Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Women Who Kill: Part Two

Savage Mistress

Just because a female killer gets only local media coverage, it doesn't mean that her crimes are not worthy of the national news. Compared to their male counterparts, a number of women who have killed in weird or vicious ways are barely known outside their hometowns.

New Orleans house, French Quarter
New Orleans house, French Quarter

In New Orleans, the ghost tours always stop at a particular mansion in the midst of the French Quarter, on the corner of Royal and Governor Nicholls Streets. The house had once been owned by socialites, a physician by the name of Lalaurie and his wife, Delphine. They seemed a respectable pair with their two children, and the whole town gossiped about their lavish cocktail parties and obedient slaves.

Little did people know what Madame Lalaurie did to make her servants so submissive, although she had been fined in court several times for her misconduct. Once she was charged in the death of a child, whom she had beaten so savagely with a whip that the girl had jumped out a third-floor window. Yet it was not until after a fire broke out in the home in April of 1834 that the full tale came out, and it proved to be worse than anyone could have imagined.

Katherine Smith documents it from newspaper articles for her book, Journey into Darkness. A native of New Orleans and a folklore historian, she has heard the legends and looked into the facts behind the tales. Despite the exaggerations inevitable with folklore, the facts are still horrendous.

It was April 10 and the Lalauries were entertaining their guests. The fire started in the kitchen and the fire brigade went through the courtyard to put it out. They heard screams and moans from a room on the third floor, so they went to investigate. Since the door to the room was locked, the firemen rammed it open.

At once they smelled the unmistakable odor of death and some of them vomited. Yet it wasn't just the dead slaves chained to the walls that got their attention, but the living ones, who were only barely alive. One woman was so startled by their entrance that she fled toward a window and jumped.

Most of the victims had been severely maimed by medical experiments. Some were even strapped to tables. One man had been surgically transformed into a woman, and a woman looked like a human crab. Her arm and leg bones had been broken and reset into odd angles, and she was kept in a small cage. Another woman's arms had been amputated and her skin was peeled off in an odd sort of spiral pattern. Author Victor Klein, also a New Orleans native, indicates that scattered around the room were pails full of body parts, organs, and severed heads. Among those who had died were males whose faces had been grotesquely disfigured.

The survivors were quickly removed for medical attention, and as word spread, a lynch mob formed outside the home. However, the Lalauries had escaped to another part of Louisiana and were never brought to justice.

While many people view it all as the work of Madame herself, it's fairly clear that her husband was in on it, too. Like many women, she was part of a killing team. Sometimes for a woman to start killing, she requires the peculiar chemistry ignited by the brazenness of a sadist or psychopath. The history of crime gives us numerous examples.

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