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Short film focuses on notorious Belle Gunness, a reputed killer whose mayhem dwarfs the actions of Lizzie Borden
Early 20th-century madness
New flick sheds light on a rural nightmare
When it comes to notorious women with a deadly reputation, Lizzie Borden is more famous, but Belle Gunness was much more prolific.
A short film about Gunness will shine attention on the life of a reputed serial killer who is tied to the bloody mayhem on her Indiana farm that occurred in the early 20th century.
Checking in at about 20 minutes, the feature with the working title of “Belle” is in post-production, and is being targeted for completion this fall.
It is directed by Stephen Ruminski, who is from LaPorte.
The quiet Hoosier community is where approximately 14 bodies were discovered on Gunness’ property after her farmhouse mysteriously burned down in 1908. Three of the corpses were her three preteen children.
She had sought suitors with financial means through newspaper ads.
They came to her home with their savings, but never left the 40-acre farm in northern Indiana, where she had settled in by 1902.
Although a headless female corpse was found on the land after the blaze -- and thought by some to be Gunness’ body -- Ruminski believes the former candy store proprietor from Norway faked her own death and fled with a substantial amount of money.
Before moving to LaPorte, Gunness reportedly poisoned her husband, Mads Sorenson, and collected about $8,000 from his life insurance.
Gunness researchers generally believe her handyman was an accomplice in the brutal crimes that happened on the farmland.
Although some estimates put her murder total at around 40 victims who met their end both on and off the farm, Gunness’ sensational and gruesome saga is not well known to the general public.
“We know it should have more notoriety than it does,” Ruminski, 27, said. “I think it kind of faded away because she was never found. She never got that moment of being found and being put on trial. There was never really any conclusion to it.”
The director said the short work -- destined for film festivals -- is designed to stir up interest and funding for a full-length feature film on the brawny woman who is being portrayed by Chicago actress Ann Hagemann in his current project.
A member of the Screen Actors Guild, Hagemann describes Gunness as an infamous, multidimensional character with perhaps some sense of invincibility and entitlement.
“She was definitely a serial killer,” Hagemann said. “She was a strong, independent woman. She ran her own farm. Belle was very stoic, which is very common with sociopaths. She’s very, very complicated.”
Gunness likewise was imposing because of her physical size, according to the actress.
The woman born Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset is generally viewed as a lethal gold digger who courted lovesick men, and, when their money was in her hands, murdered and buried them on her land. She was married to Peter Gunness, who met a suspicious, untimely end.
It is likely that Belle Gunness split skulls and poisoned with arsenic and strychnine. Bodies were dismembered. Victims were stuffed in gunnysacks.
Hogs may have feasted on remains that were hidden on her property.
To prepare for her portrayal of a dastardly woman in a rural turn-of-the-century world, Hagemann said she donned the look and fashion of the killer, and the era.
“I didn’t allow myself to wear any makeup,” said Hagemann, also pointing to the bulkier clothing she took on.
“I have some old period skirts at home that I would put on,” she noted. “I’d walk around the house with them.”
In telling the multilayered story of a deadly "black widow," Ruminski’s film deals with a more subtle detail.
“The short talks about Belle’s relationship with her foster daughter, Jennie Olsen,” the director said.
Olsen’s remains were found buried on the Gunness farm along McClung Road.
Although working with a comparatively small budget, the filming of “Belle” did utilize a drone mounted with a camera to shoot a little footage.
For more information on “Belle,” visit www.bellegunnessthemovie.com or https://www.facebook.com/BelleGunnessTheMovie?fref=ts.