History books are full of infamous real-life serial killers. We all know that a Transylvanian Prince from the 1400s known as “Vlad the Impaler” was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Vlad was a harsh ruler who subdued unrest by impaling his enemies on giant spikes. But one of the most notorious historical serial killers was another royal—who also happened to be a woman—the so-called “Blood Countess” Elizabeth Bathory.
Born in—yes—Transylvania in 1560, Bathory was a noblewoman who married a Hungarian Count and moved to a castle called Csejthe in Hungary. Bathory was supposedly taught the finer points of sadism by an aunt, and pretty much turned the castle into a giant torture chamber.
Historians believe that her exploits started with the sadistic torture of servant girls. She would put needles under their fingernails, pour cold water on them outside in winter, sew their mouths shut, and cover them in honey so insects would attack them. After the Count’s death (it’s thought that while he may have participated in the sadism, he also kept her under control), she really got going and the torture turned to murder.
As the torture evolved into murder, her victims continued to be young girls from the peasant class. She had village girls abducted so she could torture and kill them at the castle. It’s said she enjoyed biting chunks of flesh off the girls’ bodies and faces. Before the girls were killed (often by burning), she also supposedly had them cook their own flesh and make them eat it.
Where did the name “Blood Countess” come from? One theory says that when blood was drawn during the course of torture, she would drink it, fueling rumors of vampirism. Another theory says that she began to notice the positive effects of victims’ blood on her skin, and then began bathing in their blood as a beauty ritual.
Her killing spree went on for years, mostly ignored by local officials because she was a powerful woman. She finally was brought to justice because she began kidnapping and killing the daughters of wealthy and prominent families. In classic serial killer fashion, the castle was full of captive tortured girls and the mutilated bodies of dead victims. She and her assistants were tried for 80 counts of murder in 1611. She was sentenced to confinement in a cell-like room of the castle, and died in 1614.