Based on a True StoryBefore there was a Craigslist or dating websites, there were personal ads placed in newspapers. In the early 1900s, Belle Gunness used those ads as her own murderous ATM – she corresponded with men looking for a spouse, convinced them to empty their bank accounts and bring their fortunes to Indiana (usually in their coat linings), where they anticipated they would begin a new idyllic life with Belle. In fact, it was on her farm that their lives would end in a brutal fashion. Belle shows just how she managed to hide in plain sight, through the power of manipulation, and a very targeted “generosity”.
Belle is a dynamic gender-bender, a female Hannibal Lecter: she's mesmerizing to watch. A maestro of manipulation, Belle is portrayed as surprisingly human – not only by the fact that she does seem to want love (as evidenced by her brief but promising romance with a handsome suitor named Andrew), but because the back story of her twisted childhood suggests she wasn't born a monster, but rather evolved into one. For example, the film demonstrates how she was exploited by her own father when she was just a young child – forced to pose nude for pictures that he in turn sold to clients as “souvenirs” of their encounters. This twisted relationship between sex and money was fertile ground for Belle's dark behaviors to grow as she became older. Eventually, she saw that money was the key to power, influence, and respectability. She would do anything to enhance her wealth. A silent film portraying Belle Gunness as the original femme fatale was made in 1910, but it has been lost. Her popularity continued to rise drastically with the creation of comic books, news articles, and more. However, the sheer number of deaths during WW-I took America’s most famed serial killer off the front page. It is in fact a mystery as to how this woman could kill so many people by merely writing poison pen letters, and then making her escape. The nickname “Black Widow” was coined for Belle Gunness, and yet her murders have disappeared from the public consciousness... until now. Belle’s home reflected the evolving technology (flashlights, dishwashers, etc.) of the time period. The film will be immersed in the world of the early 1900s, when Bayer heroin was a cure for alcoholism, and like Bayer cocaine could be bought legally without a prescription.
Belle is a mother who takes care of her children, plays the piano, and supports her own orphanage. However, she also happens to be the most prolific serial killer in American history. Our “Belle” is drawn from history and inspired by classics such as In Cold Blood. The film will be shot as an independent character-driven movie.
A silent film about Belle was made (1910) but was lost, portraying Belle Gunness as the original femme fatale. Her popularity continued to rise drastically with the creation of comic books, news articles, etc. However, the sheer numbers of deaths of WWI took America’s most famed serial killer off the front page. It is in fact a mystery how this woman could kill so many people by merely writing poison pen letters, and always escape. The nickname “Black Widow” was coined for Belle Gunness, and yet her murders have disappeared from the public consciousness ... until now.
The film will be immersed in the world of 1902, when Bayer heroin was a cure for alcoholism, and like Bayer cocaine could be bought legally without a prescription
(unlike Bayer Aspirin!)
A TOWN IN DENIAL
Sheriff Smutzer’s family still lives in La Porte
A town still in denial, La Porte is like a character unto itself, as was Santa Rosa in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. The town was once poised for industrial growth, a tourism spot with its many lakes, and a population of 20,000 and growing. However, it was left with an unfulfilled dream and a zero growth factor, as if it had been frozen in time. It is lacking the diversity, culture, and size to overshadow its murderous past in a way that London has been able to do regarding Jack the Ripper. Today, the people of La Porte are divided as to whether to embrace or ignore its colored and bloody history. We have kept as true to history as possible using all the vibrant characteristics and characters of the time. The ending will astonish the town and leave them, like us, forever embedded in the horror of this serial killer. Join us in Belle’s parlor of what seems to be an American dream home, and watch it become an American nightmare that will change the town, and the people of La Porte forever.
THE FORENSICS AND PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE
BY ADRIENNE M. ARNO, HEAD FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST
More than 90 years later –the most prolific female serial killer in American history continues to evade authorities but haunt the nation’s psyche. In 2008, sealed inside a decades old casket, forensic researchers look to confirm the identity of Belle Gunness from the remains that lie within...what they find are more questions in the macabre mystery of America’s most prolific female serial killer.
Using a DNA sample from a sealed envelope Belle had yet to mail, forensic scientists hoped to positively identify Belle Gunness' remains. Their hopes were dashed however when the test came back inconclusive due to the negligible amount of DNA the envelope was able to produce. Once again, Belle Gunness has managed to elude authorities. Much like Jack the Ripper who's identity was never revealed, the true fate of Belle Gunness remains unknown. While DNA may someday shed more light on the death of Belle Gunness, her story and the motives that drove this elusive seductress to kill can’t be found in DNA. Through the extensive psychological profile commissioned by Edward Bass for the film, we are much closer to understanding the true story behind the real life and crimes of Belle Gunness. As head forensic psychologist, I have spent many months analysing and profiling the evidence and historical clues available to us to piece together an accurate understand of Belle’s past and motives.
Female Serial Killers have traditionally been segregated into five groups: Black Widows, Angels of Death, Sexual Predators, Revenge Killers, and Profit Killers. Black Widows and Angels of Death are the most common type of female serial killer. Revenge Killers that are repeat offenders are rare because most Revenge Murders are one time crimes of true passion. Finally, Profit Killers are also rare, but they are considered to be the most intelligent and resourceful. While the majority of popular literature and profiles classify the “Lady Bluebeard” as a profit killer or a black widow , psychologist A.M. Arno argues a slightly different perspective: “In my mind, Belle presents as an interesting and unique blend between the motives of male serial killers and stereotypical motives female serial killers. The realm of female serial killer studies has suffered from the biases of sexism that has clouded many areas of research in the past. The reality is that Belle Gunness does fits diagnostic criteria necessary for “Revenge Killers” and “Profit Killers” on the spectrum used to categorize female serial killers. However the profile we have compiled also strongly supports Belle’s inclusion in two of the categories reserved for male serial killers.”
The Kelleher Typology for male serial killers divides men into four types: Visionaries, Missionaries, Hedonists, and Power Seekers. Visionaries respond to psychic messages or godly commands ordering them to kill. Missionaries feel they have a duty to cleanup society. Hedonists are power oriented, often gaining pleasure from killing; they can be subdivided into lust killers and thrill killers. Hedonists are the most common type of male serial killer. Power Seekers kill for the excitement and/or control.
Belle presents both symptoms of a “Missionary” Killer and some elements of a “Power Seeker”. With her home in LaPorte as the stage, her children as the props, and her seductive charms as the instigator, Belle tested each man and then waited until her suitors display symptoms of “defective” or immoral behavior before striking them down, a trait often found in “Missionary Killers”. And it would be difficult to argue that a part of what motivates Belle to continue killing, beyond her unresolved psychological issues and inhibited grief, is the desire to maintain the high she experiences from the power of taking a man’s life...taking back from a representative of white male society the very thing she feels she was robbed of, namely, life. In the act of murder she is now in control and can finally attempt to reclaim her own sense of power and identity. Sadly, what she cannot understand is that this sense of self will could never truly be reclaimed through violence. The power she feels is a temporary fix, a brief high, that will fade and leave her feeling all the more resentful.
Belle began as a collaboration between Edward and Bjorn Johnson. Bjorn produced stage plays that Edward directed and vice-versa. He also coached actors on Bobby and frequently comes to coach with Edward in NYC. Bjorn was contacted by an old college mate whose wife, Eva Mayer, has been researching Belle Gunness for more than a quarter of a century. Four generations La Porte residents, the Mayer family purchased the property after Belle’s disappearance on McClung Road in La Porte where the infamous murders took place. It is believed that one of Eva’s relatives was among Belle’s victims, and her great-great-grandmother supplied Belle with bootleg moonshine.
Here are facts that Eva Mayer, Renata Pepper, Grant Tesler, Paige Golestan, Edward Bass and countless historians have gathered: Belle was born Brynhilda Poldsdatter in Selbu, Norway. She changed her name to Belle when she came to America; a most ironic choice of name.
In 1884 Belle marries Mads Sorenson who brings children Caroline & Axel into marriage. The two open a small shop together near their home. In 1896 Caroline dies of unusual circumstances and Axel dies two years later, both deaths are now presumed to be the result of poisoning. (No inquest). Over the course of their marriage the couple also adds two more children to the family, Myrtle & Lucy who were alleged to be her natural born children. In the summer of 1990 Mads dies conviniently on the exact and only day two insurance policies (for their store and his life insurance) overlapped.
A young intern who bordered with the family treated Mads for an enlarged heart. Belle mentioned that she did give him a powder to help clear up a cold. The young intern lists cause of death as "natural" though it is now accepted that he died of strychnine poisoning. In 1901, with the insurance money from Mads death Belle purchases the farm in La Porte, known later as "murder hill". The house was a brothel in its hay day, a 17 room mansion, the house has a history of it's own tragedies. Shortly after buying the farm in LaPorte, the boathouse and a barn burn allowing Belle to collect the insurance money. Belle later adopts Jenny Olsen from a man who couldn't care for her. She had tried to convince her sister Nellie to let her adopt her daughter although Nellie refused. On April 1st. 1902 Belle Marries Peter Gunness who brings an infant daughter into the marriage; the infant dies 1 week later. In December of the same year Peter Gunness dies - the cause of death was a fractured skull from a blow delivered to the head by a sausage grinder. Inquest resulted in a free Belle. (The original transcripts of the inquest are priceless)
In 1903 Belle welcomes another son, Phillip, who is presumed to be adopted. A neighbor reported that she came to help Belle give birth to Philip, but the door was slammed in her face upon her arrival. She returned to see if Belle needed help a day or so after the unwitnessed birth of Philip only to find Belle running around chasing hogs. The neighbor exclaimed, "how can you do that, a new mother?", Belle replied "oh the baby's in there in bed", pointing to the house. The neighbor's reports sparked suspicions that not only Philip was adopted, but that all the children were since the birth stories were all mysteries.
A midwife soon arrived, expecting to find a newborn, but found Philip fully dressed and a bit older than a newborn. The midwife noted that Belle was as big as a man and much too masculine to be a woman. In 1906 Belle Hires Ray Lamphere who would become her henchman with the promise of her love and good fortune. Later that year Jenny vanishes from the farm. On April 16th, 1907, Ole B Budsburg is seen signing a deed over to Belle at the LaPorte Bank. Also that year John Moo arrives on the farm never to be seen again and George Anderson arrives and frightfully runs away; Anderson would be the only survivor. Over the remainder of the year and the next, Belle orders large trunks delivered to the farm as more suitors arrive, some with children. Among them is Andrew Helgelein who arrives in January of 1908.
In February of 1908 Belle fires jealous Ray Lamphere. Belle goes to courthouse to say Ray is not in his right mind and is a menace to the public. Ray mentions to neighbor William Slater (who's family still lives there) that "Helgelein won't bother me no more. We fixed him for keeps."
After firing Ray, Belle hires Joe Maxson who has no idea of Belle's deeds. In early 1908 Asle Helgelein finds a letter from Belle to his brother Andrew. Asle writes Belle asking for Andrews where abouts. In May of 1908 Asle arrives in LaPorte pressuring Belle in his search for Andrew. The recent developments promt Belle to consult an attorney, getting her will and affairs in order. Belle claims Ray has threatened to burn the house and hurt her and the children. Belle dictates that she wants her estate left to the Chicago Norwegian Orphanage. Shortly after the Gunnes house is engulfed in flames. Joe Maxson can't leave because his bedroom door is locked from the outside, so he jumps out of a two story window. He and many neighbors try to put out the fire, but can't.
In the rubble, the headless body of a woman and the three children are discovered under a charred piano. The coroner, along with eye witnesses say the body is much too small to be Belle's (actual measurements are published). A substantial amount of strychnine is found in the stomachs of the children. Shortly after, Asle prods and Finds a grave with his brother Andrew, Jenny, and two other children. This promps digging across the property, ultimately unearthing the remains of more than 40 mens and children along with 22 unidentified right arms. Among these victims are Ole B Budsburg, Thomas Lindbe, Henry Gurdholt, Olaf Svenherud, John Moo and Olaf Lindstrom, all found around the hog pen. On May 22 1908, Ray Lamphere is arrested for Arson & murder. He pleads guilty to arson, but not murder. On November 26 1908 Ray is cleared of the murder charge, but found guilty of arson and sentenced to 20 years. A year later(dec 1909) he died of tuberculosis.
Ray Lamphere claimed that Belle would poison coffee as well as dissect body parts and bury them or feed them to the hogs. Ray also claims to have taken Belle to the train to escape. Liz Smith, a voodoo woman whom Ray had an affair with pledged to confess everything she knew upon her deathbed but when time came the authorities arrived too late, she died before they got there. Shortly after the case Sheriff Smutzer moved to Texas, his family stayed in LaPorte yet refuses to speak about him even today. His Ford Run-About, a car not affordable on a sheriffs salary, remains as an artifact of Belle's legacy.
Belle was a loner who kept to herself, speaking broken Norwegian, not even friendly with her neighbors. She was often seen in town wearing men’s clothing, especially a big fur coat (later, discovered to be her victims clothes) giving the “tall tales” further absurd ammunition that Belle was actually a man.
Belle would meticulously sew the smaller body parts of some of her victims into gunny sacks while other bodies were buried in parts and others buried whole, her reason for doing this is still unknown. The headless body is believed to be that of a woman from Chicago. To this day, the missing head has never been found although Ray claimed to have buried it in a small box. (researchers spent most of 2008 searching the property)
Belle wooed her suitors by lonely hearts ads, telling them to sell everything and don't tell a soul... And they did, over and over. It is believed that she accumulated over $250,000 on top of the insurance money she collected from the prior house/business fires.
Though littered with misinformation and inconsistencies, the Guinness Book of World Records listed Belle under “The greatest number of murders ever ascribed to a modern murderess, with 28 victims” (which we now know to be more). It also states that she committed suicide by strychnine poisoning and mentions her maiden name is Grunt - both of which are incorrect.
Belle opened her confectionery shop in Chicago, 1896. Less than a year later, it burned to the ground. She told the insurance investigators that a Kerosene lamp exploded, causing the fire though the investigation never found a lamp on the site. She used the insurance money to buy a house which also burned down in 1898. A third house was also burned down. Two of her 4 children died in the same year the house fire occured. Both children were infants and had symptoms of acute colitis or of poisoning. -- Both were insured. Two of the bodies dug up were hired hands - Eric Gurhold & Olaf Lindblom. Many labeled Belle as "Lady Bluebeard"
So many people arrived after the discovery, buying, selling, and stealing artifacts that surrounding farms were trampled and destroyed. All along McClung Rd, where the house sat, was lined with souvenir/food booths. Post cards were good sellers along with bricks from the house.
Many years after the debacle, "tourists would come to the property," Eva’s grandfather John Nepsha said. He recalls that, "When I was a young boy, people came from all over to see the place where the murders happened. They ruined the apple trees and took souvenirs." Eva's great-grandfather was asked if he was afraid of ghosts. He replied, "No, I'm afraid of the live ones."
May 29 (not sure what year) the famous auction/sale of Belle estate occurred. It was described as a Crazy time. Children skipped school to watch. Ringling Brothers bought her a team of Dopple Gray's for $1800 which normally would have sold for $300. A farmer bought a cart & horses and made money by showing them off in a traveling side-show. Restaurants sold food in Belle's name, like "Gunness Stew". Belle often told stories that her family was famous circus performers in Norway. (No real evidence of this, they actually were poor farmers)
LaPorte became known as "Gunnessville"
There were lines in Chicago a mile long just to see Belle Gunness' dog. Her pony was the most famous horse in America at the time. She was rumored to be the wealthiest woman in America having taken up to fifty thousand dollars from a single victim. La Porte, a former tourism mecca of Chicago's rich and famous, was overrode by gawkers, journalists, and an OJ circus at the time. The events that transpired became America's first media frenzy, and a hundred years later DNA testing and the buzz a feature film brings has revitalized Bellemania.
The mysterious last victim of Belle Gunness had a secret past. Belle managed to get one over on Andrew who was looking to escape his past with a fresh start. Unlike the other victims he told his brother Asle who came looking for him. Belle asked to be paid to help him find his brother as she was not running a free missing persons detective agency and brother Asle.
BELLE GUNNESS (F/-30's): America’s most prolific serial killers... ever. Voluptuous but strong, Belle manipulated men for money, and so multi-faceted that she could control her entire environment, a real feat for a turn of the century woman or any person even today.
SOUVI GUNNESS (F/teens): Belle’s daughter, Souvi, is tall and skinny with long, lustrous hair. A Lolita type, young and impetus, angelic beauty, she uses her sensuality to attract men, as a way of challenging her mother at every opportunity.
SHERIFF SMUTZER (M/ 30's): A former Texas Ranger who has all the swagger and cunning of of his own imagination, he is so blinded by arrogance that he is easily manipulated by Belle and Souvi that he can't see the truth. (CO)
RAY LAMPHERE (M/40’s): Belle's hired hand on the farm. French- Canadian, speaks with an accent. Handsome in a feral way, Ray is equal parts dutiful servant, lovesick puppy dog, and accustomed-todirty- work farmer. Obsessed with Belle, he helps her with the murders she commits. (CO)
ANDREW (M/mid 20’s): A charming younger suitor who Belle falls for... Until he discovers her horrible secret – and becomes her hostage, trapped in the basement. (CO) ASLE (M/mid 20’s): Andrew’s twin brother, he arrives town looking for his brother, he knows from the very beginning that Belle is hiding something. The catalyst in challenging Belle and eventually tilts the power against Belle and allows sanity to return to LaPorte. WIRT WORDEN (M/ 40's): Pencil thin attorney who is convinced that Belle is a murderer, his credibility is undermined by his drinking habit. (CO)
ASLE (M/mid 20’s): Andrew’s twin brother, he arrives town looking for his brother, he knows from the very beginning that Belle is hiding something. The catalyst in challenging Belle and eventually tilts the power against Belle and allows sanity to return to LaPorte.
WIRT WORDEN (M/ 40's): Pencil thin attorney who is convinced that Belle is a murderer, his credibility is undermined by his drinking habit. (CO)
MARCELLA (F/ teens): One of Souvi's close friends and Francine's best friend, Marcella is a busybody. (CO)
FRANCINE (F/ teens): One of Souvi's close friends and Marcella's best friend, Francine is also a busybody. (CO)
FATHER SCHELL (M/30's): The handsome priest at the LaPorte Church that Belle attends, he listens to Souvi's confessions with great interest but has his suspicions displaced by Belle's generosity. A good pious priest whos integrity is questioned by Belle. (FE)
PRINCIPLE DEPARTMENT HEADS
DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
FOR MORE INFO: www.edwardbassfilms.com/ http://www.imdb.com/
Edward Bass has been in entertainment for many years working in all aspects of the industry, from management and stage to multimedia art-design. He has focused his attention over the last four years on the writing and preparation of Belle and is passionate about depicting strong, empowered female roles in cinema. His screenplay The Hunt is going into pre-production, and tells the story of three brave women challenging their husbands. Other works by Edward include Shadow of the Shah, about the twin sister of the shah of Iran and her true power behind the throne as she fought for equality. Honeymoon is about an angel prostitute, and Hedy brings to screen the life of Hedy Lamarr, a Jewish actress who helped in the war effort during World War II with radio signal technology, after escaping from her "honorary Aryan" and also jewish husband. In Sling Shot, a woman convinces her boyfriend to go straight, and Mini’s First Time tackles the subject of the female teenage serial killer. Come Early Morning is a female coming of age film, and Bobby depicts several strong female roles in its ensemble cast. Finally, The Killing Jar tells the story of a waitress who takes revenge after years of service. Edward has mentored 6 first-time directors and is currently teaching film-making in New York.
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