La Porte Herald Argus - November 24, 2010
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LA PORTE — It's hard to find a La Portean unfamiliar with the enigmatic tale of the town's most infamous resident, turn-of-the-century serial killer Belle Gunness. But regardless of how widespread the story is, tales of Gunness and her murderous activities linger and can be disjointed, embellished, or flat out wrong.
With a new documentary, local school teacher and history buff Bruce Johnson plans to lay the rumors and myths to rest once and for all.
There are a lot of rumors out there that people don't know whether or not are true," Johnson said.
Johnson researched the material and wrote the script for the documentary "The Gunness Mystery," which tells Belle's life story. It will premiere at the La Porte Cinema on Dec. 1.
From her earliest years in Selbu, Norway, to her life as a Chicago immigrant, to the deadly game she carried out from her farm in La Porte in which she famously lured unsuspecting men to her home, Johnson painstakingly detail's Belle's history with the aid of countless pictures and documents. These visuals provide the backdrop for the majority of the documentary.
Johnson also composed original music for the project.
Helping Johnson bring the story to the screen is fellow La Portean Steve Ruminski, a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago who produced, directed, filmed and edited the documentary. The two met through La Porte Little Theater, where Ruminski has filmed several live productions.
Ruminski, like Johnson, felt it was worthwhile to dispel the rumors by making the documentary.
"We both think it's worth reporting," Ruminski said of the project.
"This is a really important story in the community," Johnson added. "[Now] we finally have the real story."
Their collaboration on "The Gunness Mystery" began in 2008, but Johnson's connection to the Gunness story goes back even farther to April 2007. A La Porte County Historical Society Museum Board member, Johnson realized at that time that the 100th anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Gunness farmhouse and revealed the bodies of several of Belle's victims was just a year away. (The fire took place in April 1908.) To observe the incident, Johnson led the effort to purchase headstones for two of Belle's victims buried at Patton Cemetery in unmarked graves: Peter Gunness, one-time husband, and Jennie Olsen, Gunness's 16-year-old adopted daughter.
"It's a tragic story. They were innocent people who were basically forgotten," Johnson said. "I thought 'If I'm not going to do it, no one else is going to do it."
The slide show Johnson prepared to mark the anniversary relied on more than 100 photos borrowed from the La Porte County Historical Society and taken by Johnson on a trip to Belle's hometown in Norway, and became the basis for the documentary film The Gunness Mystery.
What's New La Porte - November 17, 2010
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"The Gunness Mystery," a historical documentary on the life of infamous LaPorte serial killer Belle Gunness, will premiere at the LaPorte Cinema on Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2010, with showings at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
The documentary was produced by LaPorte County residents Bruce Johnson and Stephen Ruminski. A synopsis at website www.thegunnessmystery.com states: "The Gunness Mystery is a documentary detailing the life of one of the most prolific female serial killers in history. In the late 1800s, Belle Gunness emigrated from a small town in Norway to the bustling city of Chicago. Following the death of her first husband, she moved with several of her foster children to a farm in LaPorte, Indiana. Belle began reaching out to men across the Midwest through a series of want ads in Scandinavian newspapers. Those who answered her ads were promised a bright future as a partner in her farm. They were also told to sell their belongings, bring only cash, and not tell anyone where they were going. Those who came were never seen again."
Bruce Johnson is a native of LaPorte who teaches at South Central School. He has been researching the Belle Gunness story for many years, partly because of his interest in local history and his Scandinavian heritage. He has hosted guests from Norway, England, and France who have visited LaPorte to research Gunness, and he has appeared in Gunness television documentaries in Norway and England. He is also the first LaPortean to have visited the home of Gunness in Selbu, Norway.
In 2007, he volunteered to create a historic presentation to observe the 100th anniversary of the Gunness discoveries and raise funds to purchase gravestones for the victims buried in LaPorte. It was his goal to research and write a factual script for The Gunness Mystery and use archival photos to create an accurate account that could be presented to local organizations in exchange for donations to the memorial fund. He also was determined to locate as many living relatives of victims as possible who would be able to take part in the dedication of the gravestones. More than 40 relatives of victims were in attendance from throughout the country for the memorial dedication services on April 26, 2008.
Stephen Ruminski, a native LaPortean, is an aspiring writer, director and editor. He is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy in Chicago, where he studied film and film post-production. He has been running his own video production company, P.C. Video Productions, for many years. "The Gunness Mystery" is the first documentary produced by the company.
In Late 2007, Stephen attended Bruce's Belle Gunness slideshow at the LaPorte County Public Library. Stephen and Bruce met shortly after and began planning the documentary.
Tickets for the premiere are $10 and are available at the box office of LaPorte Cinema, 608 Colfax Ave., or online at www.thegunnessmystery.com. Also available at the website are details on how to purchase DVDs, posters, photos and more regarding the Gunness documentary.