3. Belle Gunness
Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-American serial killer who vanished from her farm in Indiana on April 28, 1908, after having killed as many as 40 people. By means which would today be called catfishing, Belle struck up pen-pal relationships with men who responded to her personal advertisements for investors looking for possible relationships. She corresponded with her victims for a number of months before convincing them to visit, bringing with them their life savings in cash while telling no one where they were going.
The ruse worked surprisingly well, and a number of men, most of them homesick for their native Norway, would turn up at her door with a $1,000 or more wrapped in paper parcels, after which they would never be seen in one piece again.
Belle was believed at one time to have died in a fire at her home, where the remains of three charred bodies, thought to be her children, and an equally burned female torso were found. Belle’s sometime boyfriend, Ray Lamphere, was arrested and questioned and charged with arson. However, when police began to excavate the farmhouse, they found a number of bodies, and body parts, that clearly had nothing to do with him.
It was later believed that the headless torso was not that of Gunness at all but rather her housekeeper, who had mysteriously disappeared. It is certainly true that Gunness had withdrawn large amounts of money from the bank immediately prior to the fire. Lamphere is said to have confessed before his death that he helped Gunness to set the fire and drove her to the train station to make good her escape. Despite numerous sightings in the years following, her whereabouts have never been determined.