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There are a million articles claiming who "the most prolific" serial killers are, but Elizabeth Báthory, whom I only recently discovered, has taken the cake for most murders committed in a 19 year span. If I've done the math correctly, that's roughly one unlucky girl every ten days, three girls every month, or 34 girls a year. If that seems hard to do, you're not wrong; she had help.
Let's start off simple with Elizabeth's childhood. Elizabeth was born into the Habsburg monarchy in Hungary in the year 1560. She grew up privileged and was doted upon with wealth and social power. Personally, I think she grew up too fast; she married at the young age of 15 to a 19 year old Hungarian nobleman by the name of Ferec Nádasdy and then had five children (one dying at the age of seven), but it was the 1580s. It was a lot different way back then. Throughout most of Elizabeth and Ferec's marriage, Ferec was off fighting (and leading) the Long Turkish War, leaving her to manage the estates. To keep it short and sweet, Elizabeth was a well educated woman who could speak and write in three different languages, was able to uphold and defend her husband's estates and even help women of extreme poverty and victims of assault (ironic, I know).
Elizabeth had started to become obsessed with power which resulted in her abusing her young female servants any chance she got. She wanted as much control as she could get and this was her way of getting satisfaction. But it wasn't until her husband, Ferec, became permanently disabled (and then shortly died) from an illness in 1603, that Elizabeth's onslaught truly began.
Elizabeth started off slowly by mentally abusing her servants but when that wasn't enough for her, she moved onto more physical punishments. To put it in the most sensitive way possible, she would sexually assault and bite off specific sections of virgin servant girl's bodies, such as their lips, cheeks and breasts. There are even rumors that she fed her servants (and guests) the cooked flesh. Her other forms of torture included starving them, sewing their mouths shut, burning them with hot iron rods, and even going as far as to cover a servant girl with honey and leave her outside to be bitten by ants, wasps and other harmful insects. She would then hide their bodies in the castle but when it became too much, she disposed of them in gardens, pits, orchards and even cemeteries.
Elizabeth never confessed to any of these crimes so it's hard to know why she did any of this. Many believe it was out of sexual gratification and/or blood lust, which is why a lot of people believe she bathed in virgin girl's blood (this is actually impossible due to coagulation), resulting in the name 'The Blood Countess'. (In my opinion, I think it was a mix between power and sexual gratification. If you think about it for a moment, she grew up around power and basically had it handed to her by her husband. That brings me to my second point; Ferec was away at war, leaving Elizabeth by herself. She could have easily grown bored and agitated so she took it out on the powerless people around her.) But nonetheless, she murdered her young servant girls who suffered immensely from Elizabeth's creative torture methods.
Now, I could keep going with a list of Elizabeth's torture methods and rumors but let's dig deeper for a moment. As I mentioned before, she wasn't alone when it came to her nefarious acts. She had four loyal servants who would supply Elizabeth with girls from local villages (as young as 10 years old) who were deemed competent enough to work as servants (or simply kidnapped). These young girls were never heard from again.
It wasn't soon until Elizabeth was suspected of her crimes. A Lutheran minister, who wasn't connected to the family in any known way, made public complaints about Elizabeth but it wasn't until six years later that the Hungarian authorities did something. It then took a year to collect more than 300 testimonies from witnesses, including her own personal staff. Finally, at the very end of 1610, Elizabeth was caught in the act. She and her four loyal servants were arrested and detained after authorities reportedly found one girl dead, another dying and several others locked up.
The four servants were on trial and were pressured to confess, possibly reducing their own sentence. They all testified against Elizabeth (who wasn't allowed to defend herself in court) but one. That servant was met with the same fate as Elizabeth's victims; violent torture and a slow death. As for the other three, they weren't let off so easy. They were sentenced to a public and painful death.
Elizabeth was met with a much different sentence; she was served with a lifetime of imprisonment in her own castle, in solitary confinement. You may be thinking, "that's not that bad," but Elizabeth was an extrovert. She was fueled by having other people around and to go from killing three people per month to seeing no other human for the rest of her life, solitary confinement was the perfect punishment to fit the crime.
It is said (by servants who claim she had a secret ledger) that she killed over 650 people but during the trial, only 35 or so were recorded and proved to be true. And since she never confessed or was allowed to defend herself in court, we will never know exactly how many innocent girls she tortured and murdered. Some people even believe she was innocent and that these heinous crimes were committed by the servants to frame her since she was such a cruel and horrible woman. But that's another conversation for another day.
Elizabeth died fourteen days after her 54th birthday in August of 1614. She only survived three and a half years alone in a small bricked up room with small holes for ventilation and to be given food. She complained of being cold one evening and then was found dead the next morning. Elizabeth was supposedly buried in her church only to be relocated to the Báthory crypt because of the villagers protests.
But to this day, the location of Countess Elizabeth Báthory's body is unknown.