The 13th Floor

She Built a Torture Chamber in the Attic- AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN is Based on a REAL Story

Delphine LaLaurie (played by Kathy Bates in AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN) is quite possibly the most evil character in the series. Her pitiless cruelty and disregard for human life is so completely vile that being buried alive for decades seems like a small price to pay for her crimes. Unfortunately, the Delphine LaLaurie is not the work of fiction, but in fact this horrible monster did actually exist.

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Marie Delphine Macarty was born in New Orleans in 1780. Before her birth, her family relocated from Ireland to New Orleans in 1730, during New Orleans’ French colonial period. New Orleans would become a Spanish colony thirty years later. Her mother Marie Jeanne Lovable, known as the widow Lecomte, was a member of New Orleans prominent white Creole community. Born into wealth, Marie lived in an opulent mansion in the French Quarter.

In 1800, Marie married Don Ramon de Lopez y Angulo, an officer in the Spanish Royal Army. Four years later, Marie gave birth to her daughter Marie-Borja Delphine, while the family was en route to Spain. During that same voyage, husband Don Ramon died during a stopover in Havana. Marie and her newborn daughter promptly returned to New Orleans. After spending the next four years a widow, Marie married Jean Blanque, a prominent banker, merchant, lawyer, and legislator. During their marriage, Marie bore four more children before Blanque died in 1816. Marie and her third husband, a physician and much younger man, were wed in 1825. Six years later, Marie purchased a three-story mansion in an exclusive portion of the French Quarter, which she managed the day-to-day operations of.

 

To handle the heavy workload necessary to maintain her three story mansion, Marie purchased slaves. The slaves were quartered in a small housing unit attached to the main house. From all outward appearance, the Delphine seemed to be your typical slave owner, following the laws that required her to maintain their health.  However, on several occasions local authorities were called out to remind her of the laws regarding the upkeep of slaves when several witnesses noticed that some of her slaves appeared to be “haggard and wretched”.

On one occasion a 12-year-old girl jump to her death from the top of the mansion while being pursued by a whip wielding Delphine. According to reports, the young girl had been brushing the Delphine’s hair when she hit a tangle. Enraged, Marie grabbed a whip and chased the girl. After the incident a full investigation was called which resulted in Delphine forfeiting nine of her slaves. However, these nine slaves were then bought back by Marie using one of her relatives as an intermediary.

 

It was widely known in social circles that the Delphine chained her cook to the stove. This claim was proven to be true when a fire broke out in the kitchen of the residence in 1834. When firemen rushed to the kitchen, they found a seventy-year-old woman with a chain around her ankle. Later the cook confessed that she set the fire in an attempt to commit suicide rather than be taken to the upstairs room for punishment, claiming any slave who went to the upstairs room never came back.  The next day another fire broke out, this time in the slave quarters. When rescuers were denied the keys to the quarters they promptly broke the door down. Inside they found seven horribly mutilated slaves. All seven were suspended by the neck, their limbs had been stretched and torn. They had been imprisoned there for months.

Upon hearing of the Delphine’s cruelty, angry citizens stormed the home, and destroyed anything they could get their hands on. By the time the police arrived to disperse the crowd almost everything inside the home had been destroyed. The tortured slaves were then removed from the home and put on display at the police station so that the local citizenry could see just what they had endured. After the raid, authorities dug up the grounds and found the bodies of several more slaves.

Unfortunately, the Delphine LaLaurie never received the justice she deserved. Soon after the fire, she fled her home in front of the mob. She escaped to Mobile, Alabama and eventually departed for Paris. Not much is known about her life in Paris. Some claim she died in France during a boar-hunting accident. In 1924 a copper plate was found in a Paris cemetery which read “Madame LaLaurie, nee Marie Delphine Maccarthy, decedee a Paris, le 7 Decembre, 1842”.

 

Marie quickly became the subject of New Orleans folklore. During the 19th century, several stories were printed and reprinted all over the country documenting her cruelty, some based in fact and others which indulged in the supernatural. In 1945, Jeanne deLavigne, wrote of the Delphines “sadistic appetite”, in GHOST STORIES OF OLD NEW ORLEANS. She further made the claim that “male slaves, stark naked, chained to the wall, their eyes gouged out, their fingernails pulled off by the roots; others had their joints skinned and festering, great holes in their buttocks where the flesh had been sliced away, their ears hanging by shreds, their lips sewn together … Intestines were pulled out and knotted around naked waists. There were holes in skulls, where a rough stick had been inserted to stir the brains.” However, DeLavingne claimed no sources in her writing.

The Delphine’s story emerged once again in 1998 when Kalila Katherina Smith expanded on the story in JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS: GHOSTS AND VAMPIRES OF NEW ORLEANS. In her book, Smith adds the discovery of a  “victim [who] obviously had her arms amputated and her skin peeled off in a circular pattern, making her look like a human caterpillar” she also included another victim how had her arms and legs broken and reset so that she would “resemble a human crab”.

Delphine LaLaurie’s home still stands to this day at 1140 Royal Street in New Orleans. An ornate building, characteristic of early New Orleans aristocracy, it was left in ruins until being restored in 1888. Since then it served as a public high school, music conservatory, tenement, a home for delinquents, a bar, a furniture store, and a luxury apartment building. In 2009 it sold at auction for $2.3 million. It remains a private residence.

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