La PORTE — An upcoming program at La Porte County Historical Society Museum will explore the fate of storied La Porte serial killer Belle Gunness.
On Nov. 19, the La Porte County Historical Society will host the program “The Man Who Killed Belle Gunness (Part 1)” presented by La Porte County Historical Society Board member Judge William Boklund.
The program is free to the public and will begin at 7 p.m. at the museum, 2405 Indiana Ave., La Porte.
In the late 1800s, Gunness emigrated from a small town in Norway to the bustling city of Chicago. Following the death of her first husband, she moved with several of her foster children to a farm in La Porte. Gunness began reaching out to men across the Midwest through a series of want ads in Scandinavian newspapers.
Those who answered her ads were promised a bright future as a partner in her farm. They were also told to sell their belongings, bring only cash and not tell anyone where they were going. Those who came were never seen again.
When the Gunness farmhouse burned down on April 28, 1908, authorities discovered multiple graves. Gunness is thought to have killed at least 14 people and possibly more.
According to a press release from the La Porte County Historical Society, often when the story of Gunness is told, it ends abruptly after the discovery of her crimes, leaving unexplored the great mysteries of the case. Did she die in the fire, or did she get away? Was she murdered by Ray Lamphere, or did she poison another woman and place her corpse in the cellar?
Some of these questions may never be completely answered, but we can determine if the prosecutor proved his case beyond a reasonable doubt.
In this program, Boklund will pick up the story where others have left off, examining the sweeping madness that spread through the country after discovery of the Gunness crimes, and the things that made the criminal investigation and jury selection almost impossible.
Boklund also will take a closer look at the testimony of the four doctors who autopsied the bodies that were recovered from the cellar. Their testimony was the only evidence the prosecutor had that could have proven that the adult body in the cellar was that of Belle Gunness and that she had died as a result of the fire.
Boklund will share these and other new insights into the Gunness mystery.
Boklund is a lifelong resident of La Porte, growing up next door to Ray Lamphere’s younger sister Cora and a block away from the store where Sheriff Smutzer’s son worked as a butcher. Ray and Sheriff Smutzer both figure greatly in the Gunness horrors.
Boklund served as a superior court judge for 21 years. Before that he practiced law for 16 years in private practice, also serving as a deputy prosecutor and as part of the county attorney's office. He taught law classes at PNC part-time for 30 years. He has also been a member of the faculty of the Indiana Judicial Conference.
—From staff reports