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News Article

Is This the True Story ‘American Horror Story: Coven’ Is Based On?


Ryan Murphy is one cagey bastard. The creator of American Horror Story is gearing up for season three (with the subtitle Coven) and like usual, he is tight-lipped on what we can expect from the season, which is set to bow in October. We do know that the show will be set - and shot - in New Orleans, and that Kathy Bates will play a character based on a real-life person, who was a “bad, bad woman.” Murphy promises that “Kathy has never played a role this bad,” and that she will be “five times worse than her character in Misery.”

delphine lalaurieA number of fans and New Orleans historians have speculated that Bates may play New Orleans socialite Delphine LaLaurie, a French-Creole woman who, in the 1830s, was discovered to have tortured and killed her house slaves in a manner which makes Ed Gein look like a puppy dog. Season three of AHS is said to be set in the modern era, but with the subtitle Coven, it stands to reason that witches will be featured prominently, and witches can do all sorts of crazy shit, including making people immortal.

Delphine LaLaurie (or Madame LaLaurie) was an extremely wealthy socialite who was on her third husband by the time she bought the infamous property at 1140 Royal St. She was known for extravagant dinner parties and glittering galas, and was considered one of the most intelligent, stylish, and influential French-Creole women of the time. Like many high society types during that period, Madame LaLaurie had a number of slaves in her employ. By most accounts, she was a benevolent slave master; in front of guests, she treated them with respect.  An initial police inquiry yielded nothing, but after a neighbor saw a young girl jump from the roof to her death in order to avoid a whipping at the hands of Madame LaLaurie, police removed her slaves. Madame LaLaurie circumvented this by having relatives buy them back for her.

In 1834, a fire erupted in the LaLaurie house that started in the kitchen. The cook, who was chained to the stove, admitted that it was an attempt at suicide to save herself from a punishment in the attic. “Anyone who had been taken there, never came back,” she told them. That was when the full horrors of the LaLaurie house were uncovered. 

The Madame refused the keys to the slave quarters, so the townspeople broke down the walls and discovered no less than seven slaves chained within, all horribly mutilated. Some hanged by their necks; others wore iron collars; most had one or more of their extremities torn or broken. Their skin was flayed from whippings, and some were bound in stress positions. One man had wounds that were infected with worms. The local newspaper, the New Orleans Bee, remarked that the slaves “had been merely kept in existence to prolong their sufferings and to make them taste all that the most refined cruelty could inflict.” The community was horrified. They destroyed what remained of the LaLaurie house and attempted to string up Madame LaLaurie. She escaped amidst the violence and basically fell off the map. Some say she lived in backwoods of the bayou; more likely, she escaped to France. In 1924, a sexton discovered a cracked nameplate in a cemetery that states Madame LaLaurie died in Paris on December 7th, 1842.

As the years went on, and haunted tours of New Orleans grew in popularity, the tales of Madame LaLaurie grew exponentially, from the body count to the cruelty. Later reports suggested that women had their intestines ripped out and tied around their waists like belts; eyeballs were gouged out; fingernails ripped out; limbs broken and reset at odd angles; severed heads and internal organs scattered about; mouths filled with excrement and sewn shut; even a man who had a hole drilled in his head, with a rough stick jammed in to “stir the brains.” These claims, which began in 1946 had no basis in fact or eyewitness reports, were likely a response to the horrors of the Holocaust.

Whether or not Madame LaLaurie will be the inspiration for American Horror Story: Coven remains to be seen, but if anyone can take such a gruesome tale and turn it into a television series, it is Ryan Murphy.