Jan. 13, 2014
Countess Erzsébet Báthory
by David Robb
Lady Macbeth is perhaps the most famous fictional female villainess in all of literature, but in 1606, while William Shakespeare was creating her bloodthirsty character, one of the world’s worst real life villainess was on a serial murder spree like no other.
All but forgotten today, Countess Erzsébet Báthory was descended from one of the noblest families in the Hungarian region of Transylvania. But Erzsébet wasn’t like other girls – she liked to torture and murder them. All told, she may have murdered more than 650 young girls and virgins. The exact number won’t be known until the government of Hungary makes public her diary, which reportedly contains the names of all her victims – a diary so shocking that Hungarian authorities have kept it under lock and key for over 400 years.
Testimony from the ensuing trial revealed that she bit hunks of flesh from the bodies of her victims while they were still alive. Legend has it that she bathed in their blood, believing that this would preserve her youth. No one knows for sure why she did it. What is known is that she murdered at least three-times more young women than did Jack the Ripper – and possibly 100-times more. She was the most prolific female mass murderer of all time, and perhaps the most prolific serial killer – male or female – ever to live.
Born in 1560, Erzsébet Báthory was a strikingly beautiful 15-year-old girl when she married Count Ferenc Nadasdy, whose wedding gift to her was Cachtice Castle, a majestic, medieval palace set atop a hill overlooking a beautiful valley. It was here that she would commit a series of ghastly murders. It was, without a doubt, the most picturesque mass murder site of all time.
Initially, Erzsébet’s husband took part in her sadistic sex games, which she practiced on her servants. Together, they would pierce the servants’ lips and nipples with pins and needles, stick sharp objects under their fingernails, whip them, stab them and bite them – but not to the point of death. They would cover them in honey and let insects bite away at them, or stand them in the freezing snow and douse them with water.
But when her husband left to fight in one of Hungary’s many wars with the Turks, Erzsébet’s thirst to inflict pain and suffering became unquenchable.
Testimony from the hair-raising trial would uncover a catalogue of depravity, mayhem and mass murder.
Erzsébet set up a torture chamber in the castle’s basement where no one could hear her vicitims’ screams. Young girls would be abducted from the nearby village or lured to the castle with the promise of work, and then Erzsébet would tear into them.
Assisted by her majordomo, her childrens’ nanny, a washerwoman and several other servants, Erzsébet would beat the girls with boards, burn them with hot pokers, freeze them, drown them or starve them to death – all the while ravaging them sexually. Cutting, stabbing, poking and piercing were her favorite pastimes. Their hands were cut off, their eyes gouged out, their breasts and vaginas mutilated. She particularly enjoyed burning the girls’ noses and lips off with a red-hot flatiron, or ripping their jaws off with her bare hands. Erzsébet would bite pieces of flesh off their faces, attack them with knives, and set their pubic hair on fire with a burning candle. Once, a servant testified at trial, while torturing two girls, Erzsébet stuck needles under their fingernails and scowled, “If it hurts, you whores, then simply pull them out!” And when the girls pulled the needles out, Erzsébet cut their fingers off. Then they were killed.
This went on for decades.
But what to do with all the dead bodies? They were dumped in pits and canals, or buried in shallow graves in the surrounding fields or on the castle grounds.
Rumors began circulating about atrocities going on at the castle in 1604, but it wasn’t until 1610 that King Matthias sent someone to look into it. When the king’s envoy finally arrived at the castle, he and his men found one girl dead, another one dying, and many more locked up and hysterical.
The king wanted Báthory beheaded, but his advisors cautioned that this would reflect badly on the other nobles. Instead, Báthory was locked up and her four accomplices were put on trial, during which one testified that 36 young girls had been murdered; another said that the number was 37, and the other two claimed it was more than 50. Local townspeople claimed that as many as 200 bodies had been removed from the castle, and a witness who saw her book said it contained the names of 650 victims.
In the end, three of her accomplices were found guilty and executed. The other defendant was acquitted. Báthory herself was never tried, and was found dead in her cell on Aug. 21, 1614.