Madam Delphine LaLaurie appearance as a character in the third season of American Horror Story may have made her something of a household name; but even before that, those with a taste for the darker side of history had likely come across the name of Delphine LaLaurie, who has sometimes been called America’s answer to Elizabeth Bathory.
LaLaurie was born in Louisiana to a family of Irish and French immigrants in 1787 as Marie Delphine Macarty. Bolstered by her family’s wealth, Delphine might have mixed with the cream of New Orleans society in life; but nowadays, she is best remembered for the dubious honor of possibly being America’s very first female serial killer.
It was in 1831 that LaLaurie and her third husband, Louis LaLaurie, purchased what would become the site of the infamous LaLaurie mansion at 1140 Royal Street. This house at first, played host to frequent balls and parties for LaLaurie’s high-society friends; but before long, it would become the site of a discovery that would lead to LaLaurie’s current infamy.
Slavery was a fact of life in 19th century New Orleans; but the influence of abolitionists was growing, and laws had been put in place to prevent the excessive mistreatment of the enslaved.
But whisperings among New Orleans society alleged that LaLaurie had little respect for those laws. Rumors told of the household being attended to by haggard, starving slaves, some of whom were said to throw themselves to their deaths from the roof of the LaLaurie estate in fear of punishment from their vindictive mistress.
However, though a few cursory investigations were made by New Orleans authorities, little was found in the way of concrete evidence – at least, not until the night of 10 April 1834.
On this night, a fire broke out on the property of 1140 Royal Street. Rushing to quell the flames, firefighters and concerned neighbors, upon entering the LaLaurie residence, were horrified to find at least half a dozen slaves displaying signs of horrifying, violent abuse. Contemporary news reports tell of slaves hung by their necks, clad in spiked collars and showing signs of flaying and mutilation, and of an elderly cook chained to the stove, who was said to have started the fire as a suicide attempt. Subsequent stories brought forth even more horrifying allegations, like slaves wrapped in their own intestines, or with sticks jutting from holes in their heads. Digging in the garden, authorities discovered the corpses of other slaves who had not survived their mistress’s sadism.
What happened to LaLaurie following these horrifying discoveries is not entirely clear; but it would seem that, sadly, she never faced justice for her crimes. Official records indicate that she fled to Paris with her children, where she died under unclear circumstances in 1849.
Either way, its grim, but fascinating history has caused the LaLaurie mansion to become one of New Orleans’ biggest tourist draws – and, unsurprisingly, the source of numerous tales of paranormal disturbance. Neighbors and subsequent owners of the property, especially in the years directly after the incident, spoke of mysterious noises and cries of agony emanating from the now-empty property – clearly, the cruelty of the former Madame had left an indelible mark upon the place.
Nowadays, the LaLaurie mansion is pretty much embraced as the local “haunted hotspot” of New Orleans – so much so that, in 2007, Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage purchased the property for two years, in hopes that it would inspire him to write “the great American horror novel”.
New Orleans is a city with a great variety of truly striking sights to be seen; but if your personal inclinations are toward the darker side of local history, then be sure to make a point of passing by 1140 Royal Street on your visit.