DNA to Determine if Headless Killer Faked Her Death

Belle IThe most infamous femme fatale of modern-day crime, Belle “the Black Widow” Gunness, purportedly killed between 25 and 40 people during her reign of terror; lasting almost a decade before 1908 when her headless body was found alongside her three dead children in the basement of Gunness' burned-out Indiana farmhouse.

Many people at the time (most specifically Gunness' former farmhand Ray Lamphere, who was put away for the rest of his life for allegedly killing Gunness and the kids) believed Gunness faked her own death, using some other poor lady's bod as a stand-in for her own. University of Indianapolis researchers have taken it upon themselves to solve this mystery once and for all, by comparing DNA to the now-exhumed body to cells found on letters Gunness mailed to rich male suitors (it's widely believed she killed many of her victims for their money). Andrea Simmons, a grad student in human biology at U of Indy and the leader of this forensic investigation, said these men's bodies most likely ended up buried behind Gunness' house.

Belle IIIt's widely believed Gunness, a Norwegian immigrant, faked her death and headed west to California to continue her murderous campaigning for 23 more years. Contributing to this case is the fact Gunness favored poison as her weapon of choice; and that in 1931, 23 years after Gunness' “death”, a woman matching Gunness' description was arrested in California for the alleged poisoning of a Norwegian man.

She would have been in her early 70s at the time, so it's not impossible," Simmons said. "Before Indiana authorities could get to California and see if they could identify her, she died of tuberculosis in police custody and was buried."
Oh, not to mention: "Days before the fire, she [Gunness] bought five gallons of kerosene and made a lot of noise in town about her farmhand plotting to kill her," Simmons said
. All this started going down pretty soon after the rumor mill began buzzing about dudes arriving at Gunness' place and disappearing.

Simmons' team collected bone samples from remains found at the Gunness farm. The plan is to compare that DNA to the cells in Gunness' letters; as well as possibly exhuming the body in California for its potential DNA samples. Results should start rolling in sometime during April. Oooh, a good mystery!

[Originally posted at playgirl.com/blog]