"La Porte boosters painted with pride to a church on every corner, a small factory or two, and a handsome red sandstone courthouse," writes de la Torre. "They boasted of two live-wire newspapers, the Herald and the Argus."
Both papers ran the story of the tragedy the following morning, relating how in the debris were found the charred bodies of Mrs. Gunness and her three children, two adopted, one (Phillip) her own. The body believed to be that of Belle Gunness was headless.
Sheriff Smutzer and his deputies, Leroy Marr and William Antiss, immediately smelled murder. So did the courts. So did the clergy. So did the newspapers. So did the townsfolk. So did the neighbors along dusty McClung Road. And it was no secret who the suspect may be. Most everyone who walked the streets of La Porte at least once a day had heard about Ray Lamphere's threats to "get even" with the widow after she fired him as her farmhand.
The deputies had found Lamphere that morning working at his new job, as field hand at the John Wheatbrook farm. He had had no stand-up alibi as to where he had been before sunrise when the fire was ignited. He was pinched and tossed in the courthouse jail awaiting arraignment. He cried innocence and told the reporters he was being framed for something he had nothing to do with. Bad luck was bad luck, and he didn't think it right that the widow's ill-lit star was now shining its spoiled glow on him.
The town began to wonder if maybe Lamphere had a point. In retrospect, yes, everyone who had anything to do with Belle Gunness (the good woman she was!) had, over the years, seemed to either meet foul fate or, even stranger, disappear into a silent chasm of infinity.