Bathing in Blood: Elizabeth Bathory the Serial Killer

Erzsébet Báthory (or as she’s referred to in English, Elizabeth Bathory) was a sixteenth century countess in Hungary. Referred to as the “Blood Countess” she is considered the first and worst female serial killer, with an estimated body count of 650.

The legend surrounding her story also grew larger-than-life, with many claiming she was a vampire and bathed in the blood of young, virgin women to preserve her youthful look.

Early Life

Bathory was born on August 7, 1560, in Nyírbátor, Hungary. She was born to prominent Protestant nobility. Her family controlled Transylvania and her uncle, Stephen Bathory, was the king of Poland. She was raised in the family castle in Ecséd, Hungary. In 1575, at the age of 15, she married Count Ferencz Nádasdy, another noble person. He was a Hungarian national hero fighting against the Turks. They moved to Castle Cachtrice, a wedding gift from her husband’s family, and had four children.

Cachtice Castle died
Castle C̆achtice, C̆achtice, Hungary [now in Slovakia]
Escalation

There had been rumors regarding the deaths of maids in Bathory’s household but she quickly had the bodies buried, blaming cholera as the cause of death and contagion being the reasoning for quick burial. However, once her husband died in 1604, the deaths in her household greatly increased. It is believed that she used the violence as a coping mechanism and after her husband’s death, she needed her particular form of stress relief even more.

Since no exactly written records exist of Bathory’s thoughts, we are not able to definitely know her reason for torture or even her cohorts. It’s believed that she learned cruelty, maybe even torture, from her aunt, with whom she lived during her youth. Some speculate that her husband knew and even participated, building her a torture room in their castle. It is known that one of her senior maids engaged in the torture.

The Torture

Bathory’s preferred methods of torture were extremely brutal and inflicted the most pain on the women before killing them. Her methods included:

  • Needles jammed underneath fingernails
  • Lips sewn shut
  • Honey smeared on body and left to attack by ants and bees
  • Slicing off bits of flesh

Caught…But Why So Long?

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the poor had nearly no way to defend themselves against the wealthy. Rumors had existed for years when so many maids had died while working for her. However, once she ran out of servants to torture, she began kidnapping the daughters of other noble families, who began to notice their female relations were going missing.

Matthias, the King of Hungary, ordered the Count Palatine of Hungary, György Thurzó (also Bathory’s cousin) to investigate. After interviewing people in the area, the count palatine estimated that Bathory had murdered more than 600 girls with the assistance of her servants.

In December 30, 1609, Bathory and her servants were arrested. The servants were convicted and executed quickly. Bathotry was held captive instead of execution, as was standard for the wealthy at that time. Bathory was bricked into a room of her castle for the rest of her life with only small holes in the brick for the passage of food and waste. She died in captivity.

Is It True?

The story of the Countess of Blood is difficult to research. The main sources that exist are from the trial of Bathory and her servants, which were filled with hearsay and rumors. One rumor was that she drained enough bodies to fill her bathtub with blood. This is more than likely false, as the human body does not contain as much blood. She would need a large number of bodies to fill a bathtub. Sadly we may never know what the full story of Elizabeth Bathory.

Further Reading:

Kimberly Craft’s Infamous Lady

Book

If you enjoy podcasts, the Morbid History podcast has an episode on Elizabeth Bathory and mentions my name!

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