CLOSE
Original image

Who Not to Marry: 6 Black Widows

Original image

Some women who vow to "love, honor, and cherish" end up violating those vows in a deadly manner. These stories of women who kill their men have some eerie similarities. A man dies, and someone notices his wife had already lost a husband or two due to a similar illness. An investigation reveals that each man had the same poison in his system. That's the story of the human black widow.

1. Belle Gunness

Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth was born in Norway and came to the US in 1881. Later known as Belle Gunness, she married Mads Albert Sorenson in 1884. The couple produced four children, two of whom died in infancy, but were fortunately covered by life insurance. During the marriage, both a home and a business burned down and insurance was paid out. Sorenson died on July 30, 1900, coincidentally the one day that two of his life insurance policies overlapped. Belle married Peter Gunness in 1902. He already had an two daughters, one an infant who died while under his new wife's care. Gunness himself died in December of 1902 when a heavy machine fell on him. Peter Gunness' older daughter prudently went to live with an uncle. Gunness' death was investigated, but Belle was not charged -possibly because she was pregnant. Soon after, her adopted daughter Jennie Olsen, who was questioned over remarks she had made about Gunness' death, disappeared completely. Gunness began corresponding with men through a lonely hearts club. She invited suitors to visit her and bring money. John Moe, Ole B. Budsburg, and Andrew Helgelien were among the many men who came to visit Gunness and brought money to help the poor widow with her mortgage, and were never seen again. She became suspicious that her hired hand, Ray Lamphere would rat her out, so Gunness fired him and reported that he threatened her.

In 1908, the Gunness home burned down. Four bodies were found under the piano, three of Gunness' children and the headless body of a woman whose measurements did not match Gunness. However, dentures found in the ashes were hers, and the coroner pronounced Belle Gunness to be dead. As the property was cleared, depressions in the ground raised suspicions. Digging revealed the body of Jennie Olsen. The bodies of six suitors and two children were also found. Many other possible victims were reported to the police by concerned relatives. The hired man Ray Lamphere was convicted of arson and died in prison, but not before he revealed details of his days with Gunness. He had told a minister how Belle would kill her victims with strychnine or a meat cleaver, then dismember their bodies before Lamphere buried them. The fate of Gunness has never been positively determined. She had withdrawn her money from the bank before the fire. The identity of the headless woman has also never been determined.

2. Marie Becker

150beckerMarie Alexandrine Becker was a bored, middle-aged Belgian housewife in the 1930s. Her husband Charles Becker, a cabinet maker, supported but did not excite her. Along came Lambert Beyer, who offered her the excitement of an affair. It wasn't long before Charles died and left her an insurance settlement large enough to  open her own business. Becker married Beyer, but the excitement of the illicit affair was no longer there. Two months into the marriage, Beyer also died.  He had, of course, lived long enough to put Becker in his will as the sole beneficiary. She lived the high life, dancing, drinking, and carousing with men until the money started to dwindle. Becker then volunteered to take care of ailing elderly people, who would soon die and leave her an inheritance. She may have gotten away with it, except she generously offered to help a friend "get rid" of her bothersome husband. The friend went to the Belgian police, who found digitalis in Becker's home. They exhumed the bodies of people who were known to be in Becker's company before they died, and found evidence of digitalis in victim after victim. She was found guilty of ten murders, although she is suspected of more. Becker died in prison two years after receiving a life sentence.

3. Blanche Moore

400_blanche-moore

Blanche Taylor Moore married her first husband James Taylor in 1952 when she was 19 years old. She jumped into marriage to escape her abusive father, an alcoholic minister named  P.D. Kiser. Kizer died in 1966 of heart failure while under his daughter's care, although he reported symptoms that indicated poisoning more than heart trouble. In 1970, James Taylor's mother died of what was determined to be natural causes, despite evidence of arsenic poisoning. Taylor himself died in 1970 after a mysterious flu-like illness. Blanche had been carrying on an affair with her co-worker Raymond Reid for years, and they began dating openly after her husband's death. Reid, however, died in 1986. Blanche then was able to openly date another man she had been seeing secretly, the reverend Dwight Moore. The two married in 1989. Immediately after returning from their honeymoon, Rev. Moore was admitted to a hospital. Suspicious doctors found he had been poisoned with arsenic. Dwight Moore survived with treatment, but was disabled for life. The bodies of P.D. Kiser, James Taylor, Isla Taylor, and Raymond Reid were exhumed; all showed high levels of arsenic. Blanche Moore was arrested and tried in 1990 for the murder of Raymond Reid. She was found guilty and sentenced to death. Moore is on Death Row and continues to profess her innocence. A made-for-television movie about the Blanche Taylor Moore case was aired in 1993. Elizabeth Montgomery played the role of Moore.

4. Judias Buenoano

250judiasbbuenoanoJudias Buenoano was an abused child and already had a son when she married Air Force officer James Goodyear in 1962. The couple had two more children and settled in Florida. Goodyear served in Vietnam, but died of a mysterious malady three months after coming home to his wife in 1971. Buenoano collected on three life insurance policies. A couple of months later, she collected on another policy when her home burned (another insured home burned a few years later). By 1973 Buenoano had a new lover, Bobby Joe Morris. She and her children moved to Colorado with Morris in 1977, but he died of a mysterious malady in 1978. Again, Buenoano collected on three insurance policies. Back in Florida by 1979, Buenoano's adult son Michael visited his mother and suffered base metal poisoning, which left him disabled but alive. He drowned in 1980 while on a canoeing trip with his mother. Buenoano again collected on three life insurance policies. She dated John Gentry and took out a life insurance policy on him. He was hospitalized with a mysterious malady, but survived, only to return to the hospital when his car exploded in 1983. Gentry cooperated with investigating police, telling them of the vitamins Buenoano gave him before his earlier illness. The "vitamins" contained paraformaldehyde and arsenic. Gentry also found out that Buenoano had told her friends that Gentry had a terminal illness (he did not). The bodies of James Goodyear, Bobby Joe Morris, and Michael Buenoano were exhumed and found to contain high levels of arsenic. In 1984, Judias Buenoano was sentenced to life for the murder of her son, and in 1985, she received a death sentence for the murder of James Goodyear. Buenoano was executed in Florida in 1998.

5. Velma Barfield

450velmabarfield

Margie Velma Bullard Barfield was not home when a house fire killed her first husband Thomas Burke in 1969 in North Carolina. Another fire soon after destroyed what was left of the home. She married Jennings Barfield in 1970, but he died in 1971. Barfield moved in with her parents, but her father died of cancer and her mother died in 1974 of a mysterious illness. A boyfriend also died in a car accident. Barfield moved in with Dollie and Montgomery Edwards in 1975 as a nurse for the elderly couple. They both died in 1977. The next elderly man in her care, John Henry Lee, also died in 1977. Barfield then moved in with her boyfriend Stuart Taylor, who soon died of a mysterious illness. Taylor's autopsy showing the presence of arsenic and a tip from Barfield's sister led to her arrest. Jennings Barfield's body was exhumed and also found to contain arsenic. The widow confessed to killing her mother, Taylor, and the elderly people she attended, but denied killing Burke or Jennings Barfield. In 1978, Velma Barfield was convicted of the murder of Stuart Taylor and in 1984 became the first woman in the US executed by lethal injection.

6. Nannie Doss

400Nannie-Doss

Serial killer Nancy Hazle later became known as Nannie Doss and was also referred to in the press as "the Giggling Granny" because of her bizarre behavior. In 1921, when she was only 16 years old, she married Charlie Braggs. They produced four daughters. The two middle daughters died under mysterious circumstances in 1927, and Braggs left Doss. She met Robert Frank Harrelson through a lonely hearts club and married him in either 1929, 1937, or 1945 (accounts vary). He died from ingesting rat poison in 1945. Meanwhile, two of Doss' grandchildren died under mysterious circumstances. Doss married her third husband, Arlie Lanning in 1947. He died in 1950 of heart failure, although he had no history of heart problems. Soon after, their home burned. The house had been willed to Lanning's sister, but the insurance beneficiary was Doss. Soon after, Lanning's mother and Doss' sister died. Husband number four was Richard Morton, whom Doss married in 1952. During that marriage, Doss' father died and her mother came to live with her. The arrangement did not last long, as Louisa Hazle died within a few days of her arrival in 1953. Richard Morton died three months later. Nannie Doss immediately began looking for another husband, and married her fifth, Sam Doss, in 1953. Within a couple of months, he was hospitalized with a mysterious illness, but survived and was sent home on October 5th, only to die later that night. Sam Doss' suspicious doctor ordered an autopsy and found (you guessed it) arsenic. Nannie was finally arrested, and she confessed to murdering all four deceased husbands, a mother-in-law, her own mother, her sister, and a grandson. She pleaded guilty to the murder of Sam Doss and was sentenced to life. She died in prison in 1965.

See also: 7 Black Widows and 16 Dead Husbands

Original image
davi_deste via eBay
arrow
Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
Original image
davi_deste via eBay

There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

Getty Images

Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
Original image
John Gooch/Keystone/Getty Images

On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios