her looks I saw a few years ago was for me truly haunting. To think Jack took away not just her life, but her face. As if she had never existed. A picture, real or conceptual, really is worth as thousand words.
Now, look at the picture above, with Gunness's purported children Phillip, Lucy, and Myrtle. Look at the picture below, of Gunness' foster daughter Jennie Olsen.
|Jennie Olsen, Belle Gunness' foster daughter. Murdered allegdly because she knew too much. Did she know too much when this picture was taken?|
Look at Jennie Olsen's picture. Now, keep in mind that the late 1800s and early 1900s were a different time. Pictures and posing for pictures was different than it is now. What you were supposed to do in posing for a picture was different than it is now. It was a different time, a different culture. Pictures were supposed to be dignified, not necessarily happy or fun.
Still, look closely at Jennie Olsen's picture. Look at the picture of the Gunness family, especially at the children Phillip, Lucy and Myrtle. Look at Olsen.
Maybe it's just me, but do any of these children look happy to you? Or do they look ... scared?
To me, Olsen's is the worst. A gorgeous blonde just entering into adulthood, yet Olsen looks anything but excited or confident. She looks sad, full of foreboding.
I've seen what is purported to be an earlier picture of Olsen with Gunness, when Olsen was ten or so. Olsen looks scared in that picture, too.
Obviously, they all had reason to be. But some versions of the Gunness story have Jennie Olsen whispering to another child that "[her] mama killed [her] papa. She hit him with a cleaver," only to recant the story under the angry glare of Gunness.
It is now believed that Olsen either became suspicious about the men who would arrive at the Gunness house, only to suddenly vanish overnight -- leaving all their possessions and money -- or simply found out the truth.