Delphine LaLaurie: The Serial Killer Who Sadistically Tortured and Killed Her Slaves for Fun

Delphine LaLaurie was a prominent New Orleans socialite in the early 19th century who became infamous for the atrocities committed at her mansion, particularly after a fire in 1834 revealed the horrific conditions in which enslaved Africans were kept.

Delphine LaLaurie, The Serial Killer Who Tortured and Killed Her Slaves for Fun

Born in New Orleans in 1787, Delphine McCarty was raised in privilege, marrying three times and ultimately adopting the name LaLaurie after her last husband, Leonard LaLaurie. However, behind her facade of wealth and refinement lurked a chilling truth—her penchant for cruelty and sadism towards her enslaved individuals.

In 1831, Delphine purchased a property at 1140 Royal Street, where she oversaw the construction of a lavish mansion complete with attached slave quarters.

While Delphine LaLaurie was a prominent socialite, known for her lavish parties and grand mansion, it was within the confines of her luxurious residence that her true nature was revealed. Behind closed doors, LaLaurie subjected her household slaves to unimaginable horrors, perpetrating acts of violence and torture that defy comprehension. However, in public, LaLaurie was seen to be generally “polite” to black people and showed concern for the health of those enslaved.

Accounts of LaLaurie’s atrocities vary in their details, but all paint a picture of a woman consumed by sadism and a complete lack of empathy. Slaves were reportedly starved, beaten, and subjected to cruel experiments. Some were mutilated, their limbs removed or twisted in grotesque fashion. Others were kept chained and confined to small, filthy quarters, their suffering hidden from public view.

The death toll among her slaves was alarmingly high, with records documenting the deaths of at least twelve individuals, including a woman named Bonne and her four children, under mysterious circumstances.

One particularly tragic incident involved a 12 year old girl named Lia falling to her death while fleeing from Delphine’s wrath.

Delphine LaLaurie, The Serial Killer Who Tortured and Killed Her Slaves for Fun
The LaLaurie mansion, from a 1906 postcard

In 1836, Harriet Martineau, a writer, documented stories shared by New Orleans locals during her visit, revealing that Lia’s death spurred an inquiry into the LaLauries. The investigation concluded with the LaLauries being convicted of illegal cruelty, leading to the forfeiture of nine slaves from their residence. However, these slaves were repurchased by the LaLauries through a family intermediary, and thus returned to the mansion.

Martineau also recounted stories of LaLaurie keeping her cook starved and chained to the kitchen stove, and of her beating her daughters when they tried to feed themselves or others.

The extent of LaLaurie’s crimes only came to light on April 10, 1834, when a fire broke out at her mansion on Royal Street. As firefighters battled the blaze, they made a horrifying discovery: slaves, emaciated and covered in wounds, imprisoned within the house. they also found a 70-year-old African cook chained to the stove by her ankle. The cook later said confessed to setting the fire as a suicide attempt because she feared being punished, stating that slaves taken to the uppermost room “never came back”.

The ultimate horror unfolded as bystanders, responding to the fire, tried to enter the quarters where enslaved individuals were housed to ensure everyone was evacuated. However, the LaLauries refused to provide the keys, so the bystanders broke down the doors. Inside, they found seven slaves suspended by the neck, with their limbs stretched and torn, suggesting months of imprisonment and torture; apparently, they had been kept alive to prolong their suffering.

The slaves were transported to a local jail, where they were exhibited for public viewing. Reports suggested that by April 12, as many as 4,000 individuals had visited to observe the emaciated slaves, seeking to verify the reports they had heard.

Delphine LaLaurie, The Serial Killer Who Tortured and Killed Her Slaves for Fun
A newspaper article from 1834 describing Delphine as a demon in the shape of a woman

The revelation of LaLaurie’s atrocities shocked the city of New Orleans and sparked outrage across the nation. A mob descended upon the mansion, seeking vengeance for the victims of her cruelty. However, LaLaurie managed to escape, fleeing to Paris where she lived in hiding until she died.

There are conflicting reports about how she died, with some suggesting a boar-hunting accident and others mentioning an unmarked grave in St. Louis Cemetery #1. However, according to records from the French archives in Paris, LaLaurie passed away on December 7, 1849, at the age of 62.

The mansion she once inhabited at 1140 Royal Street in New Orleans, though rebuilt and repurposed over the years, still stands as a haunting reminder of the atrocities committed within its walls.

Talk Africana
Talk Africana
Fascinating Cultures and history of peoples of African origin in both Africa and the African diaspora


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Join Our Newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter today and start exploring the vibrant world of African history and culture!

Just In

South Carolina Negro Act of 1740: The Code that Prohibited Enslaved Africans from Learning to Read

Passed by the South Carolina Assembly on the 10th of May, 1740, the Negro Act was a comprehensive set...

More Articles Like This