A Countess Who Bathed in Her Victims’ Blood
Countess Elizabeth Bathory de Ecsend (1560 – 1614) owned vast estates in what are now Hungary, Slovakia, and Romania. She also owns the Guinness Book of World Records’ record for most prolific female murderess, having tortured and killed hundreds of young women between 1585 and 1609. She was probably history’s most vicious female serial killer.
She was born into the Bathory family, a distinguished aristocratic lineage that ruled Transylvania as a de facto independent principality within the Kingdom of Hungary. The future countess was raised amidst wealth and privilege, received an excellent education from top-notch tutors, and at age 12, was betrothed to a prominent Hungarian aristocrat.
A year later, however, she got pregnant by a commoner, so her fiancee had her lover castrated, then torn to pieces and fed to the dogs. Elizabeth gave birth to a daughter, who was quietly hidden. She wed her betrothed in 1575, but kept putting horns on him throughout their married life – a task made easier by his frequent and prolonged absences on military campaigns.
Elizabeth developed a taste for sadism, and sometime around 1585, began torturing and killing young girls. She started off with servants at her castle, then serf girls from surrounding peasant villages, and eventually, even the daughters of the local gentry, sent to her castle by their families to receive an aristocratic education and learn courtly manners.
She was a vicious piece of work, and witnesses reported seeing her stabbing her victims; piercing their lips with needles; burning them with red hot irons; biting their breasts and faces, and cutting them with scissors. Some of her victims were beaten to death, while others were starved. In winter, she got a kick out of sending serving girls out in the snow, where she had water poured over them and watched them getting turned into human icicles. In summer, she would often coat her victims in honey, and watch them get tormented by ants, bees, and other insects. She drank her victims’ blood in the belief that it would preserve her youth, and bathed in their blood for the same reason.
The exact number of Countess Bathory’s victims is unknown, but some estimates range as high 650. Rumors of the goings-on at her castle eventually got out, and the Hungarian authorities conducted an investigation. In December of 1610, Elizabeth and four of her accomplices were arrested. Her accomplices were tried, and three were convicted of murder and sundry crimes and executed.
However, in the 1600s, justice was even more elusive than it is today, and punishment for crimes depended on the culprit’s standing. Elizabeth Bathory was a countess, and her family was one of the most powerful and influential in the realm. Despite overwhelming evidence of her guilt, she never faced trial. Instead, she was quietly sent to a castle in today’s Slovakia, where she was confined to a windowless room until her death, five years later.