I have another interesting (read: chilling) true crime from the annals of history for you this month. The case of Madame Delphine LaLaurie. Have you heard of her?
She was born Marie Delphine McCarty on March 19, 1787, in New Orleans—back when Louisiana was still a part of Spain. Her parents were prominent members of the Creole community in the area, and Delphine grew up among high society. During her early childhood, Delphine witnessed or heard news of various slave uprisings which led to the mindset that slaveholders must quickly put down any bad behavior or rebellious action from slaves before any further uprisings could occur.
|Madame Delphine LaLaurie|
Delphine was married to her first husband at the tender age of thirteen. He was a government bigwig—the consul general of Spain—and died on his way to speak to the court in Spain in 1804. The very young widow gave birth to her first daughter soon after her husband’s death. Her second marriage came in 1808, this time to a prominent banker and merchant, Jean Blanque. Together, Delphine and her husband had four children—three daughters and a son—before Blanque’s death in 1816. She married a third time in 1825, this time to physician Leonard Louis Nicholas LaLaurie—a man quite some bit younger than she. Delphine bought the property at 1140 Royal Street in New Orleans and managed the building and administration of a mansion there—all without help from her husband. She and the good doctor lived there with two of Delphine’s daughters, though the marriage saw some trouble. The two separated, at least temporarily, in November 1832, although it would appear they reunited as you’ll see later.
Here is where this historical tale turns dark. Delphine and her husband owned a number of slaves. Some New Orleans residents gave accounts that Madame LaLaurie publicly treated her slaves with respect and dignity, showing care and concern for their overall health. Others reported the converse, that those same slaves always seemed disheveled and “wretched” in appearance. Funeral registers during a four-year span in the early 1830s showed a total of twelve slaves from the LaLaurie household had died during that time, five of whom were related. Was it some communicable disease that spread through their ranks, or something more sinister? A New Orleans lawyer was sent to the LaLaurie mansion to remind Delphine of the laws regarding their upkeep, but his visit didn’t turn up anything unseemly.
|Sign on Royal Street, New Orleans, LA|
Oh, if only he’d looked further. Not long after his visit, a young child fell to her death from the roof of the LaLaurie mansion. One story posited that her death was due to an accidental fall. Another version of the tale said the girl was pushed—and a third that she jumped to save herself a worse fate. What worse fate—and what had she done to bring about her death? As the story goes, she was brushing Madame LaLaurie’s hair when she accidentally pulled too sharply on a snarl and spurred the woman to pick up a whip and chase the poor girl through the house. The chase ended on the rooftop where the child’s life ended.
After that incident, the LaLauries were ordered to forfeit about ten of their slaves, but a close family member bought them back and returned the poor people to their original owners. No one could say much about this, since the slaves were gifted back to Madame LaLaurie. There was no law to prevent such an occurrence.
On April 10, 1834, a fire broke out in the LaLaurie mansion, and as police and fire crews reported to the property to douse the flames, they found a 70-year-old slave woman chained to the stove. She confessed to having been chained there for quite some time, and that her children and others on the property were threatened if they attempted to free her. She also stated that she’d started the fire in an attempt to take her own life, fearing she would be taken to the third floor of the home—where, once slaves entered, they never departed alive. Upon hearing this, officials and community members demanded the keys to the locked door on the third floor. The LaLauries (both husband and wife) refused to comply, so people broke down the door. Within the room, they found a whole new set of horrors. No less than seven of the LaLaurie slaves, stripped naked, were chained to the walls with iron collars and shackles. They each were emaciated and had been terribly mutiliated in various manners. Of those who could tell their stories, they stated they’d been kept there for a number of months, enduring horrors few could imagine.
As news of these terrifying abuses got out, a mob of New Orleans residents assembled and stormed the LaLaurie residence. By the time they’d finished at the mansion, little remained of it but the walls. Unfortunately, the LaLaurie family escaped capture. As the property was excavated in the coming days, graves containing bones from several other bodies were found under the home.
So what happened to Madame LaLaurie and her husband? As the story goes, the family fled to the New Orleans waterfront during the attack by the mob. There, they caught a boat that took them to Alabama, then on to Paris. Delphine LaLaurie lived out her days in Paris in obscurity. She never paid for her ghoulish crimes, and she died quietly in 1849. Her husband, fifteen years her junior, lived until 1862 and died in Paris as well, also never having paid for their crimes.
The LaLaurie home was all but destroyed by the fire and the further damage done by the enraged citizens. It sat as an empty shell for several years before being taken over by a new owner who rebuilt it. In the intervening years, the property has served many purposes—everything from a high school, a home for wayward teens, a music conservatory, an apartment building, and retail space. It was returned to its original purpose in more recent times, and in 2007, actor Nicholas Cage bought the property as a private residence. However, it went into foreclosure just a few years later. I understand that it is now owned by private owners who want no part in showing the interior of the home for its horrific history.
It's Your Turn: Obviously, little or no part of the original LaLaurie mansion remains today after the effects of the fire and the mob. It’s been rebuilt (almost) completely. If money were no object, would you consider buying such a property where stories of such terror occurred? Why or why not?
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list several times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
THE SCARLET PEN by Jennifer Uhlarik
AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER--Coming July 1, 2021
Step into True Colors — a series of Historical Stories of Romance and True American Crime
Enjoy a tale of true but forgotten history of a 19th century serial killer whose silver-tongued ways almost trap a young woman into a nightmarish marriage.
In 1876, Emma Draycott is charmed into a quick engagement with childhood friend Stephen Dee Richards after reconnecting with him at a church event in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. But within the week, Stephen leaves to “make his fame and fortune.” The heartbroken Emma gives him a special pen to write to her, and he does with tales of grand adventures. Secret Service agent Clay Timmons arrives in Mount Pleasant to track purchases made with fake currency. Every trail leads back to Stephen—and therefore, Emma. Can he convince the naive woman she is engaged to a charlatan who is being linked a string of deaths in Nebraska?