A Portrait of Cruelty: Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie

On April 10, 1834, so the story goes, a fire broke out in a mansion in the old French Quarter of New Orleans. According to one version of the tale, when the neighborhood poured out to rubberneck and offer help, they noticed something odd (by 19th century southern elite standards): the woman of the house was trying to save her jewels and furs without the aid of her slaves. When asked where her servants were, she told everyone to mind their own business. Some said this was mysterious enough. Others said they heard faint moans and screams from the attic. Either way, a small brigade took it upon itself to bust into the house and find the woman’s slaves. Yet when they opened the door to the attic they stopped dead in their tracks, some vomiting from the stench.

What the interlopers had found was the torture chamber of Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie , consistently ranked as one of the most infamous serial killers in the world—right up there with the blood-drinking, cannibalistic 16th century Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory or Lizzie Borden and her alleged 40 whacks. Renowned in New Orleans lore as the Savage Mistress, LaLaurie became famous for the depraved brutalization of her slaves. Legend has it that a 70-year-old slave cook who had been chained to the stove by LaLaurie, yet was slowly starving to death, started the fire. But that was far from her most extreme torture. A brief catalogue of the ever-changing list of horrors people claim the would-be rescuers found in her attic include: