The 20 Most Secretly Brilliant Stupid Criminals

#13. Belle Gunness Is the Least Subtle Serial Criminal Ever

The key to life is to turn your failures into successes. Just ask Belle 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.

Gunness emigrated from Norway to the U.S. 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.

Gunness 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, Gunness' second husband, Peter died when a large sausage grinding machine "accidentally" fell on him. Gunness, 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, Gunness sent advertisements to Norwegian language papers asking for a mate. In the world of crime, this is what's known as leaving a paper trail covered in your sooty, arson-happy finger prints.

Nevertheless, over the next two years a number of suitors turned up at Gunness' 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, the police found four bodies in the basement; one adult and three children. The adult was thought to be Gunness.

Authorities, finding this whole scene slightly suspicious, began digging up Gunness' back yard. They found the remains of 12 bodies and numerous body parts.

The Secretly Brilliant:

It is estimated that Gunness made $30,000 from the various husbands who were sucked in by the newspaper ad, and maybe as much as $250,000 overall. Still, it's hard to call anyone brilliant who ends up dead in a house fire she started, right?

Actually, the body that was found in the basement was only thought to be Gunness, a determination made by the same police force that took 10 years to connect the dots on the lady who left a thicker trail of dead men and fire than most wars.

So while we'd like to think that Gunness didn't get away with it, we find it a little suspicious that the body they thought was her's happened to be missing its head. So either she got away, or a woman who burnt houses down as a hobby managed to get caught in the basement of one of her house fires, and also managed to make her head disappear off the face of the Earth in the process.

That's right, they never found Gunness' head, despite the best efforts of her insurance agents who probably just wanted to give it a check.

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