A few days after the fire, Ray Lamphere brooded in the courthouse lock-up, sorry he had ever heard the name Belle Gunness. He realized he was in a precarious position and hoped that he could wiggle out of this situation, somehow. He had no money for a lawyer.
The law alleged he had killed Belle Gunness, but first the law would have to prove it was Belle Gunness who was found dead. And from what he was hearing from friends who visited him in his cell, popular opinion was quickly moving in his favor. Much of the town really didn't believe that the headless woman found under the rubble of the farmhouse was its owner; rumors mentioned a much smaller victim than the corpulent Norse woman. More so, if there was a scoundrel in their midst, it wasn't considered — at least today — Ray Lamphere. The name whispered on everyone's lips with horror these days was none other than Belle Gunness herself.
There was a lot of reticence in La Porte. Suddenly, there were doubts. Why had so many suitors come and gone to fade into thin air, often leaving behind their personal belongings? (She had been seen in the fields afterwards, wearing their long coats to plow, their hats to shield her from rain.) Where was Jennie, the daughter? (The college she was supposed to have attended in San Francisco had no record of her.) Where was she getting her money? (She seemed to be living too well for the meager income her trade would allow.)
Suspect clues were starting to turn up in the rubble. Men's watches, men's coat buttons, men's billfolds, emptied. Then a human rib cage, recently buried. Then a skeletal arm, recently buried. Then a complete skeleton, recently buried. Sheriff Al Smutzer, wanting like hell to keep this scandal to his peace-loving town quiet, hired Joe Maxson and Belle's neighbor, Daniel Hutson, to quietly dig through the rubble to see what else might turn up — particularly, Belle Gunness' head — and report directly to him, no one else, if they found something relevant.
But, the diggers couldn't hide themselves, especially since a daily parade of town's folk passed the charred remains of the house; sometimes, they would stop their buggies to gawk and whisper and cross themselves, warding off the demon that brooded in the midst over the silent ruin.