Delphine LaLaurie

d1Delphine LaLaurie is among the most notorious figures of her time in New Orleans. Born Marie Delphine McCarty in 1787 to Creole parents, Delphine created a reputation for herself from a young age when she had a scandalous affair with and was made to marry the Governor’s second in command, who was nearly three times her age – the first of three marriages. Her entire name reads like a soap opera character: Madame Marie Delphine McCarty Lopez LeBlanc LaLaurie, a larger than life name for a larger than life woman. Details of Delphine’s life do vary from source to source.

Delphine, or simply ”Madame”, despite her colorful youth, became a popular socialite, known for her lavish parties, sometimes three in a week. In the early 1830’s, Delphine and her third husband, Dr. Leonard Louis LaLaurie (“Louis”) moved into the grand house on Royal St. Louis was significantly younger than Delphine, and this afforded her authority over her husband nearly unheard of at the time. She required him to sign a prenuptial agreement, as she had wealth from the deaths of her previous husbands, and Louis was a young doctor trying to establish a name for himself.

Growing up in a family with numerous slaves, Delphine and Louis were said to have had up to 54 slaves. While Delphine was known speak gently to her house slaves in front of her society friends, neighbors slowly grew to hear, and later to see, that when the parties were over, her demeanor changed dramatically. “It was said that Mme. LaLaurie’s manners were sweet, gracious and captivating. She was born in the society’s upper circles. She was accustomed to and acculturated to the good life. Yet there were persistent rumors that she treated her servants with disdain and in a cruel, abusive manner. And still, those who visited her said that she was kind to her servants. If one of them tremble in her presence or startled at the sound of her voice, she would soothe and endeavor to reassure her. Nevertheless, the stories of barbarity increased. The smothered indignation on Royal Street grew.” [2] Delphine has been widely considered to be mentally unstable, flying into fits of rage over insignificant issues, and an extreme sadist.

d2Details of what prompted the following vary, but in 1833 a young slave girl is said to have run through the house, with Delphine giving chase, to the third floor and flung herself off the balcony rather than face her mistress’ wrath. She died from the fall, and the LaLauries put her body in the well. This was when neighbors started to take notice. While slaves were not treated well by any means, brutality in proper society was not tolerated. The police were notified, and the girl’s body found in the well. Delphine was fined $300 and forced to sell the majority of her slaves. Being quite clever, she sold them to relatives, who secreted them back to the LaLaurie Mansion. Rumors spread about an attic chamber of torture, where slaves with whom Madame was displeased were taken, but from which they did not return. Neighbors noted screams coming from the lavish home. Not long after these events, the full truth of her sadistic treatment of her slaves would become public knowledge.

On April 10, 1834 an elderly slave who served as the LaLauries’ cook and was chained to the stove reportedly set fire to the house in an attempt to commit suicide. She had angered Madame and was willing to die rather than be sent to the attic. [1] While Madame and Doctor LaLaurie were legally separated at the time of the fire, Louis was in the mansion on the night of the fire. As the neighbors rushed to help, witness reported that Delphine rushed around the house rescuing her valuables. Neighbors asked about the slaves; where were they? Delphine reportedly told neighbors, “never mind the servants. Fetch my valuables.” [2]

d3Those who came to help, including a judge, began demanding the keys to the attic, “known to the neighbors …as a prison and that it was then tenanted by several unfortunate slaves.” [3] Louis Lalaurie… replied that “there are those who would be better employed if they would attend to their own affairs instead of officiously intermeddling with the concerns of other people.”[ibid] Breaking down the door, rescuers found an apparent torture chamber with starved, brutalized slaves. Some were old women wearing spiked iron collars; others chained into crippling positions. Judge Canonge, among the rescuers, gave a deposition which was published in the newspaper describing what he witnessed: “slaves, more or less horribly mutilated…. [Some were] suspended by the neck with their limbs stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.’ They found ‘an elderly negress,’…with a ‘deep wound on her head.’ A man had a “large hole in his head, his body [covered] from head to foot with scars and filled with worms.” [3,4] Reportedly Dr. LaLaurie, who specialized in osteopathy, performed medical experiments on slaves, most notably revealed by a slave whose bones were broken and reset in positions that resulting in resemblance to a crab.

d4The LaLauries’ former society friends ran them out of town, reportedly calling for their heads. They reportedly escaped to Paris, where Delphine died in 1842. [1] Rumors have Madame secreting back to New Orleans, still oblivious to her crimes, though there is no proof of this. Of the up to 54 slaves owned by Delphine, only 11 were rescued, leading to much speculation regarding the fate of the others, during a time when slave records were meticulously maintained. The LaLauries never faced charges. Delphine’s body is buried in St. Louis Cemetery #1 in a tomb belonging to her son.

Human remains are reported to have been found in the floorboards and grounds dating to the 19th century. The LaLaurie Mansion is considered by many to be New Orleans’ most haunted house, and even rumored to be cursed. [3,4] Subsequent owners have suffered death, insanity, and financial issues. A well-known actor purchased the mansion in 2007 for over three million dollars, and was forced to take a sizable loss when it went into foreclosure only 2 years later. While this actor claims to have experienced no paranormal activity, others report guests fainting, shadows, mists, thumping, moaning, screams of the tortured slaves, sightings of Madame herself. Many state that the little slave girl repeatedly throws herself from the third floor balcony, in apparent residual fashion. It is easy to believe that, given the abject horror of the LaLaurie’s barbaric behavior, that some of these souls may not be at rest. Granted using our due diligence, these claims can be debunked; however, this remains a case where the truth is truly stranger than fiction.

SOURCES: [1] [2] [3]
“Mistress of the Haunted House” by Carolyn Morrow [4]
“Mad Madame Lalaurie: New Orleans’ Most Famous Murderess” by Victoria Cosner and Lorelei Shannon [5]
“The Haunted House in Royal Street” by George W. Cable [6]

Lisa Shaner-Hilty

Lisa Shaner-Hilty

I am a supervisor for several programs assisting individuals with intellectual and mental challenges. I have 2 Masters Degrees from Penn State in Communication Disorders and Psychology. My first experiences with the paranormal were around age 5. I’ve been fascinated ever since. I have been an investigator for over 10 years (first 5 years with a team, then leaving to form my own more than 5 years ago, and have taught classes on investigation, evidence analysis (especially EVP) and debunking at local community college. I also have abilities, some of which began at age 5 and others around puberty. Therefore my fields of major interest are investigation and psychic and empath. While I am open to considering all aspect and viewpoints, I am dedicated to seeking natural explanations first before anything is considered evidence.
Lisa Shaner-Hilty

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