The Blood Countess: History's Most Prolific Female Serial Killer

Portrait of Elizabeth Báthory painted in the 16th century. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

For those who like to get their Halloween spooks by way of dark horror stories and tales of utterly demonic crime, let us introduce you to Countess Erzsébet (Elizabeth) Báthory de Ecsed.

Fondly remembered as "The Blood Countess," the Hungarian noblewoman is considered the world's most prolific, not to mention most sadistic, female serial killer. Her ties to Transylvania lore and her alleged taste for blood make her the perfect candidate for the Queen of Halloween, if not Creepiest Chick in History.

Early Years

Born in 1560 to the famed noble Hungarian Báthory family, she was raised with the utmost privilege — but that also came with a long family history of savagery and derangement. From early childhood she suffered tremendous fits and extraordinary rage that historians suggest may have indicated a neurological disorder or epilepsy. And the help may not have been a very good influence either. Her childhood nurse, Ilona Joo (a later accomplice), was said to practice black magic that depended on the sacrifice of children for their bones and blood.

Married at the age of 15 to Count Ferencz Nadasdy, she was often left at home alone while her husband was away at war. According to legend, she kept company with her aunt, who was reported to have practiced witchcraft; an uncle who was an alchemist and devil-worshiper; and her brother, a reputed pedophile. With family like that ...

Investigation and Trial

Over the years Elizabeth gave birth to seven children and was left in charge of her husband's properties, but she developed other passions as well — mainly of the sadistic and murderous variety. After years of rumors of her wicked ways, the Hungarian authorities finally responded and King Matthias II ordered an investigation. In 1610, investigators collected testimony from more than 300 witnesses, including priests, noblemen and commoners, along with other personnel from her castle.

Upon arrival at Báthory’s residence to arrest the countess and four servants accused of being her accomplices, the authorities reportedly found one girl dead, one dying, another wounded and many others imprisoned.

Many accounts tally the number of victims to somewhere around 650 young girls between the years of 1585 and 1610, the band of sadists was convicted of killing only 80 — mostly adolescent daughters of local peasants and lesser gentry. The girls were reportedly brutally tortured, the details of which are too heinous to recount, Halloween or not.

Three of the accomplices were sentenced to death, but the countess herself was sentenced to solitary confinement in a tower of her castle, where she died four years later in 1614.

It’s difficult to determine how horrid her crimes were, so much has become apocryphal. During the trial, two of her accomplices confessed to 36 and 37 murders during their employment. The other defendants suggested more than 50. Castle personnel estimated that somewhere between 100 and 200 bodies were removed from the premise. And one witness at the trial referred to a journal in which a total of more than 650 victims were listed by Báthory herself.

Over the years, the story of Elizabeth Báthory has evolved into accounts of the countess developing a fondness for drinking blood, earning her the nickname Countess Dracula. And there are more reports of her routine of bathing in the blood of the virgins as a component of her beauty regimen. Truth or fiction, we may never know ... but it certainly adds a morbidly gory twist to the lore of one of the most seemingly depraved women known to mankind.