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The 6 Most Horrifying Ways Anyone Ever Got Rich

Some people will do anything for money. And we mean freaking anything.

We're telling you right now, this is not for those with weak stomachs or a generally positive view of humanity. Because sometimes when there's a paycheck on the line, people will do things that would make Eli Roth puke.

#6.
Belle Gunness Torches Her Way to Riches

The key to life is to turn your failures into successes. Just ask Bell Gunness, who managed to succeed despite a series of devastating fires. Granted, she started the fires, but we like to think the point still stands.

Belle Gunness emigrated from Norway to the USA in 1881. She quickly married and set up a candy store that failed to make any money. One year later it burned to the ground but, fortunately, it was insured. She used the money to buy a house in Austin. In 1898, it burned to the ground. Thankfully, it also was insured. In 1900, her husband, Max Sorenson, burned to the grou- oh, no, he died. He had, though, just taken out two insurance policies.

Belle used the money to buy a farm in La Porte, Indiana. Soon after moving in, the boat and carriage house burned to the ground. You see a pattern emerging here?

In 1902, Belle's second husband, Peter Gunness died (when a large sausage grinding machine "accidentally" fell on him). Belle, who had the world's most trusting insurance company, got paid on her claim for $3,000.

Needing a good man to accompany her through all of life's troubles and mysterious fires, Belle sent advertisements to Norwegian language papers asking for a mate. Over the next two years a number of suitors turned up at Belle's farm, took out life insurance policies, and promptly disappeared.

Finally on April 28, 1908, in the aftermath of yet another fire at the Gunness farm, police found four bodies in the basement; one adult and three children. The adult was thought to be Belle, but was hard to identify because the head was missing.

Authorities, finding this whole scene slightly suspicious, began digging up Belle's back yard. They found the remains of 12 bodies and numerous body parts. They never found Belle's head, despite the best efforts of her insurance company's agents who probably just wanted to give it a check.

How Much Did She Make?

It is estimated Belle made $30,000 from the various husbands who got sucked in by the newspaper ad, and maybe as much as $250,000 overall. It sounds impressive, but considering the sheer number of bodies she left in her path, we think it works out to like, six dollars per victim.

#5.
Burke and Hare Sell Their Bodies (Well, Not Theirs)

William Burke and William Hare set out to make their money in the same fashion as any young up and coming entrepreneur living in 19th century Britain: by stealing dead bodies for dissection.

A pretty gruesome way to make a living, sure. But such was the demand for corpses (for medical students to practice on) that it was a pretty popular crime and one generally overlooked by the authorities, since the victims were already dead and all. Burke and Hare made their first buck from the trade when a tenant in Hare's lodging house died. They took the body and sold it to Edinburgh Medical College for seven pounds.

It didn't take long before the pair started thinking about how they could make their operation more productive. The two thought outside of the box. You know, the box people were buried in. That's right, these savvy young lads cut out the middle man and just started killing people on their own.


"I gotta tell you, this is so much easier than digging up graves.

Over 18 months, Burke and Hare, along with their wives, killed 16 people. First they killed their tenants, then, when their supply ran out, they started luring people to the apartment.

Unfortunately for the pair, one of Hare's tenants became suspicious after finding a dead body under a bed and alerted the police. Hare was given immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony against Burke. As a result Burke was hanged in 1829, his body given to medical students to dissect according the British rules of ironic punishment.

How Much Did They Make?

At the rate these guys were going, it seems like they'd have had to slaughter a whole city to make a decent living. Burke kept a diary about the murders and wrote in one entry: "July 1. Sold the Englishman for L10. Kept the whole money, for Hare's conduct to me."

So these jackasses killed 16 people that we know about, yet still haggled over a few bucks here and there. It almost seems like they could have, you know, just gotten jobs instead.

#4.
Marcus Licinius Crassus: Fire Fighter for Profit

Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman general and politician who commanded his legions around 70 BC. He's credited with creating the first fire brigade, though he probably wasn't thought of as highly of as FDNY since his primary motivation for putting out fires was to extort money from the property owners.

It all began when Crassus noticed the tendency of buildings in Rome to burn down, due to being built too high and close together and with large wooden support beams. To capitalize on this, he bought 500 slaves and put together a fire brigade. Then, he'd show up at the scene of the fire and make the owner a deal. It went something like this:

"Sell me your building, or I'll let it burn down along with everything you own. I'll give you 30 Talents."

"Ah come on Crassus, I bought it for 72 Talents. And I added that deck!"

"20 Talents for the house pal."

"I'll take 80. 80 Talents." (Noise of building collapsing in on itself)

"10 Talents bud. Time's running out. You take it or you get nothing."


"Yeah, I smell the fire, but I'm not even turning around until you show me some money. Tick tock."

It was kind of like how a fire department would work under the Libertarians. Not only would Crassus buy the house that was burning down, he'd buy the neighbouring houses that were at risk of catching fire. He'd then set the slaves to work putting out the blaze and rebuild any damaged houses, to be sold later at an enormous profit.

How Much Did He Make?

Crassus eventually amassed a fortune almost equal to that of the annual income of the Roman Treasury. He accumulated over 7,100 talents, or 200 million Sestertii. We have no idea what either of those things are but we do know he's listed as one of the 10 richest men in history.

Later Crassus went off to war in Parthia (modern day Iran). His soldiers demanded he parley with the Parthians who had offered to meet him. At the meeting Crassus was seized, tortured and had molten silver poured down his throat to sate his thirst for wealth.

And that, Mr. Obama, is why you don't negotiate with Iran.

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