Northern Illinois University Press


Heartland Serial Killers

Belle Gunness, Johann Hoch, and murder for Profit in Gaslight Chicago

Richard C. Lindberg

“Though its subject is wholesale slaughter, Heartland Serial Killers crackles with life. A masterful piece of true-crime storytelling that moves at a galloping pace, Lindberg’s dual biography is also a terrific social history that brings the world of 1890s Chicago—its politics, police work, and raucous yellow journalism—to vivid life.”—Harold Schechter, author of Killer Colt: Murder, Disgrace, and the Making of an American Legend

“Gunness and Hoch’s stories are inherently interesting and Lindberg’s focus on how they found and manipulated their victims, rather than on gruesome bloody details, makes this an engaging work of history. The author’s extensive research in period newspapers, court documents and other material is evident in the rich detail in the text, notes and bibliography. This is a story you won’t soon forget.”—Elizabeth A. De Wolfe, author of The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories

Lindberg, an accomplished local historian and true crime writer, presents a fascinating story of two contemporaneous serial killers, both weaving marriage and murder in and around Chicago during the 1890s and 1900s. Johann Hoch was a debonair bigamist and wife killer who boasted of having perfected a “scientific technique” to romance and seduction. Belle Gunness was a nesting “Black Widow” whose sprawling farm in Northwest Indiana was a fatal lure for lonely bachelors seeking the comforts of middle-age security by answering matrimonial advertisements placed by Gunness.

Notorious in his own day, Hoch had faded into the dark background of Chicago crime history. But, in Heartland Serial Killers, Lindberg brings back vividly the horrors of one of Chicago’s first celebrity criminals and uncovers new evidence of a close connection between Hoch and H.H. Holmes, the “Devil in the White City.”

Unlike Hoch, Belle Gunness, likely the most prolific and infamous female serial killer of the 20th century, has remained fascinating to the public. Here, Lindberg presents the most comprehensive and compelling study of the Gunness case to date, including new information regarding ongoing DNA testing of remains found at the site of Gunness’s farm in LaPorte, Indiana, which may serve to resolve once and for all the mystery surrounding Gunness’s death.

Told in alternating chapters and rapidly paced, this book is true crime at its best—gripping, pulpy, and full of sharp historical tidbits. True crime fans, history buffs, and those interested in local lore will delight in this chilling tale of two ruthless killers.

Richard C. Lindberg is the author of 15 books on crime, Chicago, and sports. He is the team historian of the ChicagoWhite Sox and regularly leads tours for the Chicago History Museum. A much sought-after expert on true crime, he has appeared in numerous documentaries and on such national media outlets as The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, The CBS Evening News, and All Things Considered.

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-436-1
978-0-87580-436-1
278 pages
40 illus.
 $28.95