Belle Gunness

Belle's sister
(Transcribed and contributed by Shauna Williams)

January 19, 1910

The Fort Wayne Sentinel, Fort Wayne Indiana
Elizabeth Adams Arrested at Laporte for Death of Gunness Family.
Rev. Dr. Schell Makes Public the Story Given Him by Murderer.

            Laporte, Ind., Jan. 15-A negro woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Adams, today was taken into custody by the sheriff as a witness to the murder of Mrs. Belle Gunness and her children by Ray Lamphere, as revealed in today’s publication of Lamphere’s confession to Rev. E.A. Schell, now president of Iowa Wesleyan university.
            Judge Richter ordered the arrest of the woman after conferring with Prosecutor Smith. The prosecutor announced that he was satisfied Lamphere’s narrative to Mr. Schell was a faithful account of the happenings on the Gunness “murder farm.”
            Mrs. Elizabeth Smith this afternoon denied to Prosecutor Smith that she accompanied Lamphere to the Gunness farm the morning of the fire or participated in the chloroforming of Mrs. Gunness and the children.  
Rev. Dr. Schell Gives Out the Murderer’s Statement.
            Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Jan. 15- Rev. Dr. E.A. Schell, president of Iowa Wesleyan university, broke his long silence yesterday and gave the confession of Ray Lamphere, made to him in the county jail at Laporte, Ind., in April, 1908.
            The confession which hitherto has been held as a privileged communication by minister, was given with all the detail of the three conversations in which Lamphere laid bare the secrets of the Gunness charnel house.
            It describes the killing of Mrs. Belle Gunness and the three children who perished in the burning of the Gunness house. Lamphere admitted killing the four persons, but denied setting fire to the house.
            Lamphere’s confession implicates a negress as an accomplice. A description is given of the killing of Andrew Helgelien, which Lamphere says he witnessed. He assisted in the burying of the bodies of two men.
            Dr. Schell authorized the publication of the confession and described how it was given to him. When seen by a representative of the Tribune in his office at the Iowa Wesleyan university he dictated the following statement of his reasons for making public the confession:
            In view of the conflicting reports which continue to keep alive interest in the Gunness case and the interrogations which must continually arise in the minds of sorrowing friends and recognizing that the principal facts already are made public, I have concluded to relieve myself of further responsibility by communicating to the public through the Chicago Tribune the details of my three conversations with the late Ray Lamphere in the jail at Laporte, the statements he made to me, and the circumstances under which they were made.”
            The following is Dr. Schell’s statement of the confession, written several months after his conversations with Lamphere:
            “In April, 1908, it was reported to me on the next to the last Monday morning that the Gunness house had been burned and with it three children who had been attending my Sunday school, a bright, winsome lad 5 years old and two girls, perhaps 7 and 9. I had seen the children driving around in a pony cart the previous fall and several times noticed the boy in the infant class.
            At the suggestion of J.P. Rupel, the Sunday school superintendent, we arranged a brief memorial service for the Sunday school the following Sunday morning. About the middle of the week Ray Lamphere was arrested, being accused of arson, and confined in the Laporte jail. On Friday, at the suggestion of Prosecuting Attorney Smith and understanding  that it was Lamphere’s wish, I called at the jail to counsel with him and perhaps to receive his confession.
            “I found him agitated in the extreme, beads of perspiration were on his brow, his hands twitched, and his nervousness was plainly noticeable. I stated  that I had come to see him, feeling that a conversation with some one might relieve his feelings and help him to calmness. He said that he supposed they would hang him, but that he was innocent of murder.
            “He denied that he had set the house on fire and related to me how he had slept at the house of a negress until 3 a.m. that morning, then he started for the home of a relative in the country, and in passing by the Gunness home had seen that it was burning, but being angry at Mrs. Gunness and no longer working for her, he hurried past. He then said he reached his relatives place in the country, some four miles further, at about 4 o’clock.
            “Early after dinner of the same day I called again and told him I had learned he had not reached his relative until after 6  o’clock that morning. He said that on thinking it over he remembered that he went back to bed after waking up, and that the negress got his breakfast about 4 o’clock a.m. and that he did not start as early as he thought, as he remembered that the Lake Erie train went by just as he crossed the track north of the lake.
            “He also said that instead of going directly by the house, as he had said in the morning, he had taken the road father east, and on the other side of the lake, and only saw the house at a distance. I kindly accused him of falsehood and advised him if he wanted my sympathy, prayers, and help to remain silent or tell the exact truth.
            “I promised not to tell the prosecuting attorney, and after some two hours of general conversation about Mrs. Gunness, he told me the story of the night as follows:
            “I had been intimate with Mrs. Gunness from June, 1907, while as carpenter and man of all work I was around the house. Three times at her request I purchased chloroform, and once a dug a hole in the hog lot for her and helped her put in the body of someone who she said had died suddenly about the house, and she thought the easiest way was to cover him up and say nothing about it.
            “Lamphere went on to say that he had no suspicions of Mrs. Gunness having murdered any one until one night when he returned suddenly from Michigan City and having bored some holes through a wall, saw her administer some chloroform to a man and hit him in the back of the head with a hatchet. Fearing her after that, he had quit working for her and returned to the house only occasionally to get his wages still due.
            “I then told him that he had been known to stay at the house after that and that I did not believe his story and that it was contradictory in too many particulars. He then said that he had taken money from Mrs. Gunness several times, making her ‘dig up’ or he would tell on her. Once she gave him $50. At another time $15, and again $5. He would then go to the saloons and when he was sober once more he would find the money all gone.
            Dr. Schell prepared the statement of the confession with a view to furnishing it to Prosecuting Attorney Smith at Laporte, who asked for it after Lamphere’s death, Dec. 30. On Jan. 1 he was visited by a reporter and asked to give it to the public. This he refused to do and asserted that today is the first time he communicated the facts of the Lamphere confession to any one.
            He had intended to send the confession to Attorney Smith to be held in confidence, but was induced yesterday to give it out. Before making it public he consulted with a number of ministers of his church and with his bishop. They generally advised him to keep the secret as one heard in the confessional, but the bishop told him to use his own judgment.
            “She had him arrested once for trespass and once for being insane, fearing he would tell on her. He bought the chloroform she used before she killed Helgelein, ‘the Swede,’ as he called him and slept in the Gunness house on the Friday night or the Saturday night previous to the burning of the house. At that time she refused to give him more than $1, and he told her that he would ‘get even’ with her.
            “On Sunday night, after he and the negress mentioned had been drinking about 11 o’clock, the two went together to the Gunness house, letting themselves in by a key which he had and going quietly so as not to disturb another hired man, who was in the house. With some of the chloroform which he had purchased for Mrs. Gunness before Helgelein disappeared, and part of which he put into another bottle, the two gave Mrs. Gunness some chloroform, holding it under her nose until she became quiet. The little boy was in bed with her. They then gave some to the two children, who were in bed in another room. I asked him to explain how all were together when found. He said he did not know, that he was pretty drunk, but that was the way he remembered it.   
            “They then searched the house for the large sum of money which they felt sure was hidden in the house, but found only a small amount. He did not set the house on fire, though he said he was not certain that the negress did not do it, for she was as drunk as he. He stoutly protested that he had not arranged a candle so that it would burn down and later set fire to the place, and that he had nothing in his mind more than to get money enough to have  a ‘big time’ with.
            “He and the negress left the house together, and at a certain point in the road she went home and he went running away, greatly afraid because he saw the house burning. I advised him to tell the story to the prosecuting attorney and save the county the cost of the trial and his sisters the expense of defending him. I told him I would see Attorney Smith and ask him to be easy on him, and allow him to consult with a lawyer before a plea of guilty was made.
            “I prayed with him and promised to call and bring with me a Bible, for which he asked. The next day, Saturday, I called again, taking with me two sheets of paper, on which I had written the statement which he had made the previous afternoon. I told him how he had been seen alone in the field and cautioned him that the negress ought not to be brought into it if she had not been with him and told him that Attorney Smith ahd scouted the idea that the negress had gone with him, and she had accounted for herself the whole night through.
            “I also said that no one would believe that he had not set the house on fire, and with some slight variations he repeated the story as I had written it down, agreeing to sign it and give it to Smith. I left the Bible with him with marked passages in it. I met Smith almost immediately after leaving the jail and hold him Lamphere was going to confess.
            “I advised him to arrest the negrees, but he attached no importance to it and I urged him to let Lamphere have a lawyer. He asked me if Lamphere had confessed, and I made an envasive answer. After the next Sunday services I went to Baltimore to attend the general conference of the Methodist church. It was while I was there that the discoveries that so aroused the country were made. And of the details I know far less than the reporters who visited the scene and collected the items of the story.
            “It was several times suggested that I visit Lamphere after my return, but I refused to go. I still fell that the communication was privileged, that I owed it to his sisters to refuse to make it public until now, and that failure on my part to keep the confession secret might deter others needling the encouragement of a Christian preacher from opening his heart to some man of God.”
            He does not know what became of the brief statement he wrote and gave the Lamphere in jail, but thinks it was destroyed. He believes Lamphere would have made the full confession to Attorney Smith but for the general conference at Baltimore which took him from the scene.
            Dr. Schell was presiding elder, of the northwest Indiana conference for six year  just preceding the murder of  Mrs. Gunness. He became president of ---- ---yan university about two years ago. No mention of Jennie Olson was made to Dr. Schell in any of the conversations with Lamphere and nothing said to indicate that she had not died long before the fire which destroyed the Gunness house.