Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory

Training in Torture

Coming to the castle to be Nádasdys wife introduced Erzebet to his special dungeons and modes of discipline. (Penrose says that Nádasdy only tolerated Erzsébets cruelty and did not torture anyone himself, but other accounts say he was just as hard on the servants and even taught his wife a few things.) One of his alleged methods was to spread honey over a naked servant girl and leave her tied down outside for the bugs to nibble and bees to sting. He also showed Erzsébet the art of freezing a girl to death during the winter by pouring water over her naked body until it hardened and she was unable to move. Sometimes he sent black magic spells from another land where he was at war for his wife to try out at homea token of his love. He also encouraged Erzsébet how to beat the serving girls to the brink of death, a task in which she reportedly took great pleasure.

Nádasdy was frequently gone on his military campaigns, so Erzsébet would practice her rituals and write to him about them. Glut reveals the contents of one such missive, as Erzsébet describes how a mentor taught her a blood ritual: Thurko has taught me a lovely new one. Catch a black hen and beat it to death with a white cane. Keep the blood and smear some on your enemy. If you get no chance to smear it on his body, obtain one of his garments and smear it.

She also received an assortment of male lovers, although, like her notorious aunt, she apparently indulged in lesbian sex as well. She accumulated an entourage of people who were adept at sorcery, alchemy and witchcraft. One nobleman with pale skin and long dark hair, who according to Glut was reputed to drink blood, was brought to live at the castle to teach her about it. The stranger bore all the physical attributes of a supernatural vampire, Glut writes, clearly influenced by American films. Perhaps he was even Dracula back from the grave. (Penrose suggests this stranger was a woman in drag.) For a time, Erzsébet ran off with him, but then returned alone. Glut (but no official records) says there was blood around her mouth.

After fathering four children with Erzsébet, three boys and a girl, Nádasdy fell ill in 1601 and was confined to his bed with a bad leg until he died in 1604, leaving Erzsébet at the age of 44, a middle-aged widow. (Glut suggests that she poisoned him.) She moved at once to their castle in Vienna, where she had a more active social life, but eventually returned to her estates in Hungary where she had more privacy for torture sessions.

Melton says that her cohort in crime until 1609 was a little-known figure named Anna Darvulia, and after that, it was Erzsi Majorova, a widow. In other words, she was not alone in her vile activities. Others knew, approved, and participated with her. In fact, it was supposedly Majorova who encouraged kidnapping girls from the lesser nobility.

Pretty young women began to disappear from villages near and far, as well as children. The families did not know what to do. Speaking out against the nobility could get them into trouble, so they went to their priests but otherwise held their tongues. They saw the Nádasdy carriage, drawn by black horses, go by at night with girls inside who never came back. Year after year, it was the same. No one could challenge it. They had not yet forgotten that in 1524 the nobles had met a peasant uprising with extreme punishment, and no one was willing to risk that again. It was their lot to endure whatever the lords and ladies meted out.

German anthropologist Michael Wagener points out that Erzsébet continued to use torture after her husbands death, and even refined her methods. The unhappy girls who were lured to the castle, under the plea that they were to be taken into service there, were locked up in a cellar. Here they were beaten till their bodies were swollen. Elizabeth not infrequently tortured the victims herself; often she changed their clothes which dripped with blood, and then renewed her cruelties. The swollen bodies were then cut up with razors. Occasionally she had the girls burned, and then cut up, but the great majority of them were beaten to death. Many accounts say that she was psychotic, and that her mental illness grew worse with age. Many details came out during legal hearings.

Everitt adds that sometimes she would sew a servant girls mouth shut, force her to eat strips of her own flesh, or burn her genitals, while Wagener indicates that she would stick needles into those who sat with her in a carriage, especially if they were of her own sex. He also advanced another legend: "When she was ill, and could not indulge her cruelty, she bit a person who came near her sick bed as though she were a wild beast. This was, in fact, trial testimony, albeit gained via torture.

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