To me, one of the most fascinating things about dramatic events like murder, accidents or other disasters is the stories and other kinds of folk art that follows in their wake. I think it says a lot about people and/or a community how they process horrific events in this way, often adding some pitch black humor or morals to their stories. My (uneducated) guess is that it’s a way of coming to terms with what has happened — a way of taking control, perhaps.
Folklorist Janet Langlois’ 1985 book Belle Gunness: The Lady Bluebeard is a collection of stories and songs about my favorite murdering lady recounted within an academic framework. I found these lovely murder ballads there. I have no idea how the melodies go, but I thought they were interesting nevertheless.
Here’s the first one:
Now, all these men were Norska folk
Who came to Belle from Minn-e-sote;
They liked their coffee, and their gin:
They got it–plus a mickey finn.
And now with cleaver poised so sure
Belle neatly cut their jug-u-lur;
She put them in a bath of lime,
And left them there for quite some time.
There’s red upon the Hoosier moon
For Belle was strong and full of doom;
And think of all them Norska men
Who’ll never see St.Paul again.
I don’t know why St.Paul is mentioned in these lyrics, but I’m sure it made sense at the time.
Here’s another one:
Belle Gunness was a lady fair,
In Indiana State.
She weighted about three hundred pounds,
and that is quite some weight.
That she was stronger than a man
her neighbors all did own;
She butchered hogs right easily,
And did it all alone.
The hogs were just a side line,
She indulged in now and then;
Her favorite occupation
Was a-butchering of men.
To keep her cleaver busy
Belle would run an ad,
And men would come a-scurrying
With all the cash they had.
Now some say Belle killed only ten,
And some say forty-two;
It was hard to tell exactly,
But there were quite a few.
The bones were dug up in her yard,
Some parts never came to light,
And Belle herself, could not be found
To set the tally right.
And where Belle is now no one knows,
but my advice is fair:
If a widow advertises
For a man with cash, beware!
Here’s one with a banjo, performed by Izzy Cox:
The lyrics were found in Belle Gunness: The Lady Bluebeard by Janet Langlois. She gives the sources as Murder Out Yonder by Stewart Holbrook and American Murder Ballads and Their Stories by Olive Woolley Burt, respectively.
Photo: A young Belle Gunness as a bride, before all the butchering of men.