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.
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.