Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes

The City that Loves the Dead

Book cover: Journey into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans
Book cover: Journey into
Darkness: Ghosts and
Vampires of New Orleans

New Orleans is known for its ghost stories, and in the midst of the French Quarter is a Creole-style mansion on Royal and Governor Nicholls Streets that draws a lot of attention. It was once the home of Dr. Lalaurie and his wife Delphine. Katherine Smith, a New Orleans historian and tour guide for Haunted History Tours, documents the tale in Journey into Darkness: Ghosts and Vampires of New Orleans.

Delphine was a reputedly beautiful woman with long, black hair, and she and her husband were renowned for their extravagant parties. They had many slaves and seemed a respectable pair, but little did townspeople know what Madame Lalaurie did to make her slaves submissive. She had already been in court over charges of brutality, and on one occasion after complaints of abuse, several slaves had been removed from the home, but few people would speak out against this couple, so they were never arrested. Not even after a young girl jumped to her death from the second floor to escape her harsh mistress. Then one night in 1834, a fire brought a volunteer fire brigade to the home and the Lalauries' gruesome secrets were discovered.

Lalaurie house at night
Lalaurie house at night

As they put out the flames, they could smell the stench of death, so they broke into a locked attic room to find a truly disgusting scene. According to several accounts, dead slaves were chained to the walls, but some were still alive and housed in cages, starved or maimed by medical experiments. One man had been surgically transformed into a woman, and a woman's arm and leg bones had been broken and reset at odd angles. Another woman's skin had been peeled off, while the lips of a third were sewn shut. A few had been dissected, with their organs still exposed. Scattered around the room were pails full of body parts, organs, and severed heads.

Delphine Lalaurie, portrait
Delphine Lalaurie, portrait

A lynch mob was formed, but the Lalauries had escaped and were never heard from again. Renovations years later uncovered the skeletons of slaves apparently buried alive, but no one knows how many unfortunate victims these two brutes actually had.

Smith indicates that this building soon became known as "Haunted House," and people avoided it. Although it is a beautiful residence in a desirable location, it sat vacant for 40 years. Then several successive owners reported such problems that it again sat vacant for a time. Stories include sightings of a large male in chains, a woman who shouts in French and carries a whip, pictures inside thrown from the walls, cameras not working, and furniture that moved around on its own. The current owner is aware of the tourists who come to see it, but requests privacy.

Among American cities, New Orleans may hold the record for hauntings, but others vie with it for that distinction. Savannah, Georgia is one of them.

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