Wealthy women who kill oddly tied in this semester when I asked my criminal justice students about what topics they would like to cover. While picking the topic gives the students a break in the humdrum of typical lectures, it also challenges me when I am putting my lesson plan together. To the surprise of no one, I was asked to do a class on a serial killer and discuss the idea with my students, but sometimes the topics do catch me off guard. For instance, this past semester, my pupils asked me to talk about female criminality as well as some examples of women who kill. While the introductory part of the discussion was filled with statistics on the types of crimes women usually commit, I figured I would round out the day by including women who killed that the class had never heard of.
I gathered some brutal examples, albeit I did leave out Aileen Wurnos as we had already discussed her life story a couple of weeks previous, but then I realized something. My examples, Mary the 1st of England (Mary Tudor), Elizabeth Bathory, and Madam LaLaruie were all rich women who were ruthless murderers and may even fit the definition of serial killers. They came from privileged backgrounds and had more privileged upbringings than their peers. But once they had the chance, they exploited their power in order to murder the innocent for seemingly no reason. While male hedonistic killers such as Ted Bundy and Dennis Rader, kill for pleasure, these women seemed to take a liking to their crimes as their viciousness escalated.
What also struck me was that in a class that studied the reasons why people commit crimes, I had no answer for my students about why these women committed these atrocities. I do have some theories that revolved around possible hedonism (that they actually committed these crimes for pleasure) or that they used their institutional means (especially Mary the 1st) akin to the level of state crime in order to lethally wield their power. However, because these women lived in vastly different timelines without modern comparison (at least that I am aware of) their true motivations may never be revealed. So, join me as we discuss this type of female killer: wealthy women who kill.
Mary the 1st (1516–1558)
Chronologically speaking, the first on this list, Mary the 1st (Mary Tudor), was the first born daughter of King Henry the VIII known for breaking from the Catholic church in order to marry his mistress and being married six additional times. He has since been immortalized in the rhyme divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Mary the 1st was the product of King Henry’s first marriage and the child whom he abandoned when he broke with the Catholic church. Mary watched her devoted Catholic father create his own sect of Christianity known as the Church of England or the Anglican Church. She was also forced to babysit her half-sister (Queen Elizabeth the 1st) had her rights as princess repeatedly given and taken away depending on her father’s mood, and was exiled from the court to the far reaches of the country. Mary’s mother, Catherine of Argon was rarely allowed to see her only daughter and died without Mary at her bedside.
Needless to say, when it was finally Mary’s turn to be the ruler of England she ruled with an iron fist. When Mary ascended the throne she immediately replaced the country’s religion as Catholic and declared that no other religion would be allowed. Those who did not convert to Catholicism and attend mandatory mass would be executed following her passing of the Heresy Acts (as you were a heretic for not being Catholic). While many rich folks fled, those who were left behind were brutally burned at the stake at the queen’s behest, estimated to be around 283 in total over the span of her queenship, which lasted five years until her death. For her crimes she was known as Bloody Mary, a serial killer that used the throne, but otherwise known as the woman you can summon in your bathroom mirror if you call her name three times.
Elizabeth Bathory (1560–1614)
Elizabeth Bathory, a countess from Hungary was the product of inbreeding and was supposedly bore witness to cruel punishments on disobedient staff committed at the behest of her family. Observing such violence groomed her into the cruel woman she would one day become. In any case, what is not in question is that Bathory was known to approach the daughters of poor families between the ages of 10 -14 for the promise of well-paying work. This would later evolve into orphan girls or just simple kidnappings. Once Bathory “employed” these girls they faced horrifying treatment such as brutal beatings, having their hands cut off, their faces bitten off, and having their arms and other appendages bitten. The ladies were also burned with hot tongs, covered in honey and live ants, and in other instances, they were frozen or starved to death.
Bathory was only discovered after rumors of her heartless treatment spread and religious leaders made complaints to other royalty about her. Finally, upwards of 8 years after the claims were made, investigators collected testimony from at least two servants who saw the countess acts of torture and murder. However, the court could only prove 80, making Bathory the most prolific female serial killer to date, but estimates of her real body count range from 100 to upwards of 650 victims. Bathory faced punishment for her crimes and was placed in solitary confinement in 1610 where she died four years later.
Delphine LaLaurie (1787-1849)
As portrayed by Kathy Bates in American Horror Story (AHS) season 3, Coven, Delphine LaLaurie, otherwise known as Madame LaLaruie was an affluent woman in New Orleans who had significant social influence during that time due to her lineage and previous two marriages prior to her third marriage to Mr. LaLaurie. At her mansion on Royal Street, LaLaruie kept slaves in quarters that were attached to the two-story mansion which still stands today. I have personally seen it and was surprised to learn that they are now rented out as apartments. However, you can clearly see from the outside gate the dominion that LaLaruie once had over her property. But, her perfect life in New Orleans came crashing down when in 1834 when her property was set ablaze. When the fire was put out, it was found that one of LaLaurie’s slaves, chained to the stove set the fire as an attempted suicide as was afraid of what LaLaruie would do.
Police and bystanders listened to the woman (whose name I cannot find, unfortunately) as she told them that slaves would disappear and were murdered by Madam LaLaurie. Rescuers found the slave quarters and wanted to make sure everyone was evacuated and had to break down the door after the LaLauries refused to open it. What they found was extremely horrifying as seven slaves were severely maimed and hanging by the neck with their arms and legs stretched so wide that it was tearing their appendages. Some reportedly vocalized they had been there for months. Another older woman had a head injury so severe she had a hard time walking. A younger woman had an iron collar, and the slaves told investigators of a twelve year old girl (Leah) that had fallen to her death running from LaLaurie after she found a knot while combing LaLaurie’s hair. Surprisingly, despite the fact that slavery was disgustingly legal at this time, the residents of New Orleans ripped apart the LaLaurie house in a riot because they were so revolted with the treatment of the slaves. However, despite this, they were taken to the jail and their scarred and maimed bodies were put on display. Later, Leah’s body, as well as that of another were found buried at the property making LaLaurie a serial killer, but by that time LaLaurie and her family had escaped to France and she never faced justice for her heinous crimes.