Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory

For the Record

What's notable about Countess Báthory is that she is one of the extremely rare females throughout history who have displayed vampiric or cannibalistic appetites. After her death, rumors spread about how she'd actually bathed in the blood of her young victims. Everitt states quite emphatically, but without substantiation, that she had girls butchered so she could try out her beauty treatment. He attributed it to a preoccupation with eternal youth, and other authors have followed suit.

Raymond McNally
Raymond McNally
Yet, when Dracula scholar Raymond McNally traveled to Slovakia to examine court records, none mentioned bathing in blood, although some noted her frenzy for biting pieces of flesh off her victims. Father Laslo Turáczi had written about her in his historical account of Hungary, published in 1744, more than a century after she had died. He relied on official records, as well as on legend and lore, to piece together her tale. Yet, because the Catholic Church benefited from dramatic tales of werewolves, witches, and vampires, because it helped with their doctrines about God and Satan, his account during an era when werewolves and witches were being discovered and executed, must be suspect.

One enduring legend is that Erzsébet had slapped a servant girl one day, got blood on her hand, and after washing it off found that it made her skin look younger. Alchemists apparently assured her that this was a sign of her nobility, so to restore her waning beauty, she made a practice of bathing in virginal blood. These ideas were suggested in 1795 by Wagener, when he (as translated by Sabine Baring-Gould) wrote: "Elizabeth was wont to dress well in order to please her husband, and she spent half the day over her toilet. On one occasion, a lady's-maid saw something wrong in her head-dress, and as a recompense for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that the blood gushed from her nose, and spurted on to her mistress's face. When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared much more beautifulwhiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been.

Apparently, "Elizabeth formed the resolution to bathe her face and her whole body in human blood so as to enhance her beauty. Her accomplices, he said, would catch the blood in a tub so that Erzsébet could bathe at the hour of four in the morning. After the bath she appeared more beautiful than before.

No official account mentions this bizarre behavior or fetish, and its more likely that she simply experienced a sexual thrill from seeing blood and/or used the blood for her rituals and ceremonies. Nevertheless, if the ledger with 650 names is what many believe it is, then no single person in the centuries to come surpassed her victim toll. Her reputation remains as one of the most bloodthirsty killers on record, in part because her noble status made her untouchable in a society that protected its aristocrats.

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