For Whom the Belle Tolls

Hell’s Princess by Harold Schechter is the well-researched story of the mystery of Belle Gunness, a butcher of men. I note that she was “a” butcher of men, not “the” butcher of men or even the title without an article. Belle was a serial killer, one of many in history and to date. She was notable for several reasons. She was “she;” female serial killers were and are disproportionately few compared to males. Women nurtured; they did not “knock people off.” Second, Belle was unusually cruel in her kill methods and selection of targets. They were not strangers; her victims were husbands, lovers, and included her own children. Finally, she operated in a time and environment that we look back upon from the present day as a time of innocence, a closely interactive environment where people trusted the common good in each other, where such things just didn’t happen.