Beautiful Gunness was a reputable resident of LaPorte. But not in a good way. According to the story, she lured men to her farm on McClurg Road. It is believed that she killed maybe 14 people, maybe more. This frenzy took place from 1884 to 1908.
Belle has been the subject of a few films and books. The most recent addition is a graphic novel titled “The Comely Widow: The Crimes of Serial Killer Belle Gunness”. The author is John Enrique Thompson. He grew up around Elkhart and has been teaching graphic design for over 30 years. He obtained his BFA at the IUSB in 2006. He has been a professor at the IUSB since 2012. Comics and their history are part of his teaching repertoire.
There were a few more stops along the way for John, such as the US military and graduates from the University of Vincennes and Savannah College of Arts and Design.
The Belle book is self-published and available on Amazon.
Following:From Norway to Indiana’s Corpse Court, novel explores serial killer Belle Gunness
In the graphic novel
The more than 200 pages of “Comely” are drawn in the style of EC Ségar, who drew “Thimble Theater” and later the most famous “Popeye”. Thimble was introduced in 1919 and Popeye was born in 1929.
The book also includes 100 pages of notes on his research. The Notes are a backdoor to the story of both Belle’s life and the comics. John said newspaper comics were influential in early newspapers. It was what people read. Artist Thomas nast dismantled Tammany Hall in New York City, and the Yellow Kid was prominent in early newspapers. And today the kids of “South Park” say things that no one else can.
John said that at the start of the project, the characters were more realistic and modeled on their photographs. “I got tired” of that direction. “It’s never a good sign.”
Create a “black widow”
He had studied the history of graphic design and thought the Popeye look would lend itself to the subject and the times. “Belle’s drawing in her youth is based on Olive Oyl with a slight modification to her hairstyle. As Adult Belle, she is based on Myrtle Sappo, another character from Segar.
For those who want a little more history on Belle. Let’s start with Norway. She was born there in 1859 and arrived in the United States in 1881. She came to Chicago to be with a sister. From there she worked and got married. There have been a few fires and deaths. With the insurance money, she bought a pig farm. Another marriage and more unhappy deaths.
She placed an ad in the newspaper that a nice woman was looking for men to visit (with money / or insurance) the farm. They did not return from the visits.
Was she outgoing? “Not at all,” John said. But the advertising worked.
Eventually, a farm fire ended his reign of terror. The bodies of her two young children and the body of a headless woman were found in the ruins.
Headless? No way of knowing what happened there.
An interest in real crime
OK, how do you get into crime? John said it was a good question. His grandmother had a variety of interests, including astrology, tarot cards, and real crimes. The real part of the crime has rubbed off on John. “I didn’t like history in school, I thought it was boring.” He eventually found the story more compelling, and the real crime often piqued his interest.
John said his grandmother spoke about detectives and murders. “I grew up with it and had an irrational fear” of the murders believing it was happening everywhere. “I was repelled and attracted.”
A love for local history and research led him to Belle. Then came a pandemic. Now it was time to do some research, go out into the field, and draw. John estimated that he had devoted over 300 hours to the project. Maybe more once he thought about it.
“There is a lot of urban folklore and stories around Belle. I looked at old LaPorte newspapers – one was a Republican newspaper and the other was a Democratic newspaper. The Republican newspaper was sure the case was closed with Belle’s death, and the Demo newspaper said she escaped.
Later, there were sightings of Belle in Chicago. No one knew for sure. Farmer Ray Lampere was tried and convicted of arson. It all feels like a daytime soap opera.
The farm later became a tourist stopover. There were reports of ghosts on the property and other disturbing aspects. The LaPorte County Historical Museum has a permanent exhibit on Belle and her sorted life.
To John, he told his grandmother would be very proud of his work.
Contact Kathy Borlik at [email protected]