Madame LaLaurie Used Her Position to Evade Justice
Madame LaLaurie’s family occupied the pinnacle of New Orleans’s society. Not only were her family amongst the founding Creole elite but also even after Louisiana passed into American hands, they retained a position of power in the state. Delphine LaLaurie’s cousin, Augustin de MacCarty was mayor of New Orleans between 1815 and 1820. Political office aside, the family’s wealth also ensured that they were safe from prosecution.
This situation is borne out by the case of one of Madame LaLaurie’s cousins, Madame Lanusse. Like her cousin after her, Madame Lanusse was called out for excessive cruelty to her slaves. Records claim she “whipped a Negress to death and treated another so cruelly that she died a short while after.” However the matter was hushed up because of the lady’s position in society- and the fact her husband was a notable New Orleans’s banker.
Delphine Lalaurie shared these same connections. She was also independently wealthy, thanks to inheritances from her parents, husbands and her sharp business acumen. This wealth put her in a position of significant influence and ensured that the authorities dropped charges before they came to court- and therefore never documented. When the authorities investigated her home in 1828, as reported by Boze, LaLaurie skillfully evaded prosecution with a mix of bribery and manipulation of the law. Legally, Delphine’s slaves could not testify against her, and any free witnesses were paid off. All Delphine had to do to avoid justice was, swear before a court that she had done nothing wrong.
The same happened in 1829 and 1832- the other occasions Boze mentions that LaLaurie was investigated and yet avoided justice. In 1829, this was again down to a lack of witnesses. A record of a fee of $300 paid to attorney John Gyrmes proves that the state moved against LaLaurie as Gyrmes was engaged to defend her against the state’s prosecution. $300 in today’s money is around $7600; a large sum that suggests that part of Gyrmes ‘defense’ was used to pay off witnesses. Interestingly, the only cruelty cases in the record brought to court were against the lower classes of New Orleans society. Money talked in New Orleans society- and could also ensure silence.
However, no amount of money could cover up the evidence of people’s own eyes.