More often than not, when you hear the word “serial killer” you think of a man. You would not be far off, as the vast majority of serial killers are male. However, the fairer sex is not immune from murderous instincts, and some of the most notorious serial killers in history were women. Among their number is the wealthy New Orleans socialite Marie Delphine LaLaurie, better known as Madam LaLaurie, whose mansion has gone down in the eccentric history of New Orleans as a house of horrors.
On April 10, 1834 a fire broke out in her mansion. While neighbors and firefighters struggled to put out the flames, LaLaurie herself went about the mansion trying to save her valuables. Rescuers began to question where all the household slaves were, and why they weren’t helping to fight the fire. I also imagine they were curious as to why an elderly slave was chained to the stove.
Rumors had abounded before the fire of LaLaurie’s alleged cruelty towards her slaves. Certainly slavery itself was a cruel institution, but slave holders were expected to treat their slaves with some minimum degree of humanity (I should mention that I waffled over that word choice for about ten whole minutes and it still doesn’t fit). This evidently didn’t exclude slave holders from using whips and chains to discipline their slaves, so to be considered “cruel” back then meant very much going above and beyond.
Said rumors were probably in the back of the rescuer’s minds as they put out the fire. They headed up the stairs toward the attic, guided by the words of the elderly kitchen slave who had told them about her fellow slaves who were sent to the attic, never to return. Some believe the slave set the fire in the kitchen herself to try to draw attention from the outside world to Madam LaLaurie’s cruelty. If that was her intention, the plan worked.
Rescuers broke down the attic door and found a scene straight out of the worst modern day horror movies. Accounts vary, and likely they have become exaggerated with the passage of time, but regardless what was inside was terrible enough to make hardened firefighters become sick to their stomachs. Slaves were bound in chains to the wall, with collars around their throats. Some were locked in dog cages. All of them showed signs of starvation and maltreatment, and some were horribly mutilated. One man had had his genitals removed in a crude sex change operation. One woman’s limbs had been broken at the joints which were then reset at odd angles, resulting in a crab-like appearance. Another woman’s limbs had been removed and strips of her flesh had been stripped away in sort of a striped pattern. A man had been vivisected (autopsied while alive) and lay on the makeshift operating table with his organs exposed. Buckets of organs and blood were scattered all over the room.
Now I should mention that descriptions these rather more horrific and specific tortures came later, as near as I can tell. They may not (and hopefully didn’t) occur, but rather they might be embellishments of the legend of Madam Laurie. Regardless, the fact seems to stand that Madam LaLaurie and her husband committed atrocities against their slaves that were shocking even to the culture of the day that regarded them as nothing more than property.
Not long after the discovery, Madam LaLaurie was forced to flee her home as an armed lynch mob attacked the mansion when word spread of the attic room and its grisly contents. LaLaurie and her husband fled in a carriage and escaped to Paris, France. On December 7, 1842 Madam LaLaurie died in Paris, allegedly of wounds sustained during a boar hunt. She was never punished for her crimes.