Pick Me Up! magazine asked for my professional opinion on Belle Gunness, a Norwegian-American serial killer who killed most of her boyfriends and two of her daughters. She may also have killed both of her husbands and all of her children. It has been estimated that she murdered 25-40 people over several decades. Out in the 13th October 2012 edition, I supplied the following psychological insight.
Belle was reportedly attacked by her lover while pregnant and lost her baby. How might this incident have affected her later life?
The long-term impact of losing a baby while pregnant can be severe and research has shown that emotional problems such as anxiety and depression can linger long after the loss. Such an incident is likely to have left Belle shocked and angry, as well as leaving her with a deep sense of loss and sadness. She may even have blamed herself for the incident. Even if these feelings do reduce over time, they will remain an influential part of a woman’s life.
Many people emigrate. But how would moving to the USA have affected Belle?
Although people emigrate for a better life, research shows that it remains a stressful process that can have a negative impact on a person’s mental health and well-being. Belle would have found herself in a much larger country, which might have been rather overwhelming at first, perhaps even reigniting feelings of anxiety and depression experienced during her traumatic loss. Finding her way in the vastness that is the USA would have been daunting and, indeed, scary. Belle might have coped with this by remaining focused on something that would give her security – money.
She seems to have been motivated by money. Even killing her own children, Axel and Caroline, for their insurance policies. Could this really have been the case for Belle? Could she have killed her own children for money? Or was there something else driving her to murder?
Money was at the core of Belle’s drastic actions. Through wealth, she needed nobody. Her attachment to money reduced any need to be attached to humans, which is likely related to a fear of losing that attachment, as she had lost her baby.
Belle’s methods were quite violent – killing her lovers with sausage-grinders, meat cleavers and sometimes feeding their flesh to her pigs. Why such a level of violence?
While Belle was primarily motivated by money, she still possessed a deep-seated anger towards those who had harmed (or not helped) her in the past. Violence was a way for her to release this anger, while at the same time increasing her wealth and independence.
She did choose to poison some people. Do you think there was some sort of hierarchy in the method she used on each victim?
There seems no logical reason as to why Belle chose to be physically violent to some of her victims while poisoning others. Poisoning, however, was in many ways just as violent, causing her victims to writhe in pain before they would die. Poison was by no means the ‘lighter’ option for her victims – she ensured all would suffer. Indeed, the poison likely mimicked her own internal and abdominal experience of a miscarriage, making others feel her pain.
She used blatant deception in her advertisements for suitors. Did Belle have a conscience?
It would appear that Belle, typical of many serial killers, lacked any conscience or empathy. Indeed, evidence suggests she was a ‘cold’ woman who found it easy to carry out abortions, take children and claim they were her own, and kill children. She thought nothing of luring men with her wealth and then taking their lives, including sometimes the lives of their children.
What do you make of the mystery of her disappearance? Was Belle the kind of woman to make a getaway, or do you think it more likely she perished in the house fire?
We may never know what really happened to Belle, but her psychological profile suggests that she is the type of woman who would and could make a getaway. She was a determined woman, set on taking care of herself and no one else. Personally, I would not be surprised if part of looking out for herself involved faking her own death.