In May, a small man approached the sheriff in his office and introduced himself as the brother of Andrew Helgelein, that "big Swede" from South Dakota who, like so many others, wooed Belle one day and were gone the next. This fellow, Asle Helgelein, had known that Andrew arrived in La Porte in January, 1908, to withdraw his savings from the Bank of South Dakota "with Belle at his side". Having read in The Skandinaven newspaper about the Belle Gunness fire, and not having heard from his brother since he had left for Indiana, he came to La Porte to investigate.
Andrew, he explained, had first heard of Belle from the mail-order brides column in The Skandinaven, where immigrant brides often advertised for a husband. In his possession were dozens of letters — six months' worth — that Belle had written to Andrew, entreating him to join him as husband in La Porte. (In one of her letters, says the La Porte Historical Society, "she included a four-leaf clover for good measure".) Asle found it strange that after so long a communication, and after entrusting to her his savings — some $1,800 — his brother would run off. It just didn't make sense.
Belle's letters were earthy and painted herself as "a good Norwegian woman" desiring a faithful husband, lover and provider for her and her family. As the relationship grew through the written word, however, Belle began to surface more and more with monetary motivation. After Andrew had made up his mind that he was coming to La Porte, Belle exhibited a wiliness borne from experience. She had written:
"...Do not send any cash money through the bank. Banks cannot be trusted nowadays. Change all the cash you have into paper bills, largest denomination you can get, and sew them real good and fast on the inside of your underwear. Be careful and sew it real good, and be sure do not tell anyone of it, not even to your nearest relative. Let this only be a secret between us two and no one else. Probably we will have many other secrets, do you not think?"
Sheriff Smutzer thought that Asle was overreacting; Belle Gunness, he said, was not a gold-digger and surely no murderess. But, Asle Helgelein was unconvinced. The latter knew of the digging taking place on the farm and heard that certain belongings such as watches were churning over across the property. Perhaps he might find an article belonging to his prodigal brother.