Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Image Source: insider.com)
Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory tortured and killed as many as 650 young girls in Transylvania in the 1600s. Her family was distinguished, high-ranking, and wealthy making her untouchable and allowing her to continue her brutal killings without any retribution.
According to the History Channel, Bathory’s methods of killing were legendary in the area.
Bathory’s torture included jamming pins and needles under the fingernails of her servant girls, and tying them down, smearing them with honey, and leaving them to be attacked by bees and ants.
Her sadistic nature and vampiric tendencies earned her the nickname — the Countess Dracula. She is also the real-life inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
A Life of Cruelty
Elizabeth Bathory was born to Hungarian nobility in 1560. Her father was a baron and she was the niece of the King of Poland. She was highly privileged and had looks, wealth, education, and a title. However, inbreeding ran in the family and Bathory suffered from fits, outbursts of rage, and epilepsy.
It is thought that she learned about cruelty from a young age because of the treatments she had to undergo for epilepsy and the training she received from her family.
The treatment for epilepsy in that time period often involved obtaining the blood of a non-epileptic person. This could explain Bathory’s predilection for blood.
In addition, Bathory was exposed to her father’s officers torturing the peasants who lived in the area. She grew up in an environment of violence and her parents condoned it. It is also reported that her family members were involved in witchcraft and satanism. Her uncle taught her about satanism and her aunt instructed her on sadomasochism.
Bathory married Count Ferenc Nadasdy at the age of 15. They lived in the Castle of Csejte. According to some sources, she convinced her husband to build a torture chamber in their castle. He may have also trained her on new methods of torture. Her husband’s involvement in the murders is unconfirmed.
Nadasdy was often called away to war because he was the chief commander of the Hungarian troops. It was up to Bathory to defend her husband’s estates and take care of the castle while he was away. It was during this period that she resorted to sadistic activities.
Her victims were young girls and included the daughters of peasants, servants at the castle and even girls that were sent to her by the local gentry to learn good manners. Gradually, Bathory graduated to finding “higher-class” victims who were daughters of nobility.
Her methods of torture and murder knew no limits with some being too disturbing to write down. She resorted to stabbing, cutting, biting, beating, burning and even starving the victims.
By the end of it all, her victims numbered up to 650 young girls. This is not an official count but one witness did state that Bathory kept a registry of her victims.
Investigation and Arrest
Bathory had the freedom to continue her sadistic activities and no one dared to stop her until 1610 when she started targeting the daughters of nobility. A Lutheran minister made some complaints against her in court but it took time for the authorities to respond to the complaint. That was when King Matthias of Hungary and Croatia finally intervened and ordered an investigation.
The king assigned Count Gyorgy Thurzo who was also Bathory’s cousin to investigate the allegations of torture and murder. The count had his notaries collect evidence and witness statements of Bothary’s murderous activities. In total, the notaries collected over 300 witness statements.
Late in 1610, Count Thurzo made an investigative visit to Csejte Castle in Hungary with orders from King Matthias. There he found Bathory conducting a torture session of young girls. He also found numerous bodies of mutilated dead, dying, and imprisoned girls in the castle.
Bathory had accomplices who helped her torture the girls. Her accomplices included her former nurse, a local “witch” and two other servants.
The count arrested Bathory and her accomplices. In 1611, Bathory’s accomplices were placed on trial for 80 counts of murder and executed. However, Bathory herself escaped the trial. Due to her nobility and proximity to royalty, it was decided that she should be placed under house arrest in her own castle.
She was held in solitary confinement in a room that only had slits for air and food. She died at the age of 54 after 3 years in solitary confinement.
Before she died, Bathory wrote a will leaving all her wealth and property to be distributed among her children. She was supposedly a good and caring mother to her own children.
The location of Bathory’s body is unknown. It is believed that the peasants did not want her to be buried anywhere near them even if she owned the surrounding lands.
Becoming a Legend
Bathory became the realm of legend upon her death. The tales of her sadism and torture became embellished. According to legend, she bathed in the blood of the 650 girls that she killed so that she could remain young and healthy. So far, these tales are unreliable.
The story of Bathory’s bloodthirstiness also extended to drinking the blood of her victims. Thus, she became an inspiration for the character of Dracula. She became known by many names including “The Blood Countess”, “The Female Vampire”, and “The Hungarian Whore.”
Some historians have argued that Bathory was a victim of conspiracy and that the proceedings against her were politically motivated due to her large wealth. However, it is not likely that Bathory was innocent. The testimony of 300 witnesses were collected in convicting Bathory of her crimes.
Bothary is not just the most prolific female serial killer. She is also the most prolific murderer in the western world. She remains a fascinating figure in history.