Maverick Producer Edward Bass to direct upcoming feature film on the legendary serial killers Belle GunnessFrom the heinous female serial killer at the heart of director and producer Edward Bass’ new turn-of-the-century film Belle to the infamous Craigslist killer of 2009, the art of killing has had much to do with the art of the advertisement.

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Belle Gunness had composed love letters to men she met through personal ads in local newspapers in order to draw potential suitors to her La Porte, Indiana farmhouse. Many of the men who responded would soon meet their demise at her hand. With a modern twist, the Craigslist killer, Philip Markoff, found his female victim from an ad the woman placed on, advertising her personal massage services.

While Belle Gunness and Philip Markoff’s crimes retain a common thread, the art of advertisement has evolved greatly since Belle’s day. Revolutionized by the Internet, personal ads are no longer limited by the reach of one’s pen.

Yet, the real conundrum at hand calls us to ask—what makes people use ads to put themselves in these types of precarious situations? Whether Belle Gunness advertised herself so as to snatch a husband or Philip Markoff sought the personal services advertised by his victims, both used the art of advertisement for an evil end.

What’s somewhat more surprising is that neither Belle Gunness nor Philip Markoff fit the part of the conventional killer. A good-looking and talented medical student, Markoff didn’t scream murderer. On the same token, Belle, a Norwegian immigrant tending to three orphaned children, didn’t really fit the stereotype either, but looks can be quite deceiving.

These two advertising gone amok stories make audiences wonder what compelled Markoff’s victims to place their service ads in the first place, just as it makes one question why so many able, young men decided to take the journey to Belle’s Indiana farm. Was it the allure of a better life that attracted Belle’s suitors? Was it the simple desire to acquire money that drove Markoff’s victims to place their ads on Craigslist? Leaving the final judgment call to be made by the observer, both Belle and Markoff’s victims opened the door to the person who would be their doom.


The major difference between these two killers lies in accountability, or lack thereof. For Belle Gunness to kill somewhere between 40 and 100 men and never get caught shows just how different the times in which she lived were. Countless men turned up dead before Belle’s killing spree was even noticed. Markoff faced a different fate—accused, convicted and branded a murderer by millions.

If there's one thing that can be said about Belle, it's that she surely knew how to market herself.

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