Guest Writer Charly Cox on Writing, Serial Killers, and the Infamous Belle Gunness


The truth of the matter is, I’ve always been stupendously fascinated by serial killers. How did they get that way? What makes them tick? Is there any hint of compassionate humanity in them?

Guest author CHARLY COX, whose thriller All His Pretty Girls releases with Hera Books this week, talks writing process, plot inspirations, and the story behind that terrifying serial killer stalking the pages of her ‘unputdownable’ debut.

Like so many writers, one of the first questions I’m asked is: How do you come up with your ideas? The answer is: I’m not really sure. I might see someone strolling down the street, and my mind will take on a life of its own. Then I suddenly find myself inventing a story about that person (Book 3), or I might hear something on the news as I’m making dinner (Book 2).

Before I know it, I’m racing to jot down all my thoughts, and quite frequently, begin the outline of a novel. If I’m not already working on another story, I may even stick with it to the end of a rough draft. But sometimes I’ll only take it so far before I file it away under ‘To Be Written Later.’

I have a ton of ‘To Be Written Laters.’

And while the genesis for All His Pretty Girls came to me when I took my Jeep Grand Cherokee in for a tune up, the truth of the matter is, I’ve always been stupendously fascinated with the topic of serial killers: How did they get that way? What makes them tick? Is there any hint of compassionate humanity in them?

It’s the whole nature versus nurture dilemma that intrigues me. I can see both sides of that argument, and All His Pretty Girls covers the full spectrum.

Maybe this odd fascination stemmed from my younger days when Jason and Freddy and Michael were deliciously frightening — For the record, I absolutely refuse to watch scary movies anymore, much to the sadness of my husband who loves them. I’m much too wimpy these days, and if I did decide to watch, then I’d have to sleep with ALL the lights on, and I’d have to lie so close to my husband he wouldn’t have a bit of wiggle room, and that’s if I even allowed him to sleep at all…

But I digress. I was saying my fascination might’ve come from watching scary movies. OR maybe it all began because of Belle Gunness.

Who exactly is Belle Gunness? Allow me to enlighten you.

Belle Gunness was born in 1859 and lived and later died (allegedly) in my small hometown of LaPorte, Indiana. More importantly, she was one of the first female serial killers our country is aware of.

She was a greedy woman who killed her husbands and even some of her own children for the insurance money. And when that wasn’t enough, she began luring men in from afar by placing ads in the papers. These men would then arrive on her doorstep, sign over their life savings to her (I know—not smart), and then, yep, you guessed it—mysteriously end up dead.

All in all, Gunness was believed to have murdered at least forty people. When it was eventually discovered what she was doing, investigators moved in only to find her house burned to the ground. Inside were the charred remains of who authorities believed to be Belle Gunness and those of three of her children.

I say believed because the person found was supposedly taller than Belle, but also because rumor has it that she escaped to California where, later, very similar suspicious deaths began to occur. The woman responsible for the California deaths fit Gunness’s general description and was arrested, but before authorities from LaPorte County could arrive, she died, leaving open a mystery that has yet to be solved.

But back to how this may have been where my fascination with serial killers began. Belle’s hunting and burial grounds happened to be located right across the street from where I grew up. In fact, one of my childhood friends lived in a house built on top of where all those bodies were discovered. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I did stay the night in that house, more than once. Creepy, I know.

However, during my sleepovers, I’d never even heard of Belle or the heinous crimes she’d been accused of. Which is probably a good thing because my friend and I enjoyed swapping scary ghost stories. And if I had known of Belle’s existence then, I’m a million percent positive I never would’ve been able to sleep a wink in that place. As it was, it was easy enough to convince our ten-year-old selves that ghosts inhabited the residence, floating all around us.

Anyway, it wasn’t until years later that I finally learned about Belle, and to be honest, I don’t even remember the how or why of it all. And really, I’m just guessing this is where my fascination into the mindset of serial killers began. More importantly, my heart aches for their victims—the ones whose lives they’ve taken, as well as the ones they’ve left alive—the families and friends of those who fell into the path of such sick and twisted individuals.

And that’s what lies at the heart of All His Pretty Girls. If you haven’t read it, I hope you will. If you have, I hope this article gives you a little insight into the way my brain worked as I wrote the story.

Until next time,

Charly Cox


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