One of the most infamous sites in the French Quarter is the Lalaurie mansion. An impressive structure situated at the corner of Royal and Gov. Nichols street, it is possibly the home of some of the most shocking acts in our nation’s history.
Marie Delphine Lalaurie was perhaps our nation’s first female serial killer. Born Delphine Macarty in 1775 to a well to do family, she outlived two husbands, gaining wealth with each one. I’ve always found it odd that, given the revelations about her later activities, nobody has ever questioned the circumstances of their deaths.
There were some early indications that something might not be right with Madame Lalaurie. There was, for example the slave girl who died after falling from the third floor balcony. Some tour guides say it was a window, other sources say the roof. But all sources agree the girl died from the fall. It seems the slave had been Brushing Madame Lalaurie’s hair and hit a snag. Lalaurie became enraged and began chasing the girl with a whip. Whether the girl threw herself, it was an accident, or it was murder is unknown.
That incident lead to an investigation, in which the Lalauries were found guilty of illegal cruelty and forced to give up nine slaves. Unfortunately, those slaves were ultimately purchased by Lalaurie family members and friends and returned to the mansion.
Being socially prominent, the Lalauries frequently had gatherings, and their soirees were social musts. By some accounts, Madame Lalaurie would often disappear from her parties for significant stretches of time, only to eventually return wearing different clothes. But she was rich enough to be eccentric, and nobody wondered too much about it, and even if they did they would never have guessed what would be found in the attic.
On April 10th, 1834 the Lalauries were having a party. A fire broke out in the kitchen, and when firefighters arrived, they found that the fire had been deliberately set by a slave who was chained to the stove. That slave directed the firefighters to the uppermost chamber of the house. The Lalauries attempted to prevent the firefighters from entering, but the more they protested the more they raised the curiosity of the firemen.
Eventually the firefighters broke their way in and found a chamber of horrors. They found seven or so slaves. I say seven or so because the New Orleans Bee, the newspaper of the time, reported, “Seven slaves more or less horribly mutilated” Due to the lack of punctuation, I read it as seven slaves, more or less–meaning that they were so badly mangled their exact number could not be determined. It could also be read that the number was seven, and they were in various states of mutilation, but that is a less interesting story.
The mutilations performed on the slaves are the stuff of legends. The Bee merely reported that the injuries were too horrible to describe. Other sources talk of bodies being reconfigured, of limbs being broken and reset backwards, of primitive sex change operations, of a woman with her limbs amputated, and a spiral pattern flayed from her skin so that she resembled a caterpillar.
In any case, by the next day an angry mob had formed and the Lalauries had fled, never to be seen again. Some speculate that they may have merely moved upriver to get away from the angry mob.There is some evidence that they moved to France: and a copper plaque was found in the St. Louis cemetery to indicate that Marie Delphine Lalaurie died in Paris in 1842. Other records indicate her death was in 1849.
Some say that Madame Lalaurie was the victim of yellow journalism. Others say it was her husband Dr. Lalaurie who was the sadistic psychopath.
The Lalaurie mansion spent years in disrepair. In the intervening years it has served as a girl’s school, a dance and music school, an apartment building which degenerated into a tenement, it was owned for ten years by the freemasons, it has been a saloon, a furniture store, an apartment building, converted back into a residence, bought by Nicolas Cage, foreclosed by the government, for back taxes owed by mister Cage, and is (at the time of this writing) once again a single family residence.