Della Sorensen: Odd Killer Poisons Eight People

Last week’s case was the tragic murder of Pegye Bechler by her husband, Eric. This week, we look at a truly bizarre case from the heartland. In Nebraska in 1925, Della Sorensen confessed to poisoning eight family members.

Della Sorensen

Della Sorensen (sometimes spelled “Sorenson”) lived in the small town of Dannebrog, Nebraska, about ten miles from Grand Island in the center of the state. Some consider Dannebrog the “Danish Capital of Nebraska” and it’s usually a peaceful place. But “peaceful” isn’t a word you would use to describe Della Sorensen. In 1918, when Della was 21, she began poisoning members of her own family. Before the murders ended in 1923, she had killed eight relatives.

Della Sorensen
Della Sorensen

The first victim was one-year-old Viola Cooper, Della’s niece. She poisoned the little girl as payback to the child’s mother, her sister-in-law, for “gossiping” about her.

The Sorensen house in Dannebrog, Nebraska (Lincoln State Journal, April 22, 1925)
The Sorensen house in Dannebrog, Nebraska (Lincoln State Journal, April 22, 1925)

A couple of years after she killed little Viola, in 1920, Della and her husband, Joseph Weldam, had an argument. Apparently, this quarrel bothered Della because she killed him shortly thereafter. Not long after that, she killed her mother-in-law, Wilhelmina. In her confession, Della pulled no punches. “[S]he was feeble and childish and a burden. I wanted to get her out of the way.” (There is some confusion about Wilhelmina’s death. Some sources report her dying in 1918, before Joseph. But Della confessed to killing her.)

Della Sorensen Shows No Remorse

With three murders under her belt, Della kept on killing. Her victims included two (maybe three) of her own children; Clifford Cooper, the four-month-old brother of Viola Cooper; Ruth Brock, the daughter of a relative; and another unnamed child.

A newspaper montage of victims (Lincoln State Journal, April 21, 1925)
A newspaper montage of victims (Lincoln State Journal, April 21, 1925)

Despite dealing death to her family, many of the victims being children, Della showed no sense of guilt or remorse. She addressed the subject in her confession when talking about her eight-year-old-daughter Minnie, who she poisoned in 1921. “After the death of my little daughter, Minnie, I had a feeling of elation and happiness.” She continued in the same vein. “Then, after I got to thinking about what I had done, I was afraid and tried to hide it. I had the same feeling after the death of every one of those I poisoned.”

At one point, Della added another thought. “I like to attend funerals. I’m happy when someone is dying.”

Della’s killing spree lasted for five years. Things went awry when she tried to poison two young relatives with strychnine-laced candy (some sources say cookies). The two children survived, and police launched an investigation. Della confessed to all eight murders on April 19, 1925.

Epilogue

Della Sorensen did not face trial for her murders. Investigators and doctors found her to be mentally ill. Instead of going to prison, she was committed to the Hastings State Hospital. She died there in 1941, age 44.

Postcard depicting the Hastings State Hospital in Hastings, Nebraska
Postcard depicting the Hastings State Hospital in Hastings, Nebraska

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