Female serial killers are a rare breed. Most of them use less-violent methods than their male counterparts, but Belle Gunness wasn’t afraid of a little gore. She attacked men, women, and children alike. Despite her gruesome methods, Belle always managed to escape the authorities. That is, until the cover for her cutthroat killing spree was nearly blown.
Named Brynhild Paulsdatter Storset, “Belle” was born in Selbu, Norway in 1859. She was the youngest of eight children, and her father was a poor stonemason. She spent most of her life working on farms and building up a high tolerance for most anything.
Family portrait from 1910. Photo: Fylkesarkivet i Sogn og Fjordane (CC 2.0)
Not much is known about Belle’s upbringing, though rumor holds she once had a quarrel with a man that led to a marked change in her personality. When he died a few weeks later, some claimed it was Belle’s revenge. If so, it was the first of many killings to come.
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When Belle’s big sister moved to the United States and changed her name to “Nellie Larson,” Belle got extremely jealous. She hated the name Brynhild and wanted something prettier. So, she got to work at copying her sibling.
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Belle landed a job at a wealthy farm where she worked for three years. Finally, in 1881, she had enough money saved to pack-up and move to United States. Once there, she changed her name to Belle and began a new life. Three years later, she met a man named Mads Sorenson.
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Mads Sorenson and Belle got hitched in 1884 and opened their own candy shop. Unfortunately, the business was a dud, and they nearly went broke. Belle was furious. She didn’t come all this way just to lose everything. That’s when something mysterious happened.
One day, the candy shop was found burnt to the ground. Belle and Mads collected a handsome sum of insurance money, allowing them to move into a new house. If Belle was indeed the arsonist, she now had a taste for danger.
Researchers disagree about how many children Belle and Mads had together. Most say they had four, two of which died as infants from poison-like symptoms. Supposedly, this allowed Belle and Mads to collect more insurance. After that, they were said to have adopted a 10-year-old girl named Jennie. That’s when tragedy struck.
In 1900, Mads Sorenson was found dead. His doctor ruled it to be heart failure due to preexisting conditions, which Belle had been giving him medicine for. His death just so happened to occur on a day where two of his life insurance policies overlapped. The day after Mads’ funeral, Belle waltzed into the insurance agency.
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Mads’ family believed that Belle had poisoned her husband and demanded another autopsy. However, Belle was already long gone. She moved to La Porte, Indiana after receiving $8,500 (over $200k today) and bought herself a farm. Here, her criminal addiction began to thrive.
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Belle was quick to find love after Mads’ death. She met her soon-to-be second husband right before she moved and they married two years later. The man, named Peter Gunness, was a widower himself. His wife had left him with a baby girl, whom Belle was not fond of.
Peter’s daughter died mysteriously while under Belle’s care. With two major loses in his life, Peter was inconsolable. He and Belle were together for nine whole months before he also suffered a mysterious death. Belle recounted the bizarre story to authorities.
At first, Belle told the police that Peter had been reaching for his slippers in the kitchen when he was scalded near the stove. Later, she told them that a sausage grinder had also fallen on his head. She collected around $3,000 in insurance money.
Once again, family and friends were unconvinced that Belle was innocent. It didn’t help that Belle’s adopted daughter, Jennie, was overheard telling a schoolmate that Belle had “hit him with a meat cleaver.” When brought before a jury, Jennie denied it. Years later, Jennie’s body was found buried among her mother’s victims.
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Belle began putting the following ad in out-of-state newspapers: “Comely widow who owns a large farm in one of the finest districts in La Porte County, Indiana, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman equally well provided, with view of joining fortunes. No replies by letter considered unless sender is willing to follow answer with personal visit. Triflers need not apply.”
There’s no clear count on the number of men who visited and never left Belle’s farm. She poisoned them within hours, then hacked up their bodies with butchering tools. A letter to one of her suitors ended with the words, “Come prepared to stay forever.” Some later saw her as a gender-swapped embodiment of the Bluebeard fairy tale.
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Belle’s hired hand, a man named Ray Lamphere, was in love with the murderess and knew of her crimes. He grew jealous of the men she lured in, leading Belle to fire him. She even convinced the police he was threatening to burn her house down. One can assume what happened next.
Eventually, Belle’s farmhouse was burnt to the ground, and many were quick to blame Ray Lamphere. The corpses of Belle’s children were found, as well as the headless corpse of a woman wearing Belle’s clothing. Some townsfolk, however, said the woman’s body looked nothing like Belle. Investigations soon began.
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Shortly after the fire, one victim’s brother came looking for his missing sibling. He brought the police to Belle’s property, where they discovered a graveyard of bodies. Among them were the man’s brother, Belle’s adopted daughter, and the countless men she’d courted. Their remains were horrifying.
Belle sorted her victim’s body parts the same way she sorted the hogs, making it difficult to count the total number of corpses. She was said to have killed nearly 40 people. Convinced the Lady Bluebeard had staged the fire herself, police searched for the serial killer, but she had disappeared. Where did Belle go?
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There were alleged sightings of Belle throughout the country, yet she was never caught. Her wealth likely played a role, as she would’ve been a millionaire by today’s standards. Bizarrely, the townsfolk in La Porte put the victims’ corpses on display for tourists and dubbed Belle the “Queen of the Black Widows.” Granted, there’s one “Angel of Death” who would probably disagree.
Years earlier, in 1863, when Honora Kelley was six, her father signed away custody to the Boston Female Asylum. The tailor could no longer care for his daughter after falling into alcoholism in the wake of his wife’s death. Little did he know he was making a murderer.
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Honora desired affection and praise and used her talent of storytelling to gain the respect of her peers. She was a hard worker and excelled at her indentured servant training. Before long, Mrs. Ann C. Toppan adopted the orphan.
Ann was a vile woman who wanted to erase all of Honora’s Irish culture. She trained the girl to get rid of her Irish accent and changed her name to Jane Toppan. Jane grew up alongside her adopted sister, Elizabeth, though Ann punished her for insinuating they were related.
After Ann’s death, she left her vast wealth to Elizabeth and her husband Oramel Brigham. Jane worked as their maid for a decade until summoning the nerve to apply for nursing school. Patients and doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital loved her and called the new nurse “Jolly Jane.”
However, the nursing students detested her. Jane’s insane work ethic and intelligence were praised by the superiors, giving them an impossible standard to match. They reported her for a missing her curfew, and instead of her dismissal, Jane got two of the accusers fired.
Her work ethic and genius were the least of their concerns. This was where she began her killing spree. During this time, patients had a high likelihood of dying from an experimental treatment, so Jane’s murderous behavior wasn’t discovered until much later.
One of Jane’s preferred methods was overdosing a patient with atropine. When this was mixed with morphine, it made both medications more powerful. The right dosage gives someone a long, terrifying death.
Her high death rate got Jane sent to Cambridge Hospital — with a recommendation. Though Jane didn’t last long there, and lost her nursing certification from this dismissal. This didn’t bother her. “I don’t care. I can make more money and have an easier time by hiring myself out,” Jane said.
With her hospital career at an end, Jane transitioned into homecare for elderly patients. This was where she experimented with first poisoning her victims and then reviving them, repeatedly bringing them near-death before slowly finishing them off.
She spent her summers at a Cape Cod bed and breakfast, working for the Davis family. Jane went into enormous debt during this time, but that didn’t stop her from inviting Elizabeth and Oramel to visit.
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Jane dropped morphine tablets into some mineral water, which she gave to her sister. Elizabeth went into a coma. As her husband watched, Jane gave Elizabeth morphine shots to revive her, but this killed the already-dosed Elizabeth.
“She was really the first of my victims that I actually hated and poisoned with a vindictive purpose,” Jane said. “So, I let her die slowly, with gripping torture … I held her in my arms and watched with delight as she gasped her life out.”
Jane helped organize Elizabeth’s funeral and then left to kill more elderly patients. While she was busy with murder, her creditor and the owner of the B&B, a woman named Mattie Davis, came to collect from the nurse. Jane gave her morphine water.
Mattie died from the poisoning, and Jane returned to the Davis property. She spent the rest of her time slowly killing the remaining few Davis family members. Jane also tried to burn their home to destroy the evidence of her debt, but fled to Cataumet, Massachusetts, without any success.
In Cataumet, Jane had her eye on a potential suitor, Oramel, the widower of Elizabeth. Jane used her most beguiling methods in an attempt to entice her former brother-in-law, but he grew suspicious of her.
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Jane, unable to help herself, tried to poison Oramel. But her dosing was off. Oramel survived this attempt on his life and forced her to leave. Jane instead snuck into her old room in the attic, where she spent her childhood.
Up there, she took 30 morphine tablets. Oramel soon realized where Jane was and that she was trying to kill herself. Before she was successful, doctors arrived and revived her. When she woke up, she stole morphine-filled syringes and tried to commit suicide a second time.
Jane recovered in a nearby hospital and was arrested upon her discharge. On October 29, 1901, the killer nurse was put in prison to await her trial. She was convicted of being “guilty but insane.”
This verdict didn’t bother Jane. “How can I be insane? When I killed the people, I knew that I was doing wrong,” she said. She was sent to the State Lunatic Hospital outside of Tauton, MA. She’d be there for the rest of her life.
In her older years, she suffered from dementia. Once again going by “Honora,” she spoke to her caregivers about the other residents: “Dearie, you and I could have such fun. Getting rid of them.” Jolly Jane finally died in 1938 — the same year as another woman responsible for taking innocent lives, though she didn’t know she was a killer.
Like most New Yorkers in the early 1900s, Mary Mallon was an immigrant. She arrived in New York from Ireland in 1883, and she sought work doing the one thing she enjoyed: cooking. It wasn’t long, though, before she started to notice a worrying trend.
Weeks into every cooking job, the family she worked for would be struck by concerning symptoms: high fevers, splitting headaches, and terrible digestive woes that left them weak and exhausted. But Mary, curiously, never got sick.
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She hopped from house to house, which is how she started working for the Warren family. Days after they ate Mary’s ice cream with peaches, it happened again: Each member of the family got sick. This time, however, Mary’s employer didn’t chalk it up to fate.
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Instead, Mr. Warren hired an investigator to find out why his family was suddenly suffering from typhoid, an uncommon disease for their part of Oyster Bay, Long Island. George Soper, the investigator, slowly tracked the illness’ path.
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In each household affected by typhoid, there was a common thread: an Irish cook. The problem was, as Soper searched for the cook, he learned something alarming about her history. This mysterious Irish cook, it turned out, had a habit of skipping town.
Mary Mallon always left her employment as soon as a case of typhoid fever broke out, often conveniently forgetting to leave a forwarding address. By the time Soper found her working in the household of another family, he realized something terrible about Mary.
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Soper didn’t yet have proof, but time would prove his hunch right: Mary Mallon was the first asymptomatic carrier of typhoid to be identified in the United States, and it wasn’t difficult to figure out how she spread it to countless people.
Typhoid usually spreads because the carrier didn’t take the right hygienic precautions, such as washing their hands after going to the bathroom. When a cook, who touches the food of every household member, neglects to wash their hands, the results are messy…
And that’s exactly what happened with Mary. Whether it was because of her own exhaustion as an overworked cook or plain carelessness, it’s likely that Mary didn’t wash her hands before making meals for her employers — a fatefully bad decision.
Soper deduced that Mary’s employers couldn’t have contracted typhoid from her hot meals, because the high cooking temperatures would’ve killed the deadly bacteria. That’s when they identified the real source: Mary’s famous ice cream served with peaches.
Soper gave Mary the cold, hard facts. All seven families she’d worked for had contracted typhoid fever, and one little girl died. Even with this knowledge, Mary refused to be tested for typhoid … until the police showed up at her door.
The cook was shoved into an ambulance and taken to Willard Parker Hospital. For the next four days, a restrained Mary was forced to provide urine and stool samples, which yielded scary results: She was filled with typhoid bacteria.
While in the hospital, the dirty truth about Mary’s typhoid was finally pieced together. She was probably born with typhoid and had unknowingly transmitted it to countless people throughout her life. There was no telling how many more people she’d infect…
Unless the doctors were able to cut it off at the pass, that is. When Mary admitted that she hardly ever washed her hands, the authorities sentenced Mary to a short quarantine on North Brother Island.
While in quarantine, Mary refused to have her gallbladder removed, even though it was probably the source of her typhoid. She also refused to stop working as a cook if and when she returned to the mainland. With that, Mary earned herself a very unflattering nickname.
To the public, she became known as “Typhoid Mary.” Everyone was content to have her safely quarantined on North Brother Island, but Mary herself was miserable. She suffered from a nervous breakdown and complained that the doctors treated her like a “guinea pig.”
All the while, Mary never believed that she was the reason all those people got sick. Despite this stubbornness, after two years on North Brother Island, the New York Commissioner of Health told Mary she could return to society on one condition.
He forced Mary to sign an affidavit promising that she would never work as a cook again. She agreed and returned to New York City, where she successfully faded into the crowd…until, a few years later, a group of hospital workers suddenly fell ill.
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Various restaurants, hotels, and spas also reported outbreaks of typhoid. It didn’t take long for Soper to notice a common thread with each outbreak: an Irish cook, sometimes named Mary Brown or Mary Breshof, always left a string of illness in her wake.
In 1915, Soper found Mary cooking for Sloane Hospital for Women, where 25 people were infected and 2 died of typhoid. With that, Mary was taken into custody and forced back to North Brother Island. This time, though, it was an extended stay.
This extended stay ended up lasting Mary for the rest of her life. For 23 years, she lived alone in a cottage on North Brother Island, where she could cook all she wanted without hurting others. By the time she died in 1938, there were big changes on the mainland.
By then, other asymptomatic typhoid carriers had been identified, making Mary’s forced confinement the subject of controversy to this day. Some estimate that Mary may have caused — whether intentionally or not — 50 deaths. And to think, it all started with a bowl of ice cream…
It’s possible that despite her nickname, “Typhoid Mary” never really grasped how dangerous she was to the public. The same can’t be said for Julia Lyons, a woman who used the 1918 Flu pandemic to her advantage. She’s one of the most sinister nurses in history…
At the time, though, most people didn’t know that Julia Lyons, “a woman of diamonds and furs” and “silken ankles,” wasn’t who she claimed to be. In September of 1918, she’d been arrested after posing as a Department of Justice representative and cashing stolen checks.
But Julia, Chicago authorities soon learned, was more clever than they gave her credit for. When their heads were turned, she escaped from custody and disappeared into the city. She needed a way to blend in…and she knew the perfect way to do so.
Julia looked around and noticed how panicked everyone was about the flu. The way she saw it, people were so desperate for nurses that no one would notice if she, say, donned one of the thousands of nurse’s uniforms laying around the city.
That’s how Julia Lyons became Nurse Julia (she also went by various aliases, including Marie Walker, Ruth Hicks, and Mrs. H.J. Behrens). She started working as a “nurse” in a handful of households, but couldn’t contain her scheming ways for long.
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As if caring for sick, innocent patients without any kind of medical knowledge wasn’t bad enough, Julia decided that she wanted to get more out of being a nurse…and by “more,” we mean money. She was no Florence Nightingale.
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Whenever she picked up prescriptions for her patients, she lied to them about how much the medicine cost. Once, according to the Chicago Tribune, she charged a patient $63 for a dose of oxygen that was actually worth about $5.
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Her usual plan went like this: She would go to the houses of sick people, posing as a nurse from an agency. She’d gain their trust, overcharge them for prescriptions, and later flee the property with all the jewelry, clothing, and valuables she could carry.
All the while, her patients had no clue that their lives were in the hands of a phony. As one story goes, a 9-year-old once begged Julia to help care for his brother, who was “out of his head with illness.” Her response was characteristically callous.
“Oh, let him rave,” she reportedly said. “He’s used to raving.” The sick boy died, not that Julia seemed to care. Still, no one caught on to the act: With her “rose-lipped smile and pearly teeth,” it was hard to believe that Julia had anything but good intentions…
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Julia preyed on her patients’ vulnerability. When one patient started to grow suspicious of his less-than-capable nurse, she won him over by sweetly saying, “Don’t you remember me? Why, when I was a little girl I used to hitch on your wagons!”
This lie arrived just in time. A detective was on Julia’s tail until the sick man, who assumed he had simply forgotten Julia since her childhood days, vouched for Julia’s credibility. When she disappeared soon after with his watch and other valuables, the man was stunned.
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“By golly, I guess I was wrong,” he told the Tribune. It seemed like Julia would go on scheming and robbing the weak forever…but even she couldn’t outrun the law. Detectives linked Julia to two women from the “shady world,” Eva Jacobs and “Suicide Bess” Davis.
After spying on them, police found out that Julia intended to marry a restaurant owner named Charlie the Greek. It was through this connection that they finally located who the Tribune called “Flu Julia” — but she wasn’t going to be arrested without a fight.
“The wedding’s all bust up!” Julia reportedly screeched as she was being arrested. According to some accounts, Charlie the Greek stood there as his bride was carted away, confused about the woman he’d known for a whopping ten days. “I thought I knew her,” he said.
Still, just because Julia was in police custody didn’t mean her scheming days were behind her. On the contrary; even the police could tell that Julia had something up her sleeve. “Be careful, she’s pretty slick,” Deputy Sheriff John Hickey was warned.
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It was Hickey’s job to transport Julia to court, a job he took lightly. “Oh, she won’t get away from me,” he allegedly told the other detectives. In a way, he was right: He did get Julia to the courthouse, where 50 victims testified against her.
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The trouble came 90 minutes later, when an “excited” Hickey called the police with his tail between his legs. Julia, he claimed, had escaped from the moving vehicle and into a getaway car, which Hickey had been unable to chase down the street.
It was pretty obvious to his fellow police officers that Hickey was lying about how Julia escaped. Hickey was eventually suspended for accepting a bribe from Julia, but the truth still hurt. Julia Lyons had once again escaped and was now at large…
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This time, however, the police were more careful. They scanned through page after page of nurses’ registries until they found a possible lead. There was a Mrs. James working as a nurse on Fullerton Boulevard, and something about her story seemed suspicious.
For one, she was new to the household, and her physical description fit that of Julia. Sure enough, when they arrived at the flu-ridden household, they found Julia, perfectly healthy and very unhappy to see them.
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“Mrs. M.S. James, née Flu Julia, née Slicker Julia, who walked away one November day from former Deputy Sheriff John Hickey, walked back into custody, involuntarily,” the Chicago Tribune reported on March 21st, 1919.
This time, Julia had no one to help her escape — not that she was about to give up. During her lengthy trial, she first claimed that she had been forced into her life of crime by a “band of thieves,” and when no one believed her, she pleaded insanity.
By this point, though, everyone knew not to trust Julia Lyons. She was found guilty of larceny and served up to a decade in prison for her crimes. Little did Julia know, however, that across the pond, another group of unconventional crooks was at large…
When women entered through the huge gilded doors of Selfridges Department Store, all eyes went straight to them. Their immaculate fur coats and magnificent hats were so eye-catching, in fact, that no one ever thought to look at their hands…
These customers were considered “women of means” — rich ladies with money to burn. The taller a woman’s hat and the curlier her hair, the more wealthy she appeared to be. Don’t bother them, the salespeople were told. Let them shop in peace.
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But they weren’t shopping in peace, and all it took was an hour for them to complete their task. The ladies left the store just as quickly as they’d entered, taking with them the store’s hope for a good profit…and pretty much everything else they could carry.
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Women were truly the most underestimated criminals in London, and no one knew this better than the devious ladies’ leader, Diamond Annie. She exuded wealth, even if she and her comrades didn’t exactly come from money.
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The name she was born with practically set her up for a life of crime: “Alice Diamond” became “Diamond Annie” because she covered her fingers in diamond rings. She was almost 6 feet tall, had a “punch to beware of,” and was the de facto leader of one of London’s most notorious gangs.
“The Forty Elephants” were clever, light on their feet, and almost always got away undetected. Despite their layers of petticoats, these women always appeared to be unbothered, even in the middle of a heist.
And heisting was where the Forty Elephants truly excelled. Armed with nothing but cleverness, these women walked into high-end stores and stole as much as they could. They soon became feared by pretty much everyone…even the police.
Detective Ambrose Askew said that the Forty Elephants’ “methods were so remarkable that they had never been seen to take any goods and none of the…property had ever been recovered.” It was all thanks to Annie’s innovative ideas.
Diamond Annie’s crafty ways have gone down in history as singularly genius. The women disguised themselves as wealthy women so as to be respected in department stores, a simple tactic that brought them staggering success. They even developed their own techniques.
When stealing jewelry, for example, the women would form a “crush,” or swarm the counter, quickly passing a piece of jewelry down the line of women until a disguised member of the gang pocketed it. As their success grew, Annie became more daring.
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And there was no technique more daring than “the decoy.” For this to work, Annie would walk into a store that knew her reputation and divert the clerk’s attention to herself while another woman stole as much as she could..and they stole a lot.
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When one 19-year-old member of the Forty Elephants was caught stealing, the police discovered that she was hiding 45 items under her skirts alone. And this woman was considered “green!” The more seasoned the “Elephant,” the more astounding the skill level.
Two other members managed to steal a $775 fur coat, which would be worth almost $20,000 today. “It’s not a bad life,” one retired member of the Forty Elephants once said. “If you must be crooked.” And being “crooked” was Annie’s specialty.
She transformed the world of underground crime by coordinating simultaneous heists around London. They would sell whatever they stole to underground retailers and buy high-end outfits to maintain their disguise. Still, Annie’s plans weren’t always perfect.
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Though the Elephants evaded significant police detection for years, they were occasionally caught red-handed. A member once grabbed a tray of 34 rings just to run into a police officer on her way out of the shop. But Annie was too slick to get caught, right?
Diamond Annie forced the members of the Forty Elephants to follow the “hoister’s code,” which included members staying loyal to the group. For the queen of crime, the worst thing a member could do was betray her trust…
It all went down in the 1920s. Marie Britten, a member of the Elephants, fell in love, but Annie forbade her from eloping and leaving the Elephants. When Marie didn’t listen, an enraged Annie forced her followers to find the newlyweds.
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They did so with glee, and with bottles, stones, and pieces of concrete in tow. They broke into Marie’s home and beat her lover mercilessly, all under Annie’s watchful eye…and, as they soon learned, under the eye of someone else.
The police quickly arrived on the scene and arrested Diamond Annie. She spent 18 months in jail, and by the time she was released, the Forty Elephants had found themselves a new queen. Still, Diamond Annie’s unforgettable heists are the stuff of legends…
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It’s possible that Diamond Annie and the Forty Elephants were the best crime ring in London’s history…unless, of course, an even more secretive group existed and still remains unknown — and undetected — to this day. Their work paved the way for similar gangs across the pond.
Not many people believe in fate, but forces were definitely at play when Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow way back in 1930. A mutual friend had broken their arm, and by chance the two just happened to be visiting them on the exact same day.
Their chemistry was instant, though this was no fairytale meeting. Clyde was already heavily involved in criminal activity by this point, and Bonnie (left) was actually married to another man at the time.
To make matters worse, Clyde was arrested just three months later for a series of robberies he’d committed. He spent two years in the slammer and was released in 1932.
As soon as he stepped from the prison, Bonnie was there waiting for him. The 22-year-old Texas girl had no prior criminal history, though it was clear she was willing to go to hell and back for her lawbreaker love.
The couple’s gang — dubbed the “Barrow Gang” — started off small at first, their criminal activities centered on the small towns of north-central Texas. Together, Bonnie & Clyde robbed gas stations, stole guns, and even tried to bust their fellow gang members out of prison.
Just weeks into their crime spree, Bonnie was arrested while trying to rob guns from a hardware store. She only spent a few months in prison, however, and the criminal couple picked up right where they left off as soon as she got out.
The gang soon grew increasingly bold in their crimes, even going as far as murdering sheriffs and officers of the law. Bonnie hadn’t been a criminal to start, but by this point, she’d definitely acquired a taste for life on the lamb.
Along with their criminal activities, the gang’s area of operation expanded as well. They pushed beyond Texas, stirring up trouble in places like Missouri, Louisiana, and even as far north as Minnesota.
The gang soon grew so successful that even family members wanted in on the action. Clyde’s brother, Buck, and his wife Blanche joined the ranks, turning their robberies into one heck of a dangerous double date.
But their string of good fortune hit a snag when a police tip forced the gang to flee their Joplin, Missouri hideout in 1933, their possessions left scattered about the house — including two rolls of film.
The photos soon began making the rounds in papers across the country, serving to add fuel to the already raging fire surrounding the gang and their crimes. Yet not every image painted Bonnie and Clyde as ruthless, bloodthirsty outlaws.
In some, the gang’s youth and playfulness shone through, surprising many with how utterly normal they appeared to be. Bonnie and Clyde, of course, generated the most attention — who could resist a good-looking couple whose love for one another had carried over into their life of crime?
Bonnie was especially romanticized by the media, the recovered photos depicting her as a rough-and-tough southern gal who wasn’t afraid to run with the bad boys. This photo of her chomping a cigar remains one of her most iconic.
But as the tale of Bonnie and Clyde climbed its way up the headlines, so too did the Barrow Gang up the “Most Wanted” list. With all eyes peeled for the celebrity criminals’ next move, the gang soon discovered that fame comes at a high price.
While laying low south of Platte City, Missouri, the Barrow Gang was ambushed by Highway Patrol officers in an armored car. Though Bonnie and Clyde managed to escape the assault, Buck was killed and Blanche (below) was captured.
Public opinion toward the outlaw couple also began to shift after one of the gang members murdered two patrolmen near Grapevine, Texas. It was falsely reported that Bonnie had maliciously carried out the “Grapevine killings,” leaving many demanding the gang’s execution.
Law enforcement officials managed to chart the gang’s regular movements around county lines, leading them to a rendezvous point that happened to be the home of one of the gang member’s family. Hidden along Louisiana State Highway 154, the posse of lawmen waited for Bonnie and Clyde to arrive.
On the morning of May 23, 1934, officers open fired on Clyde’s stolen Ford V8. After completely emptying their weapons on the fugitives, Bonnie and Clyde’s blood-spattered crime spree had finally come to an end.
In the years that followed, the story of Bonnie and Clyde gradually faded into obscurity, becoming just another chapter of American outlaw history. But in 1967, the criminal couple burst back into the public consciousness — and it was all thanks to Hollywood.
Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway’s portrayal in Bonnie & Clyde cemented the dastardly duo as the romantic icons they are today. Still, they wouldn’t have reached spectacular — and terrible — heights without those who set the stage before them.
Martha Jane Cannary, as her parents named her, published her own tell-all memoir, The Autobiography of Calamity Jane, in 1896, though, according to historians, the truth to her claims leans closer to tall tales than they do to real life events.
She pinpointed her birthdate to 1852, but even that small fact was inaccurate, as she was actually born in 1856. Her parents, Robert and Charlotte, started a family in Missouri, ignoring the mutterings of their neighbors. And they certainly had reason to mutter…
It was said that Robert, a gambler and erstwhile former, found his wife in a brothel. Charlotte was a sex worker at the time, but Robert intended to end that chapter of her life and turn her into a traditional bride. Needless to say, they left for greener pastures.
Gold was the answer to all their worries, so the Cannary family — Martha Jane, her two younger brothers, and three younger sisters — crammed into the back of a covered wagon with their parents and headed for Montana.
Not everyone survived the quest for fortune. Charlotte succumbed to pneumonia once they reached Montana, so Robert was left scrambling to redraw a plan for their survival. He took his children onward to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Less than a year after they arrived, Robert died, leaving his six children orphaned. The oldest of the lot, 14-year-old Martha Jane, sucked up her grief and assumed the role of head of household.
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Martha Jane followed her parent’s pattern, packing her siblings into a wagon and moving them to Wyoming. That’s where she boasted her wild stage officially fired off. “I was considered the most reckless and daring rider and one of the best shots in the western country,” she wrote.
Beneath the hyperbole, the truth wasn’t so glamorous, but it paid the bills. Martha Jane did whatever job she could to support her brothers and sisters: washing dishes, doing laundry, and even two-stepping with lonely soldiers at a local boarding house.
As Martha Jane told it, General Custer himself recruited her as a scout based in Fort Russell. It was with the US Army that she claimed to have run missions stretching as far as Arizona, but there are zero records to prove it. Also, Custer never stepped foot in Arizona.
Other narratives swirled that Martha Jane spent much of this chapter in the infamous hub of debauchery — Fort Laramie Three-Mile Hog Ranch. When times were tight, Martha Jane joined the ranks of the other ladies of the night. But she refused to let others write her story for her…
By day, Martha Jane was busy fashioning a brand new name. Her accounts of the early 1870s depict a woman flouting gender standards and mastering all aspects of the rough and tumble western lifestyle.
By her own account, Jane earned her moniker in the noblest of ways. In 1872, while ambushing Native Americans in Goose Creek, Wyoming, the leader of the brigade, Captain Egan, took a bullet.
Racing in to save him from tumbling off his horse, Martha Jane braved gunfire to pull Captian Egan safely onto her saddle. In awe of her nerve, the Captain croaked, “I name you Calamity Jane, the heroine of the plains.”
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Hard to beat an origin story that heroic, and that’s exactly why it’s taken with a grain of salt. Jane’s integrity wasn’t as well known as her ferocity. The other fitting explanation was a phrase that followed her: “to offend her was to court calamity.”
In 1876, Calamity took a break from her scouting duties in Fort Laramie, Wyoming, and met a wagon train headed for Deadwood, South Dakota. Jane hitched a ride in the wagon of the sharply dressed wild western figure Charlie Utter.
Charlie’s claim to fame was as right-hand man to Wild Bill Hickok. A trigger happy, professional gambler who could put away several drinks, Wild Bill immediately found a friend in Calamity Jane as their caravan trekked across the plains.
Where they just friends? Calamity couldn’t keep her story straight. In her biography, she labeled Bill a “friend,” however, in 1902, she verbally referred to him as her “affianced husband.” Something seems fishy about the change in tone after Hickok’s fame skyrocketed.
Given that Wild Bill played his final hand of cards, the dead man’s hand of double aces and eights, just six weeks after he met Calamity, their romance was more than likely hot air.
Nuttal & Mann Salon No. 1o was the setting of Wild Bill’s death by poker. After an embarrassing loss the day before, Jack McCall barged into the saloon and executed Wild Bill while he sat at the game table.
Historical Deadwood / Facebook
Calamity Jane, true to her name, didn’t take the murder lightly. She wrote that she chased Jack McCall with a meat cleaver since she left her guns at home. Ultimately, the justice system saw him hanged.
Our heroine spent the remainder of her short life — she died at 51 — maintaining her foolhardy lifestyle. Drinking and roughhousing aside, Calamity was also remembered for her big tender heart.
Deadwood’s newspaper, the Black Hills Daily Times, printed, “It didn’t matter to her whether a person was rich, poor, white, or black, or what their circumstances were, Calamity Jane was just the same to all.”
Her stern exterior and sharp shooting prowess set Calamity apart. But her willingness to help others is how friends remembered her. It’s fitting that Doris Day depicted her onscreen because she, too, was a woman more complex than how she was perceived.
Cookie cutter wouldn’t even begin to describe Doris Day’s reputation. The All American girl, a blonde haired, blue eyed non-threatening beauty, was born April 3, 1992, to a choirmaster father and a homemaker mother. But she had bigger dreams for herself.
Her dream was to make it as a dancer. In her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, little Doris made a name for herself as part of a dance duo with her partner Jerry Doherty. But before she could break out of her home town, an accident halted her plans.
Her dreams were dashed before she ever had the chance to sashay across the stage. While cruising with friends, their car was struck twice by a train. Somehow escaping with her life, Doris suffered a lasting leg injury that snuffed out any dancing hopes.
While in the hospital, Doris filled the dreary days confined to a bed singing along to the radio while waiting for her leg to mend. Turning what should’ve been a sad time into a period of beauty, she realized her pipes weren’t too shabby.
So, a 15-year-old Doris trudged onto the next thing: she joined the ranks of Barney Rapp’s band. While crooning in Cincinnati, Doris met a man that tried his utmost to win her heart.
Several years later, in 1941, Doris tied the knot to a fellow musician, trombonist Al Jorden. Their marriage wasn’t as harmonious as the music they made. Two days after marrying, Jorden began physically abusing his wife, even during her pregnancy.
Doris explained in her biography, “What had represented to me as love emerged as jealousy — pathologic jealousy.” The marriage ended after two years, and Doris, now a mother to her only child Terry, emerged post-divorce ready to break into the entertainment business.
Following her divorce, Doris started singing with a new band, helmed by Les Brown. Soon after, she scored the first massive hit that launched her into the spotlight. The song that captured the hearts of homesick soldiers was her first hit, “Sentimental Journey” 1945.
From then on, her star continued to rise. While serenading a party full of well-connected Hollywood types, Doris’s hypnotizing rendition of “Embraceable You” made songwriter Jule Styne take notice. He invited Doris in for a screen test for a new film, Romance on the High Seas. Doris snagged the role.
The Blonde at the Film
But acting had never been on Doris’ radar. She confessed to the film’s director, Michael Curtiz, her total lack of experience. He appreciated her honesty. Still, Doris proved a capable actress, and her voice lent the film a smash hit with the song “It’s Magic.”
The Blonde At The FIlm
Now with a number of chart-topping hits, Doris received tons of film and musical offers. In a span of 5 years, she appeared in 13 films, carried several Oscar-nominated songs, and collectively won the hearts of Americans across the country.
Meanwhile, while her star rose, Doris gave love a chance once more, marrying film producer Martin Melcher. The two jointly formed Arwin Productions in 1952, which pumped out Doris Day films.
It wasn’t until 1953 that Doris put on her famed fringe jacket in her most well-known film. Playing, the western heroine Calamity Jane, Doris sealed her future as a Hollywood legend. Even her co-stars thought the world of her.
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For instance, her costar for her first dramatic role in the film Love Me Or Leave Me, James Cagney characterized Doris as “the epitome of guilelessness.” Something about her was just likable, easy, and ultimately innocent. Other stars noticed this, too.
Sparring opposite the most well regarded leading men in the Golden Age of Hollywood — Cary Grant, James Garner, Clarke Gable — Doris Day beamed as spirited, captivating star. Of all her onscreen beaus, her favorite was always Rock Hudson, who described their undeniable chemistry.
“The two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did,” Rock said,” for that shines through, the sparkle, the twinkle in the eye as the two people look at each other.” Together the lifelong friends made 3 films and remained close until Rock’s life was sadly cut short.
By the late ’60s, Doris’ particular brand of naivete had started to ebb into old fashion. Films were exploring grittier female characters, and Doris Day’s movies remained firmly in the PG territory. Worse, in 1968, a personal tragedy added to her already growing troubles.
Her husband, movie producer Martin Melcher suddenly died. As practicing Christian Scientists, the couple didn’t visit medical professionals, and Martin succumbed to an enlarged heart. The nightmare didn’t end there, though.
Soon after his death, Doris was gutted to learn Martin and their lawyer Jerome Rosenthal had taken serious liberties with her finances. Unbeknownst to the actress, most of her earnings from film successes had been blown, leaving her buried in debt.
Worse yet, her late husband had done something Doris had always fiercely resisted; he’d signed her on to make a TV sitcom. No finagling could get her out of the deal, so, in the most Doris Day way, she made lemonade out of lemons.
Michael’s TV Tray
For 5 years, The Doris Day Show ran on CBS. As a trade-off for committing to a sitcom, Doris ensured full creative control of the program bearing her name — and this led to interesting opportunities.
Each episode opened with Doris singing the optimistic tune “Que Sera, Sera,” which set the tone for the “throw away the handbook” mentality seen in the dramatic changes in cast and plot from season to season.
After the show ended, Doris retreated from the spotlight. The exception was her shortlived talk show, Doris Day’s Best Friends. One episode featured her dear friend Rock Hudson in one of his final onscreen appearances before succumbing to AIDS in October of 1985.
In the same year, right as she grieved the loss one of her longest beloved friends, Doris’ talk show collapsed. Naturally, rather than dwell on her misfortunes, Doris examined her life and made a formative change.
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It was curtains on showbiz. Drawing on her past, when she founded the organization Actors and Others for Animals back in 1971, she refocused on animals. Her new life’s work became her two official nonprofits: the Doris Day Animal Foundation, and the citizen lobbying organization the Doris Day Animal League.
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Doris’ chin-up spirit in response to unforeseen and often out of her control circumstances wasn’t limited to her film persona. When one thing went wrong, she dusted herself off and moved onto the next hurdle, a quality she prided herself on.
“I always said I was like those round-bottomed circus dolls,” she said. “You know, those dolls you could push down and they’d come back up? I’ve always been like that. I’ve always said, ‘No matter what happens, if I get pushed down, I’m going to come right back up.”