Delphine LaLaurie … often simply referred to as Madame LaLaurie was a New Orleans socialite and serial killer who lived from 1775 to 18421. She was born Delphine Macarty, daughter of an Irish emigree - probably in New Orleans (then a Spanish colony) and is said to have lost both her parents in a Haitian slave revolt (which may have had a bearing on her later crimes). During her lifetime she married three times, outliving at least two of her husbands (an aristocratic Spanish military officer and a New Orleans banker/lawyer respectively) and having five children by them.
Thus far, everything was more or less normal and, as normal for a wealthy member of New Orleans society, she owned slaves. Her slaves were said to be unusually wretched in appearance, but on the other hand she also seemed to be quite concerned for their health and was unusually polite and considerate towards black people in general for a person of her status and culture. Cracks began to show when a twelve year old slave girl fell to her death from the roof of the LaLaurie house, allegedly whilst trying to escape her mistress' punishment for a relatively minor offence - subsequent investigations found her guilty of mistreating her slaves and she was forced to surrender ownership of nine of them (although the luckless indivduals seem not to have been freed and were later re-accquired through political and family connections). Her third husband - a physician, much younger than her, seems not to be cited in this, or her later crimes and it appears that she was very much in charge and running the house more or less by herself.
In 1834 things took a far more sinister turn - volunteers responding to a fire in her house found that it had been started by a seventy year old woman chained to the stove by way of a suicide attempt made to avoid being taken to an "upper room" for punishment for some unspecified offence. Apparently no-one returned from the upper room. The volunteers then requested keys to the house slave quarters to ensure that everyone had been evacuated and, on being refused, began breaching doors with axes, eventually breaking into the upper room in question.
What they actually found in the upper room is unclear - and likley much exaggerated by lurid tales - but they recovered at least seven living slaves in various states of severe mutilation, some of whom had apparently been imprisoned there for months. Whatever it was, it was enough to rouse out a mob that drove the LaLauries out of town (apparently as far as France) and all but destroyed their home - and this in an era where a significant amount of cruelty was more or less taken for granted in the judicial system, let alone the punishment of slaves. The luckless slaves were exhibited at a local jail - possibly to as many as four thousand people - as evidence of the crimes of Madame LaLaurie (again, her husband's role seems to have been limited to telling people to mind their own business). At least two of the slaves were dead within a few weeks. Later investigation of the house yard found a number of bodies buried around the grounds and stuffed into an abandoned well - this may have been as few as two, but other accounts suggest a lot more.
How much of LaLaurie's crimes are fact and how much lurid fantasy is not clear - seven, badly mistreated slaves appears likely, which, added to the two bodies in the grounds might add up to the nine "recaptured" slaves and might mean that her worst cruelties were reserved for those that had "tried to escape." Much of the detail of tortures and mutilations are likely to be foetid imagination added by later sources - and local folklore accuses Madame of "voodoo" and puts her kill-count at up to a hundred slaves.
Apart from being out, the LaLauries seem to have evaded human justice and probably died in comfortable exile in France - some sources suggest that Madame was killed during a boar hunt, but the truth is not known, still less what became of her husband or children.
The house has since been rebuilt and used for a variety of things including a school, a children's hostel, an appartment block and a variety of commercial ends. From 2007 to 2009 it was briefly owned by Nicholas Cage before being auctioned as a result of bank forclosure.
Game and Story Use
- This sort of behaviour sadly crops up from time to time in any culture practising chattle slavery (and, it must be said, in some that don't but still have some people heavily subjugated to others) - it could easily be reproduced in Rome or many other times and places.
- Bear in mind that this is virtually the cultural equivalent of an animal cruelty case - the mob that attacked the house was not enraged that she owned slaves, or that she punished them - or even that she chained her cook to the stove (apparently the cook had been there during the investigation that lead to the confiscation of the nine slaves). It was the nature of her mistreatment of the slaves in the attic that excited their wrath.
- Hopefully the destruction of the house may have cleansed the site to some degree - otherwise use as a hostel or aparment block could be ripe for supernatural hilarity.
- Whilst a hundred dead slaves is unlikely at best (especially in a town centre), moving this to some rural plantation or suburban mansion makes it a lot less so … and the likelihood of the place being stormed by a fire brigade much less…
- The accusations of vodou hold little water - especially given its role in the Haiti slave revolts said to have killed her parents. Some form of black magic on the other hand would seem entirely fitting.
- Other folklore suggests that she performed medical experiments and/or body modifying surgery on her slaves.
- Prosaically, it would seem likely that the death of her parents at the hands of rebel slaves had given her a pathological intolerance of anything but complete submission on the part of her own slaves2 - those who appeared "likely to rebel", let alone those who had shown "willing to run" being subject to irrationally severe punishment.