cover image Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men

Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men

Harold Schechter. Little A, $24.95 (334p) ISBN 978-1-4778-0895-5

Schechter (Man-Eater) recounts the horrifying murders committed by Belle Gunness, who lured approximately 28 men to their deaths on her Indiana farm in the early 20th century. Gunness advertised in national papers seeking a hired hand, and enticed scores of immigrants to join her on the farm, after which she poisoned them, mutilated their bodies, and buried them in her yard. Early in the book, readers learn that Gunness and her children were thought to have died in a 1908 house fire, but Schechter sustains the horror by recounting the subsequent excavation of their bodies, which led police to discover the remains of Gunness’s numerous victims (“piles of hacked, rotting skeletons with an occasional fleshless skull”). Ray Lamphere, one of Gunness’s surviving workers, was charged with arson and the deaths of Gunness and her children, but investigators struggled to determine if the charred remains found in the house were hers. Schechter draws from press accounts of the crimes’ aftermath at the height of yellow journalism; Gunness is breathlessly described in newspapers as “a modern Lady Macbeth,” an “Indiana Ogress,” and the “Female Bluebeard.” With riveting and thorough detail, Schechter tracks the mystery of Lamphere’s culpability in the arson and closes with a possibly related murder that took place decades after the 1908 house fire. True-crime fans will be hooked from the start. [em](Apr.) [/em]