The Real Madame LaLaurie
Marie Delphine Macarty or MacCarthy (March 19, 1787 - December 7, 1849), more commonly known as Madame Blanque, until his third marriage, when she became known as Madame LaLaurie, was a New Orleans Creole socialite and serial killer noted for torturing and murdering slaves in her household.
Born during the Spanish colonial period, Delphine Macarty married three times in Louisiana and was twice widowed. She maintained her position in New Orleans society until April 10, 1834, when rescuers responded to a fire at her Royal Street mansion. They discovered bound slaves in her attic who showed evidence of cruel, violent abuse over a long period. LaLaurie's house was subsequently sacked by an outraged mob of New Orleans citizens. She escaped to France with her family.
After 1945, accounts of the LaLaurie slaves became more explicit. Jeanne de Lavigne, writing in Ghost Stories of Old New Orleans (1946), alleged that LaLaurie had a "sadistic appetite [that] seemed never appeased until she had inflicted on one or more of her black servitors some hideous form of torture" and claimed that those who responded to the 1834 fire had found "male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by threads, their lips sewn together... Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains."
19 Facts About Madame LaLaurie
Socialite, Slave Torturer, and Serial Killer
She Attempted to Turn a Woman into a Human Caterpillar
After Madame LaLaurie's mansion caught fire and the people of New Orleans rushed to save the slaves who were trapped inside, they found some truly disturbing "experiments" in the attic of the house. According to Kalila Katherina Smith's book Journey into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans:
[A] victim [of the 1834 fire who] obviously had her arms amputated and her skin peeled off in a circular pattern, making her look like a human caterpillar.
The book also describes another woman who had her limbs broken and reset in a way that made her look like a crab.
She wrapped Her Slaves' Intestines Around Their Bodies Like Belts
It's hard to know whether LaLaurie escalated her gross treatment during the time she held slaves, but one of the sickest forms LaLaurie committed was allegedly chaining women up, cutting their stomachs open, and then wrapping their intestines around their waists.
Stories say she would then let their bodies hang and rot.
She Stuffed Animal Waste into One Woman's Mouth, Then Sewed It Shut
One of the most brutal forms of torment that LaLaurie exacted on her slaves indicates that it's possible she didn't act alone. After breaking into the Madame's attic to save slaves, rescuers found one woman with animal waste confined in her mouth, as someone had sewn her lips shut.
Aside from being one of the most gruesome torments imaginable, it's also something that would be hard to do on one's own. In order to do this, presumably someone has to hold the person down, and you need at least one more person to handle the animal waste, and maybe a third to sew. LaLaurie gets the credit for being the boogey-woman of New Orleans, but some theorists speculate that she had accomplices.
She Broke a Woman's Bones to Make Her Fit into a Tiny Cage
Many of LaLaurie's slaves were horrifically mangled, with bones that had been many times broken and reset. When the attic was finally opened up, one woman was discovered missing her arms and legs. Another woman had had her bones twisted and broken in order to fit her inside a tiny metal cage meant for dogs.
At the time of the discovery, both women were still alive.
She Used a Stick to "Stir" One Man's Brains
Many skulls were found with holes drilled into them - and in one case, a slave was still living with a maggot-filled hole in his head. Even more horrifying, it was said one man was found with a hole drilled into his head and a stick protruding out that had been used to "stir" his brains.
She Chained Her Personal Chef to the Stove
Nothing dehumanizes a person quite like chaining them to the physical representation of their station in life, and that's exactly what LaLaurie did to the 70-year-old woman who cooked all of her meals. Either because she couldn't trust the woman to not escape or because she derived a sick satisfaction from exacting control, LaLaurie literally chained this woman to her work station.
Ironically, this would be LaLaurie's undoing. Rather than live out the rest of her life chained to an oven, the emaciated cook set fire to LaLaurie's mansion, calling attention to the Madame's brutal treatment of her slaves before the entire city of New Orleans.
Her Slaves Were Sent to An Attic and Never Seen Again
If her beatings, whippings, and general nastiness weren't enough to keep her slaves in line, Madame LaLaurie would send her slaves to the attic, which was many slaves' final resting place. What's worse is that LaLaurie never removed the bodies from the attic.
By the end of her tenure in New Orleans, she contained her captives next to rotting corpses.
She Drove a Young Girl to Leap off the Roof to Escape
LaLaurie was so frightening that many of her slaves chose to end their lives rather than deal with her punishments directly. One story tells of a 12-year-old slave girl, Lia, who accidentally snagged LaLaurie's hair while brushing it.
LaLaurie went after Lia with a whip, and the girl chose to jump off the roof rather than face whatever vile torment was waiting for her. LaLaurie had the girl's body buried in a well, and the discovery of her remains is what contributed to the downfall of LaLaurie's life in New Orleans.
She Beat Her Daughters When They Tried to Feed Her Slaves
According to some accounts, Madame LaLaurie even beat her own daughters. When the two daughters attempted to give the emaciated slaves - who appeared "haggard and wretched" - any form of sustenance, LaLaurie punished them.
However, LaLaurie donned a shinning public image, and it was hard for locals to confirm that she was anything but "charming" and "hospitable".
She Left Her Victims Hanging for Months
Some of the slaves that did survive their horrific encounter in the attic only did so because they were thrown upstairs a few months before the fire and hadn't yet perished. Upon breaking into the attic, the people of New Orleans discovered some slaves who had been locked in shackles and left to hang until they expired.
Even though those slaves discovered during the LaLaurie fire were saved, it's doubtful that many people survived their treatment in the attic.
She Collected Horrific Devices
LaLaurie purchased shackles of all shapes and sizes for her slaves. She locked some in iron collars with inward-facing spikes. The way these collars work is that when you take a breath, the spikes drive deeper into your neck.
You can try to hold your breath until you pass out, but regardless, the collar will eventually end you.
She Locked Slaves in a Burning Attic
In 1834, when the chained cook set fire to the mansion, LaLaurie skedaddled out of New Orleans without even so much as unlocking the attic where there were still living slaves. Rather than face recrimination of her acts of cruelty, she chose to let her slaves burn.
She Saved the Worse Torments for Her Male Slaves
Some scholars have theorized that as much as LaLaurie felt a smoldering disdain for her female slaves, she absolutely hated the men whom she'd enslaved. When the bodies of slaves were removed from the attic, it was noted that the men had their fingernails, eyes, and genitals removed.
Most of the men were already deceased, but those who were still alive begged to be put out of their misery.
She Denied Bystanders the Keys to the Attic
When the fire broke out at her mansion, bystanders attempted to evacuate the slave quarters but were denied the keys by the LaLauries. They had to break down the doors. Historians are unsure if she was terrified of being caught and planned to burn the evidence or if she wanted to continue her sadistic treatment.
She Was Never Brought to Justice
Even though her mansion was set on fire by one of her slaves, and despite the people of New Orleans going full mosh-pit on her belongings, Madame LaLaurie was able to evade punishment. No one really knows how she spent the rest of her life.
Most people believe that LaLaurie first escaped to Alabama before going on to Paris, where she lived out the rest of her life in freedom.
She Was Not the Only Slave Owner to Commit Terrible Cruelties
LaLaurie was far from the only owner to harm slaves. Louisiana, in particular, was notorious for the cruel treatment of slaves by their owners. These acts of brutality were intended to terrorize slaves and squash any signs of rebellion. According to historian Daniel Rasmussen:
They would tie your hands to four stakes, then whip you with a cat-o'-nine-tails. And that would leave you bleeding and barely able to move [...]. They also had iron masks to put around your head so you couldn't eat. And they had collars with spikes facing inwards so the slaves couldn't sleep without getting spikes in their necks. Those were common forms of punishment in Louisiana during this period. They believed that without the threat of tremendous violence, slaves wouldn't stay slaves.
In particular, the Haitian Revolution, as well as a major slave revolt in New Orleans in 1811, made slave owners fear that their captives might rise up and get revenge. New Orleans slave owners reacted with violent suppression - many historians today think LaLaurie may have been a scapegoat to shift guilt and blame from the many other slave owners of the period who were almost as bad.
She and Her Husband Defended Their Actions from Their Neighbors
At some point prior to the fire, word started getting out about LaLaurie's treatment of her slaves, and when Judge Jean-Francois Canonge witnessed LaLaurie keeping one of her women in an iron neck shackle, Canonge said something to the Madame's husband.
He reported to the courts that when he confronted Madame LaLaurie's husband about the state of their slaves, he responded that "some people had better stay at home rather than come to others' houses to dictate laws and meddle with other people's business".
Her Home Was Briefly Owned by Nicolas Case, Who Hoped It Might Inspire Him
Notoriously eccentric actor Nicolas Cage was one of the many residents of the LaLaurie mansion. Cage bought the home in 2007 and moved in, hoping the home's spooky vibes would provide inspiration as he tried to write a dark novel.
However, this novel was one of the many failed projects cursed by the LaLaurie home, and Cage eventually abandoned the project and the property.
Her Home Has Been Plagued by Misfortune Ever Since
After LaLaurie fled her home at 1140 Royal Street, a move ransacked the premises, which then remained vacant for years. Not surprisingly, there were rumors that the house was haunted, with people claiming to see and hear the ghosts of former slaves. When the house was fully occupied again, the new owner complained of hearing terrible shrieks and moans. He only stayed for three months.
Eventually, the house was turned into a girls' high school during the reconstruction, then later, "a conservatory of music and a fashionable dancing school". However, local news accounts allged that the school's male teacher made inappropriate advances on the students, and the school was subsequently closed.
Later, the home became the residence of Jules Vigne, an eccentric, wealthy recluse, who lived in the house secretly until he passed in 1892. Authorities discovered his body "on a tattered cot in the mansion, apparently living in filth". Investigators also uncovered his antique collection as well as other valuables stashed throughout the residence. Bags of money were found stashed throughout the house, with more treasures rumored to still be undiscovered.
At last, the house was converted into a cheap apartment building. Residents complained of ghostly encounters, many violent and terrifying. One resident alleged that the ghost of a naked, chained slave went after them but then vanished into thin air. Others maintained an array of sordid accounts, including phantoms going after children and animal sacrifices.
Eventually, residents had had enough. It was never easy to keep tenants in the house and finally, after word spread of the strange goings-on there, the mansion was deserted once again. Several businesses moved in, but none lasted very long. Today, the house is once again an apartment building; during renovations, the owners apparently discovered even more bodies that had been hastily thrown into a mass grave beneath the house.