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18: Delphine LaLaurie - The Stirring of Brains (Graphic)

GRAPHIC WARNING - Cody and Sam discuss the awful killer Delphine LaLaurie. Delphine was a Creole socialite in New Orleans who allegedly murdered hundreds of African American slaves.

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Episode Information

Delphine LaLaurie was a New Orleans Creole socialite and serial killer who tortured and murdered African American slaves in her household. Some of today’s information will be unsettling, so I’d recommend that you put in headphones. Let me also say from the outset that there are gruesome details we discuss at the end of this episode that may or may not be completely accurate. As with many things with history, some things become embellished, but either way, Delphine LaLaurie was an awful human being. We’re an entertainment podcast, not a podcast to sight on your history doctoral dissertation.

 

Before we start, let me just say that I will be referred to Delphine today as “Delphine” because her last name changed multiple times before she became Delphine LaLaurie. Using a single name for her will help me keep the information straight.

Creole Community

Before diving straight into Delphine, to give some history to the episode, I’ll tell you the listeners what the term Creole actually refers to in our story. This will actually come into play in just a moment. The term creole can be used in a somewhat wide way. It can include a few different types of backgrounds. But in the case of LaLaurie, it’s specific to being of European heritage. 

 

You see, Louisiana was originally colonised by France from 1699 until it was given up to Spain in 1762. It was then reclaimed by France in 1800. Then, three years later, it was sold to the United States for $15 million (or around $350,000,000 today) in a transaction referred to as the Louisiana Purchase. 

 

Many people have heard the term “Louisiana Purchase” before, but what a lot of people don’t actually realise about this purchase is that it didn’t just include the modern day state of Louisiana. It was a purchase of the entire part of the US that was referred to as the Louisiana Territory. This territory included land from fifteen modern day states which would go on to become a large chunk of the midwest; as well as a portion of two Canadian provinces. So, the purchased territory stretched from the south of America all the way up to modern day Canada. It was an incredibly huge purchase.

 

However, after the Louisiana Purchase, you can imagine that the French and Spanish people who had already made Louisiana their home would be unlikely to move. Thus, the term Creole began being used to describe someone of either French or Spanish ancestry that had moved to Louisiana prior to the Louisiana Purchase. You will notice that a lot of Louisiana people, at least in films and television shows, speak French and this is because of the Creole people’s ties to France.

Early Life

Delphine was actually born during the Spanish colonial period of Louisiana on March 19, 1787. See, now you listeners know what “Spanish colonial period of Louisiana” means. Don’t say I didn’t do anything for you. Now, prior to Delphine’s birth, her parents Louis and Marie-Jeanne had moved to Louisiana from Ireland during the French colonial period of Louisiana. See, now you listeners know what “French colonial period of Louisiana” means. Don’t say I didn’t do anything for you.

 

Louis and Marie-Jeanne were very prominent members of the European Creole community, and I’m not exactly sure how they were able to do this. I couldn’t really find anything from history that showed them doing much more than just being related to other prominent community members. Most notably, her uncle was at one point the governor of the Spanish provinces of Louisiana and her nephew was at one point the mayor of New Orleans. 

 

What it seems like is they knew some prominent members of the communities and used that as a way to make themselves into socialites.

Marriages

Delphine would soon grow to her own level of prominence quite quickly after she began to marry. I say “began to” because she did it three times. Which today isn’t terribly odd, Ross from Friends had three I believe. But in those days people would likely have started to wonder, “What the hell is happening to all of your husbands?” Honestly, I’m actually wondering the same thing. 

 

Either way, Delphine married her first husband in 1804. Delphine would have been around 13 at that point. This sort of thing always makes me feel a bit sick. 13 years old is so damn young. Even if you claim that it was normal for the time period, it still meant that men were attracted to 13 year olds at the time. It’s just odd and gross.

 

This first husband, Don Ramon, was a high-ranking Spanish royal officer. After the Louisiana Purchase, Don Ramon was chosen as the Spanish representative in New Orleans. He was soon called upon to appear at the court of Spain. However, while en route to Madrid, something happened and Don Ramon died. I don’t know what happened and I couldn’t find any information on his death. However, it’s worth mentioning that his creepy, soon-to-be-killer, teenage wife had accompanied him on this journey.

 

Four years after the death of her first husband, Delphine then married a man by the name of Jean Blanque. She was 21 years old at the time, which I would consider a much better age for marriage when compared to 13. Blanque actually wore quite a few hats. He was said to have been a banker, lawyer, merchant and even a politician at one point. In other words, Blanque was also in a very high station, much like Delphine’s previous husband.

 

Delphine would actually go on to have four children with Blanque, and she was incredibly creative with their names. She had three girls: Marie Louise (Pauline), Marie Louise (Jeanne), and Louise Marie (Laure). Presumably, she named these three girls after her parents, but I can imagine that it probably got very confusing in their house with all of the girls having the same names. Delphine also had a son with Blanque that was named Jean Pierre Paulin Blanque, presumably named after his father.

 

Something interesting I found about Blanque is that he was apparently a very private man. But some information surfaced about him that show he participated in the transfer of no less than 335 slaves. This was insanely odd because Blanque and Delphine were never said to have owned a plantation. And even still, the plantations near New Orleans were not large enough to require a slave workforce in the hundreds. Also, their home was nowhere near large enough to require that many slaves. So this brings up questions, like: Where did he get these slaves and for what purpose? A prominent businessman and high-ranking member of the community seems to have made a large chunk of his fortune from the slavetrade, but he kept it a secret; why?

 

Eight years after their marriage, Jean Blanque died as well. I couldn’t find any record of his death online. It’s just noted that he died, and he left Delphine with five young children and a massive amount of debt.

 

Over the course of the next ten years, Delphine worked her way out of debt to a wealthy status. There’s not many details on how she did this. We do know that Delphine eventually received an inheritance from her father and that she made some very shrewd business dealings, but we don’t know what they are. Had Delphine possibly picked up where her previous husband Jean Blanque had left off? Either way, she was a very wealthy woman in her own right when she met her third and final husband, Louis LaLaurie.

 

LaLaurie was a 21 year old medical school graduate who had made his way to New Orleans. Once he had arrived, he put out an ad in a local paper saying that he would specialise in the “straightening of crooked backs”. I suppose everyone in this time period had a pretty screwed up back and this service was in high demand.

 

Some stories say that Delphine saw this ad and took one of her children to LaLaurie for treatment. After meeting, the two began to communicate regularly and they eventually developed a sexual relationship. Delphine at this point was 40 years old, so nearly twice the age of LaLaurie. She flipped it on him.

 

During their relationship, Delphine decided to purchase a large, two-story mansion on Royal Street in New Orleans. This mansion would be the place of torture and death for many of Delphine’s slaves.

 

Soon after this mansion was built, Delphine and LaLaurie began having marital issues that saw them separated for a while. However, this changed frequently as the two seemed to make up and break up quite frequently. Perhaps it had something to do with Delphine’s treatment of her slaves, which at this point in time was beginning to draw attention.

Treatment of Slaves

In all moments in public or in front of guests, Delphine was said to have been a very gracious person to her slaves. I suppose so far as someone could be with people they literally owned and controlled. She was said to actually give the slaves cups of wine while she ate at dinner parties, telling them that it would be good for them.

 

However, even with this supposed outwardly kindness, Delphine’s slaves were said to have looked very pale and haggard. They were malnourished and gaunt. Rumours would spread throughout the local area of New Orleans of the look of her slaves and the possible cruelties that Delphine was committing upon them. This led to a lawyer being sent to Delphine’s mansion to remind her of the laws surrounding the treatment of slaves.

 

Now here is where I get upset. The people of the city were actually worried enough about these slaves to send a lawyer around to Delphine’s house. But they were still okay with these people being slaves. They still still saw these people as property. They literally saw these people as animals. This is what you would expect from neighbours noticing the abuse of a pet. It’s absolutely ludicrous the amount of cognitive dissonance these people actually experienced.

 

But either way, the lawyer explained the laws to Delphine and also did a quick inspection of the home. He found no evidence of wrong-doing and noted in his report that Delphine was a very nice woman. She apparently did not seem the kind of person to inflict any direct harm upon someone. Which would prove to be absolutely false.

 

Soon after this visit, one of Delphine’s slave girls was called upon to brush her hair. As the young girl was doing so, she hit a snag. This sent Delphine into a rage where she grabbed a whip and chased the young girl to the top of the mansion. A neighbour witnessed the event and saw as the frightened child climbed away from Delphine trying to escape her whipping. The neighbour then saw the child plummet to her death in the mansion grounds below. The same night, the young girl’s body was thrown into a shallow grave dug right on the mansion grounds with no care for the fact that it was in plain view of the public.

 

This incident led to another inquiry into Delphine’s treatment of her slaves. An investigation found that Delphine was guilty of illegal cruelty and forced to give up nine of her slaves. Maybe these nine would find freedom. Or possibly not, because they were then sold at auction and purchased by one of Delphine’s family members. Then quickly transported back to Delphine’s mansion on Royal Street. 

 

These are not the only documented moments of abuse and death amongst Delphine’s slaves. Under her care, a total of twelve slaves died in a four year span. Among these twelve was a woman named Bonne and her four children: Juliette aged 13, Florence aged 10, Jules aged 6, and Leontine aged 2. We know nothing of these deaths except that Bonne was previously described as a “chronic runaway” before being purchased by Delphine. It seems odd that an entire family would just die randomly under the care of Delphine. 

 

It makes you wonder what sort of things were hidden inside Delphine’s mansion, and I’m sure it made the people of New Orleans wonder the same thing. But they were about to see some of these gruesome sights first-hand.

Dark Revelations

Soon after the lawyer’s inspection of Delphine’s home and the removal and subsequent return of Delphine’s nine slaves, a fire broke out in the kitchen of Delphine’s mansion. This fire grew quickly and was found to have been started by the cook herself. The cook, however, had not planned to burn down the home. She had only wanted to kill herself. Delphine had taken to chaining her cook to the stove and she had had enough. However, the cook miraculously survived, but the fire did more than draw attention to the mistreatment the cook was experiencing from Delphine.

 

As the fire began raging, citizens of New Orleans began running to the home to help. In those times, I guess everyone assisted with everything in some way. Many men ran into the home to help free anyone inside who might be harmed. They found a number of slaves and assisted them outside. However, Delphine and Louis (who had moved back into the home at this point) were both instructing people differently.

 

The two were instead instructing people to carry out their valuables. Their priceless painting, their expensive furniture. All the while completely ignoring the fact that their home was full of locked doors, some of which contained trapped slaves. Most of the men assisting in the fire ignored their pleas to help save their valuables and instead went searching for further slaves trapped in the home.

They were told of a slave quarters in the home that contained slaves that would not be able to escape without assistance. It’s debated whether this slave quarters was in the attic or towards the bottom of the house near the kitchen. Either way, the men found this room and it was locked. They then asked Delphine and Louis for the key, to which the two denied. Instead of arguing with the couple the men broke the door down. They were then greeted with a sight that would haunt them until their deaths. Be warned of the graphic nature of the next bit of information.

 

It is claimed that the men found more or less seven slaves in this room in some of the worst conditions known to man. One woman, a very elderly and frail woman, was said to have a giant gash in her head that made it impossible for her to walk. Most of the slaves were shackled, some of which were said to have spiked collars that forced their heads into one position.

 

Some of the slave’s were suspended in the air from their shackles with severe wounds to their backs. There was supposedly a platform in the room where Delphine would stand to increase the effectiveness of her strikes with her whips.

 

The men found worse further inside the room. One slave woman was said to have had her mouth pried open. Feces had been stuffed inside her mouth, and it had been sewn shut. She was likely dead.

 

Another woman was said to have had a number of her bones broken, but then set in unnatural positions. Presumably by the medically trained Louis LaLaurie. Her limbs were said to have healed in a way that would have her crawling like a crab along the floor. She was also likely dead.

 

Finally, a man was found with open wounds and sores covering the majority of his body. The wounds were infested with worms and maggots. This man also had a hole in his head. Different accounts state that there was also a blood-covered spoon sitting near the hole in his head, and some accounts state that the spoon was protruding from the hole. The spoon was said to have been used to stir the man’s brains. As you can imagine, this man was also likely dead.

 

After these gruesome discoveries, the people of New Orleans were not happy and they retaliated by destroying the LaLaurie home and everything inside it. 

Escape and Later Life

Obviously, you would hope that the people of New Orleans were also able to get their hands on the evil Delphine. But they weren’t. During the chaos, Delphine and her children were able to escape the building by using a coachman at the back of the home. Delphine then went on the run.

 

Following the destruction of the LaLaurie home, some of the slaves were taken to a local jail, where they were available for public viewing. A local newspaper reported that soon up to 4,000 people had attended to view the enslaved people "to convince themselves of their sufferings."

 

Meanwhile, Delphine and her family made their way out of New Orleans and successfully escaped to France. A few years following the move, Delphine apparently had the gaul to want to return to New Orleans, but her family convinced her to stay in Paris. Delphine received no punishment for her crimes against her slaves, and she lived a relatively long life up until her supposed death at the age of 62 and that, undoubtedly, is what’s truly unfortunate.

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