How Madame LaLaurie Turned Her New Orleans Mansion Into A House Of Horrors

Published October 5, 2021
Updated June 3, 2024

Inside her New Orleans mansion, Madame Delphine LaLaurie tortured and murdered untold numbers of enslaved people in the early 1830s.

Madame Lalaurie

Wikimedia CommonsWhen firefighters entered Madame LaLaurie’s mansion, they found her enslaved workers, some of them horribly mutilated yet still alive while others were dead and simply left to decompose.

In April 1834, a fire broke out at the New Orleans mansion owned by Madame LaLaurie and her husband. Locals rushed to help — and discovered shocking proof of her deranged depravity.

Though the handsome two-story home at 1140 Royal Street looked lovely from the outside, Madame LaLaurie had been cruelly and systematically torturing the enslaved people living there for years. When locals entered the house to help put out the fire, they not only found a cook chained to the stove, but numerous tortured, disfigured enslaved people in the attic.

What they found would forever change the public’s perception of Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie, once known as a respectable member of society — and now known as the Savage Mistress of New Orleans.

What Delphine LaLaurie Was Like Before Turning Her Mansion Into A House Of Horrors

Before she became Madame LaLaurie, Delphine was born as Marie Delphine McCarty on March 19, 1787, in New Orleans. She came from wealth. Her family owned a sprawling 1,344 acres plantation and her mother was known for throwing wild, extravagant parties.

When Delphine was 14 years she married her first husband, 35-year-old Ramon López y Ángulo de la Candelaria in 1800. But the marriage was short-lived. Five years later, and while Delphine was pregnant with their first child, her husband perished in a shipwreck off the coast of Cuba.

Delphine Lalaurie

Public DomainAn image which purportedly depicts Delphine LaLaurie.

When Delphine was 20 years old, she married her second husband, Jean Paul Blanque. They ultimately had four children together but this marriage, too, was short-lived. When Delphine was 28, her 50-year-old husband suddenly passed away. Blanque left her deeply in debt, which was only alleviated after the death of Delphine’s father in 1824.

Then, in in 1826, Delphine became Madame LaLaurie when she met the much younger Dr. Louis Lalaurie, a French chiropractor, during an appointment for one of her children. Delphine was 38; Louis was in his 20s. Shortly after she became pregnant with their son, they married in 1828.

Madame Lalaurie Portrait

Public DomainAnother possible depiction of Madame LaLaurie.

However, their marriage was not a happy one. The couple was known to frequently quarrel, separate, and reconcile. Despite this, the newlyweds purchased a handsome, unfinished home at 1140 Royal Street in New Orlean’s French Quarter. They completed the LaLaurie Mansion in the Federal architectural style, and it appeared to be a welcome, handsome addition to the neighborhood.

Few could have imagined the horrors that unfolded behind its walls.

Rumors Surrounding The LaLaurie Mansion

With Louis LaLaurie frequently out of town, the handsome house at 1140 Royal Street was largely occupied by Madame LaLaurie, her children, and numerous enslaved people. And, before long, rumors began to spread about Madame LaLaurie’s treatment of the enslaved.

Lalaurie Mansion

Public DomainLaLaurie Mansion as seen in an 1906 postcard.

Though Madame LaLaurie acted kindly toward slaves in public (and even freed at least two of them), some suspected that things were different behind closed doors. For one, enslaved people living at LaLaurie Mansion often seemed “singularly haggard and wretched,” according to locals. Indeed, whispers about Madame LaLaurie’s cruel treatment reached such a pitch that a lawyer went to investigate, though he found no signs of mistreatment.

But in some cases Madame LaLaurie’s depraved treatment of enslaved people was all too obvious.

At one point, a 12-year-old enslaved girl named Lia pulled a bit too hard while brushing Madame LaLaurie’s hair. Madame LaLaurie then flew into a rage. She chased the terrified girl throughout the house and up onto the roof, where Lia ran to the edge and tumbled to her death. (She was not the first enslaved person to die this way — a man had previously leapt from the roof to avoid punishment.)

Madame LaLaurie purportedly tried to hide the crime by dumping Lia’s body in a well, but there were enough witnesses that the authorities came to investigate. They found Delphine LaLaurie guilty of illegal cruelty and forced her to forfeit nine enslaved people. However, Madame LaLaurie found a way around the punishment. She had her family and friends purchase the enslaved people, and sell them back to her.

Still, much more terrible things were happening at the LaLaurie Mansion. No one knew about the depth of Madame LaLaurie’s depravity until a fire broke out there in April 1834.

What Happened Behind Closed Doors Inside LaLaurie Mansion

When the blaze first started on April 10, 1834, a group of volunteers raced to LaLaurie Mansion to put it out. As Madame LaLaurie and her guests fled out of the house, the volunteers came across a shocking sight.

In the kitchen, they found a 70-year-old emaciated cook chained to the stove. As she later admitted, the cook had started the fire on purpose. (Some sources claim the cook did this to die by suicide to avoid punishment, while others state that the cook had hoped to draw attention to worse horrors in the home.)

Lalaurie Mansion 1900

Public DomainMadame LaLaurie’s mansion circa 1900.

This was the first clue that something was terribly wrong at LaLaurie Mansion. But the volunteers would soon find something much more gruesome.

They eventually made their way to the attic, where the volunteers were greeted by the choking, overwhelming smell of death. To their horror, they’d stumbled upon “the most appalling spectacle,” according to an April 11, 1834 article from The New Orleans Bee: “[s]even slaves more or less horribly mutilated were seen suspended by the neck, with their limbs apparently stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.”

The attic was purportedly stuffed with enslaved people, some dead, some alive, many horribly mutilated. Some were tied to tables, others confined in tiny cages. One had had her limbs broken and reset so that she resembled a crab, some had had their mouths sewn shut, and several had been brutally flayed with a whip and forced into spiked collars.

One witness even claimed that there were people with holes in their skulls, and wooden spoons near them that would be used to stir their brains.

As an outraged lynch mob assembled outside of LaLaurie Mansion, however, Madame LaLaurie was able to slip into her carriage and escape.

What Became Of Madame LaLaurie After Her Crimes Were Exposed

In the aftermath, Ghost City Tours reports that Madame LaLaurie purportedly made her way onto a schooner in Lake Pontchartrain. A few months later, in June 1834, an American poet allegedly crossed paths with her on a ship sailing to France.

He described meeting a “a pretty-looking French woman… a Madame Lalaurie.” Apparently Madame LaLaurie had been unable to keep what happened at the LaLaurie Mansion a secret, because he added that she had “committed such horrible cruelties upon her slaves…in New Orleans” and that several of her enslaved people had been discovered “confined, some chained in painful postures and others horribly wounded and scarce alive.”

She apparently made it to Paris, where her husband her children purportedly later joined her. She seemingly died there on on Dec. 7, 1849. Ghost City Tours reports that her body was apparently exhumed and sent to St. Louis, where an epitaph plate was later discovered at the St. Louis #1 Cemetery.

Madame Lalaurie Epitaph

Public DomainThe epitaph discovered at St. Louis cemetery.

By then, Madame LaLaurie’s reputation had been thoroughly destroyed. But she was never charged with any crimes.

That said, her grand mansion in New Orleans stands as a reminder of the horror she once inflicted there. And though Madame LaLaurie is long gone, LaLaurie Mansion is said to be one of the most haunted houses in America.

The LaLaurie Mansion Today

Madame Lalaurie Mansion

Wikimedia CommonsThe victims of Madame LaLaurie were buried on the property and are said to haunt the grounds to this day. Even after two centuries, locals refuse to call LaLaurie mansion by her name, referring to it simply as the “Haunted House.”

After the fire exposed Madame LaLaurie’s depraved torture of enslaved people, LaLaurie Mansion fell into ruins. As the years passed, it was repurposed as an integrated school, a conservatory of music, a home for the homeless, and even apartments. In 2007, the actor Nicholas Cage briefly owned the home, though he lost it to foreclosure in 2009.

There’s perhaps a good reason why no one stays at LaLaurie Mansion for very long — it’s purportedly one of the most haunted houses in all of New Orleans.

Visitors have reported hearing shrieks and moans, smelling burning flesh, and hearing the dragging of chains. Some claim that they’ve seen ghosts on the property, including a large Black man in chains and a white woman with glaring eyes.

Though some of the ghosts seem harmless there is allegedly a vindictive, violent spirit in the house. Said to be the ghost of Madame Delphine LaLaurie herself, the phantom allegedly grabbed young girls when the house was used as a school for girls, leaving bruises and scratches on their arms.

If so, then it seems that even in death Madame LaLaurie is filled with violence and hate. Centuries after she inflicted unimaginable torture on enslaved people in her home, her spirit remains vicious and cruel.

After learning about Madame Delphine LaLaurie, read about Marie Laveau, New Orleans’ voodoo queen. Then, check out these famous serial killers.

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Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.