Elizabeth Báthory is probably the most prolific female serial killer in history. We are still unsure of the motivations that drove her to torture, kill, bath in the blood in and make ice statues of young girls in 17th century Hungary.
Kara Kittrick: Right now, let’s talk about Elizabeth Bathory. She’s Hungarian. So anyway, she lived in the 16th century Renaissance era sort of black death was winding down. Paintings of naked people were winding up, sort of.
She was born into an intensely noble family. Her uncle was king of Poland. Her parents had very high positions in the Hungarian bureaucracy. So she was she. She was untouchable politically, and so eventually she got married to this dude who she was actually of higher rank in terms of the nobility than she was, so she kept her own last name boundary. Anyway, she’s married to this dude. She goes off to his castle to live with him, but before too long he goes off to fight the Turks.
Because that was what you did when you were Hungarian at the time. And so she was kind of left in charge of the castle and the land and all of that stuff because her husband wasn’t around. And so for a woman, she had kind of unprecedented political power. Which is why it’s unfortunate that what she chose to do with that power was to recruit young women while girls really by modern standards from nearby villages and bring them into the castle as like servants and.
Then she would torture them in various ways. At first, it was to bring them outside in the winter and force them to lie naked in the snow. Then she poured cold water over them so that they would freeze to death basically and turn it sort of crystallized into statues. And then in the summer, she would bring them out into the field and stripped naked, cover them and honey, and leave them to be eaten by insects.
Chauncey: So this was kind of a seasonal thing for her?
Kara Kittrick: Well, it really was. You know, she did it on the hottest day.
Chauncey: It passes the time while their husbands are at war.
Kara Kittrick: Literally, yes. So that kind of went on for a while. Eventually, her husband died and she sort of lapsed into a deep depression. And around that time, the torture appeared to have escalated. This didn’t really come up until after she was already dead. So it’s unknown if this is totally true. But she may have believed that human blood could keep her young and healthy forever. So she would have young girls again sent to her quarters, and she would cut and bite and burn them with hot metal. And again, possibly apocryphal, you bathe in their blood to keep her skin rich and lushes. Which is right. That’s why the spelling of her last name was so notable. Bath is literally in it. And that’s where the nickname Blood Countess comes from. So this went on for 30 years.
Well, eventually, the nearby villages were entirely depleted of suitable candidates for her debauchery. So she started to prey on girls who were sort of in the lowest order of nobility and people don’t like that. She started like abducting them and so forth. And while she had her people do it or she didn’t, she taught these people personally in many cases. But obviously, a lot of legwork was being done by her team of servants. So anyway, eventually, once she started doing that, it wasn’t too long before the prince dispatched some people to find out why. Why is everyone going missing at this castle? And so they went to the castle and the jig was sort of up because they found charred bones in the fireplaces. They found survivors and mutilated, half-dead victims. And in the end, some 300 people came to testify against her. There was a big trial and they found that basically she had killed some 80 people.
And all of her helpers were sentenced to death. She was not sentenced to anything because she was. At that time, she basically couldn’t be prosecuted. No matter what she did, instead, she was sent to her chambers, which were bricked up so she couldn’t leave. So she just lived the last four years of her life in a couple of rooms and eventually, she died at the age of 54. Now, one notable detail also is that during the trial, many of the people who were accused her were also people who were themselves later executed. One of them was sort of her right-hand person stated that they found a diary in her room that had the names of all the people she had killed and the way she had done it. And, of course, horrifying details extrapolated on so, so on and so forth. But what’s interesting is that in the diary, there were not 80 names. There were six hundred and fifty names.
Chauncey: Well, in order to deplete the townspeople, are you?
Kara Kittrick: Yeah. So it’s actually not known how many people she killed. Thought maybe 80, maybe almost 700, maybe somewhere in between there.
Chauncey: So that is absolutely wild. And just what is wrong with the Hungarians, wasn’t Vlad the Impaler one?
Kara Kittrick: I don’t know. He might have been. Were you Hungarians out there? I mean, that historically, you know, like, what’s wrong with the British? What’s wrong? Exactly. But yeah. Yeah. The castle is still there. It’s not known exactly where she was buried. Because of another fun detail, they buried her in a nearby church. And then the people in that town said they don’t want the Blood Countess in our graveyard. So it’s not known what happened to her body. There’s no grave or anything. They might have dumped her in a ditch. Who knows? It’s just wild, especially like, you know, Hungary. You know, that’s the sort of country during that time that I imagine tons of tortures and people storming the castle and burning it down.
Kara Kittrick: There’s some thought that she might have inspired like Dracula and Carmilla. Maybe in some particulars that’s not really proven or even really provable
Chauncey: I would think that it did.
Kara Kittrick: Pure evil, like Hungarian noble who can bite and drink the blood and eat the flesh of servants, which she did.
Chauncey: Yeah Vlad is Transylvania. Yeah. Is there or is it Romanian maybe. Yeah.
Kara Kittrick: I thought it was Romania. Eastern Europe is all weird. Yeah. Weird and murdery out there. Too much of paprika and murder.
Chauncey: Yeah. My mother in law makes Hungarian goulash though and it’s really good. That is absolutely crazy. You know, I was telling you before this that the only thing that I ever read about her was a historical fiction novel where she made the statues out of the frozen people in your honor. That happened. Yeah. You were saying.
Kara Kittrick: I’m sure that’s not what how it really went. Actually, probably that’s how it went.
Chauncey: So what do you think her motivation was?
Kara Kittrick: Yeah. So after she died, a bunch of rumors kind of swirled around her and they made her out to be sort of more supernatural and a cult. And that’s kind of where the bathing and blood idea came from. And that didn’t actually come at the trial. So it’s not known whether that really happened. But the idea that she was bathing in blood did like staying young and beautiful.
That was sort of ascribed to her later and may not have been the motivation, although worth noting, she may have had epilepsy. And one of the treatments for epilepsy at the time was to have your lips smeared with the blood of someone who doesn’t have it. So it might have been that she thought, hey, a little blood does the trick. Let’s try a lot of blood.
Chauncey: That’s science.
Kara Kittrick: That is science. But I imagine it was just sadistic cannibalistic injuries.
Chauncey: Yeah, not unlike some of the other serial killers we talked about.