Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lady of Blood: Countess Bathory

Judgment Day

Portrait of Countess Bathory
Portrait of Countess Bathory

The rumors indeed proved true, and much that was far worse, so Erzsébets gory tyranny was brought to an end. On the night of the raid, Thurzo locked Erzsébet in her fortress and left some men in charge. In his letters, he mentioned finding only one corpse in the castle---that of a young woman accused of stealing a pear. Her hands were burned and her breasts were bitten. He later claimed he saw no orgies, but being Erzsébets relative, he had reason to protect the family reputation. Others reported a more dramatic evening, especially in the aftermath.

As Erzsébet awaited a hearing, officials searched her castle for evidence. They discovered bones and other human remains, along with the clothing and personal effects of missing girls. Codrescu quotes from a memoir of one of Thurzos lieutenants who wrote that as they searched the castle, they came upon the dead bodies of young girls everywhere they looked. Many had no arms or eyes. One blackened body was in the fireplace, not fully burned, and quite a few were buried in shallow graves around the castle. We watched in horror as the dogs ran about with parts of the girls in their mouths.


They learned much from the victims who had survived, as well as detailed stories from a crew of accomplices. The men and women who had assisted Báthory in her bloody deeds jostled one another to be first to win clemency through cooperationor to avoid further torture. Erzsébet herself did not attend the trial and did not testify. Instead she remained in her castle, maintaining her innocence. Everitt claims that her high-born relatives persuaded the court to keep her under house arrest and delay a sentence indefinitely.

Twenty-one judges were on hand on January 2, 1611, when the proceedings of the special tribunal began, with Judge Theodosius de Szulo of the Royal Supreme Court presiding. They called numerous witnesses, sometimes 35 a day, including the families from which girls had gone missing and victims who had survived. One mother had lost her 10-year-old daughter.

The principal testimony against Erzsébet was offered by her servants and by people who had assisted her in her bloody campaign. According to Penrose, each of her cohorts was asked the same 11 questions about how long he or she had been at the castle and what things had been done there related to the crimes. In particular, they were all asked whom they had murdered, how many, where the victims were from, and who had brought them to the castle. They were also pressed to describe any tortures they had used and what had happened to those girls who had died. More to the point, they were to describe fully the countesss involvement. What they had to say revealed a practice so vile that Erzsébet is still known to this day as one of the cruelest monsters in history.