Fact or Fiction: Riveting Tales of a Historic Lady Serial Killer

In Fact or Fiction I recommend a fiction and nonfiction book on the same topic. This month you can choose an imaginative historical novel, a riveting true crime book, or both! Either way you’ll meet the notorious Belle Gunness, killer of men.

In the Garden of Spite by Camilla Bruce

In the Garden of SpiteHow could people say such vile things about a poor widow? It was hardly Bella Sorensen’s fault that two of her houses burned down. It was a gift from God that she had children after years of barrenness – nothing suspicious there! As for her sickly husband dying on the only possible day when she could collect two insurance policies, it was a mere coincidence. 

Never mind the rumors and whispers about “Bloody Bella. She had remade herself once before and she would do it again. When Little Brynhild left Norway in 1881 for a new life in Chicago she abandoned her old name, the miserable tenant farm and all the pity and porridge she desperately loathed. There was only one thing she took with her, one thing she cradled and nurtured as a child: spite. Spite served her well in Chicago and spite would be her mistress on her new farm in La Porte, Indiana. 

Find out just how far spite will take Bella (and, intriguingly, was some of her spite justified?) in Camilla Bruce’s imaginative new novel In the Garden of Spite. 

Hell’s Princess by Harold Schechter

TheHell's Princess real Belle Gunness was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by the charms of her Norwegian cooking and handsome Indiana farm. The twice-widowed Norwegian emigrant was plain of face and stout of body. She coyly assured correspondents responding to her matrimonial advertisement that her farm was valuable, the climate mild and her cooking first rate. Bring all your money, she urged her suitors, and tell no one where you are going.  

Soon Belle started warmly welcoming men from all over the Midwest. With bulging trunks and cash-stuffed wallets, they slipped into the widow’s lair. A hearty strychnine-laced meal was waiting, with a no-doubt freshly sharpened ax for dessert. Yes, Belle was as good as any black widow in snaring her prey, until a mysteriously set fire swept through her home and killed all within it. While digging through the smoldering ruins town authorities unearthed a surprising number of men’s watches and then they started digging in the hog pens. 

Another winner from true crime master Harold Schechter, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men is a compelling narrative of Belle’s “murder farm.” It’s also a detailed exploration of the deadly fire and whether Belle truly died or escaped to ply her butchering skills elsewhere. 

Constant reader, book selector, shameless promoter of good reads - these are just a few of the things I do as a Collection Development Professional. I love sharing the hidden gems in our nonfiction collection!