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Delphine LaLaurie Tortured and Killed Enslaved People in Her New Orleans Mansion

Photo Credit: Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision /
Ryan Murphy Television / Dreyer / MovieStillsDB
Photo Credit: Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision / Ryan Murphy Television / Dreyer / MovieStillsDB

If you’ve watched American Horror Story, you’ve definitely heard of Delphine LaLaurie. Actress Kathy Bates played a version of her in the third season of the show, earning an Emmy Award for her incredible performance. This has to leave you wondering about the real Delphine LaLaurie. The truth behind the character is probably more horrific than you could have ever imagined.

Delphine LaLaurie

Marie Delphine LaLaurie (née Macarty) was born on March 19, 1787, in New Orleans. Her family immigrated to the city from Ireland just one generation before, meaning LaLaurie was only the second generation to be born in what would become American territory. They were well known in the city, as an uncle who married into the family was governor of Spanish Louisiana and Florida, and a cousin served as mayor of New Orleans.

Portrait of Delphine LaLaurie in a white dress with large puffed sleeves.
Portrait of Delphine LaLaurie, n.d. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

When she was only 13 years old, she married a Spanish officer, Don Ramón de Lopez y Angulo, on June 11, 1800. This marriage was short lasting. In 1804 the couple was traveling to Spain when LaLaurie’s husband died while they were stopped in Cuba. Heavily pregnant at the time, she gave birth to their daughter “Borquita” before returning to her family in New Orleans. In 1808 she married again, this time to Jean Blanque, a prominent member of New Orleans society.

They lived together in an impressive home in the city with their children – they had four together. Blanque was heavily involved in the slave trade up until his death in 1816.

Becoming a LaLaurie

She remarried again, this time on June 25, 1825, to Dr. Leanard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie. This was a slightly unusual marriage for the time, as he was 15 years younger than she. It was during this marriage that she purchased the now-infamous property at 1140 Royal Street, which would become known as the LaLaurie Mansion.

Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie in a beige dress with puffed sleeves lifting her hand up to her face.
Kathy Bates as Delphine LaLaurie in a publicity still for season three of American Horror Story. (Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision / Ryan Murphy Television / Dreyer / MovieStillsDB)

Although she lived there with her family, it was purchased in Delphine LaLaurie’s name and managed without any assistance from her husband. It was a multi-story home with slave quarters attached to it. While things went well for a while, she eventually requested a separation from bed and board, meaning she and her husband would remain married but didn’t have to live together. Her request was granted, but there is contradictory evidence about how strictly they followed this ruling, given how often he was at the house.

Torture and killings

From the time she bought LaLaurie Mansion in 1831 until it was burned down in 1834, reports indicate that Delphine LaLaurie used it as a place to torture enslaved people. There are varying accounts of the severity of her actions, with some sources saying she mutilated large numbers of those who worked in her household while they were chained to the wall. Some victims were said to have holes in their skulls so she could access their brains with a stick or spoon. Historians generally believe these to be exaggerations.

Line drawing of the entrance to the LaLaurie Mansion set into brick with small windows on either side of the wooden door.
An artist’s drawing of the entrance to the LaLaurie Mansion at 1140 Royal Street, New Orleans, as it looked in 1888. (Photo Credit: George Washington Cable / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The accounts that have real supporting evidence aren’t quite as severe, although they’re still horrific. Documents show that 12 people died in her care in four years, with no indication of what the cause was. It was public knowledge that the people she enslaved often looked far worse for wear than others in the city and that LaLaurie was known to mistreat them. In fact, things got so bad that a lawyer was forced to talk to her about how she should be taking care of them.

Word got around about the LaLauries

Even after this intervention, things didn’t get better for those enslaved in the LaLaurie Mansion. Supposedly, an eight-year-old girl fell to her death from the balcony while running away from the beatings of her mistress. It appeared that this was the last straw for law enforcement, who charged the LaLauries with illegal cruelty and made them give up nine of their slaves. This didn’t last for long, as they were purchased and returned to the LaLauries by a relative.

Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie in a red dress with puffed sleeves, a white lace collar, and a fan.
Kathy Bates as Madame LaLaurie in a promotional shot for season three of American Horror Story. (Photo Credit: Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision /
Ryan Murphy Television / MovieStillsDB)

By 1834, much of what was known about Delphine LaLaurie and her maltreatment of slaves was hearsay. It wasn’t until a fire broke out in the mansion that the rumors were confirmed to be true. On April 10, a fire started in the kitchen, causing the authorities to respond. When they arrived, they found an elderly woman chained to the stove. She claimed that she set the fire in an attempt to end her life rather than be punished. She also said that other slaves who were taken upstairs never came back down.

Delphine LaLaurie escaped to France

While they dealt with the main fire, those on the street attempted to enter the slave quarters to make sure everyone had all made it out. The LaLauries refused to grant them entrance, so they broke in. They found seven enslaved people who had been mutilated, hanging from a chain around their necks. Many of them even wore spiked collars. They had been there for months, enduring repeated rounds of torture. It is unclear whether Dr. LaLaurie was in on it as well as Delphine, but he was certainly unbothered by it either way.

Madame LaLaurie kneeling on a chair with her arms on the back, wearing a red dress.
Mrs. LaLaurie posing for a portrait, n.d. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author/ Wikimedia Commons/ Public Domain)

In the days that followed, the tortured slaves were taken for treatment and held in a local jail. While there, they were subjected to public viewings. Outraged by the cruel treatment the slaves had received, a mob decided to attack the LaLaurie Mansion. The mob destroyed much of the property before the police arrived. Between the fire and mounting public outrage, LaLaurie decided to leave New Orleans and travel to France.

Very little is known about the rest of her life, including her exact date of death. A gravestone in Paris indicates that it was on December 7, 1842, while official records say it was on the same date in 1849. The cause of death is also unknown, although rumors say it happened while she was boar-hunting.

Haunted mansion

As for the LaLaurie Mansion, a new house was built on the property in 1838 after the old one was destroyed by the fire and the mob. It doesn’t look quite the same, as many modern additions were made. Ownership of the property has changed hands over the years, and it was even owned briefly by actor Nicolas Cage. In 2014, he told Vanity Fair, “I bought [the mansion] in 2007, figuring it would be a good place in which to write the great American horror novel. I didn’t get too far with the novel.”

Three story grey building with a metal balcony on the second floor.
The LaLaurie Mansion located in the French Quarter of New Orleans, May 30, 2010. (Photo Credit: Steven Wagner/ Moment/ Getty Images)

Cage’s brief ownership isn’t even the most fascinating detail about the house. Supposedly, it is one of the most haunted spaces in the French Quarter. There have been many reports over the years of alleged paranormal activity in the building, including many stories from female students who were enrolled there when the mansion was used as a high school.

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Many believe the paranormal activity to be caused by ghosts of the many enslaved people who were murdered at the hands of Delphine LaLaurie and are unable to move on from the property.

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Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.