America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

A Norwegian farm girl, her family so poor, they often went hungry, is seduced by a rich landowner’s son. But despite her dreams, he has no plans to make her his wife. Abandoned, she sees only one path forward or she’ll sink into the black hole of her family’s poverty. But her first goal is revenge and after the landowner’s son dies a horrid death amidst whispers of poison, she boards a boat and sails to America. Norway’s gain is America’s loss.

Her name changed through the years but after the mysterious deaths of two husbands, numerous men, women, and children, she goes down in his as Belle Gunness.  An entrepreneur whose business was murder, Gunness felt no qualms seducing men for their money and dispatching them with her axe—filling her farmland with her victims.

As her crimes were about to be discovered, her solid brick home burnt to the ground and workers battling the smoke and flames discovered the bodies of her three children and a woman without a head.  Was it Belle  or did she get away with one more murder, absconding with close to a million dollars. It’s a question the world has been asking since 1908.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness (Indiana University Press/Red Lightning Oct. 4, 2021; $20).

What people are saying about America’s Femme Fatale.

Ammeson uses astute research and punchy prose to chronicle Belle’s transformation from destitute farm girl to one of history’s most egregious female serial killers. . . . Compact and captivating, this salacious tale of murderous greed during the early twentieth century will be devoured quickly by true-crime fans.– Michelle Ross ― BOOKLIST / Amer Library Assn

It’s a mesmerizing cautionary tale I had to keep reading despite the late-night hour. . . . Ammeson writes narrative nonfiction with a sense of drama to propel us along the unbelievable.– Rita Kohn ― NUVO

America’s Femme Fatale is the detailed story of Belle Gunness, one of the nation’s most prolific mass murderers. Ammeson recounts the horrific events with dry wit and corrects many errors found in previous accounts. Gunness stands out in an infamous crowd because she was a woman; she killed men, women and children rather than choosing from among one narrow section of victimology; and her murders seem to have been rooted in greed rather than lust, the serial killer’s usual motive.– Keven McQueen, author of Murderous Acts: 100 Years of Crime in the Midwest

Jane Ammeson will be on Hoosier History Live talking to the show’s host Nelson Price about Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or stream audio live from anywhere during the show. For those who miss the show, it’ll be available by podcast as well.

The Nesting

The negatives of accepting what it appears to be a glam job in extraordinary luxury, turn out, to be numerous. Lexi is an emotional wreck, having just attempted suicide, the home is in a different country — Norway — so she is far away from those she knows, and even more, it’s totally isolated.

No one ever listens to me. When I tell the heroine of a spooky movie not to open the cellar door, or a character in a book to avoid the shortcut through the forest, they always do so anyway.

And so it is in “The Nesting,” by C. J. Cooke, when Lexi Ellis, after losing her job, her boyfriend, and her home, applies for a position to nanny two young girls. Don’t take that job, I try to tell Lexi.

Why not, you might ask? After all, a job is a good thing and her employer, a noted architect, is building the show-stopping, eco-sensitive home where they’ll be living.

The negatives, it turns out, are numerous. Lexi is an emotional wreck, having just attempted suicide, the home is in a different country — Norway — so she is far away from those she knows, and even more, it’s totally isolated.

Oh, and did I mention that Aurelia, the girls’ mother, committed suicide on the property not long ago and that Lexi is pretending to be Sophie Hallerton, the woman who initially applied for the job?

It doesn’t get better. The young girls are overly energetic, leaving Sophie/Lexi exhausted by the end of the day, and the beauty of their location fades as a sense of eeriness seems to overtake the house as odd things begin happening.

Cooke, an award-winning poet whose books have been published in 23 languages, also writes scholarly pieces on creative writing interventions for mental health. That fits Lexi, who before moving to Norway found that writing helped her cope with all her troubles.

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