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The AHS: Coven Character You Didn't Know Actually Existed

The third installment of popular horror series American Horror Story takes place in the historic setting of New Orleans, a city known for its rich and diverse culture — and its deep roots in the occult. Coven takes a look at the darker aspects of magic and voodoo as it follows the young witches of Miss Robichaux's Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies, along with the intense rivalry among New Orleans' most powerful sorcerers.

While Coven boasts an impressive cast, one of the most memorable performances came from veteran actor Kathy Bates, who played the role of the sadistic socialite Madame Delphine LaLaurie. LaLaurie's viciousness and xenophobia made her a detestable villain that fans loved to hate. However, as much as LaLaurie's actions horrified viewers of AHS, the real-life Madame Delphine was perhaps even more frightening. 

Like many other characters in American Horror Story, Delphine LaLaurie was based on a real person. While the real Creole socialite might not have been cursed with immortality or had her lover turned into a minotaur, her actions were just as heinous — if not more so.

The true story of Madame Delphine LaLaurie

The real Delphine was born in 1787 in New Orleans during a horrific era when slaves — and the violent mistreatment thereof — were the societal norm. Then known as Marie Delphine Macarty, she was married at age 14 to Don Ramon de Lopez y Ángulo, who died and left her with a daughter. She wed again at 21 to merchant Jean Paul Blanque, and the pair had four more children together. After ten years of marriage, Blanque died, and Delphine was left on her own with five offspring.

By many accounts, Delphine appeared to be like any other genteel, elegant woman of New Orleans high society. All of this changed when she met French doctor Leonard Louis Nicolas LaLaurie. It was rumored that LaLaurie had an obsession with voodoo and dark magic, though whether or not Delphine shared his interests is pure speculation. Leonard impregnated Delphine, and the two were married in 1828.

Delphine's marriage to Leonard was the start of her dark history and savage cruelty. Almost immediately after she became Madame Delphine LaLaurie, reports of her tumultuous relationship with her husband, as well as gross mistreatment of her slaves, began to surface regularly. Local authorities were so concerned by the rumors that they sent someone to investigate, but apparently Delphine's charm (and accumulated wealth) coerced them into believing her innocence. It wasn't until a fire at LaLaurie's estate in 1834 that the dark truth of the sinister going-ons in the household was uncovered.

The horrific secret inside the LaLaurie attic

On April 10, 1834, a crowd gathered at the LaLaurie home after a fire broke out. Although onlookers noted that the LaLaurie family managed to evacuate safely, many were concerned about what had happened to the slaves. A local judge named Jacques Canonge questioned Delphine's husband, Leonard, about the location of his slaves during the fire, and Leonard's response was a terse warning to mind his own business. Judge Canonge ignored Leonard's advice and sent in a search party. When the party broke down the door to an attic, they found a terrible sight.

At least seven men and women were found chained and in horrible condition within the attic. It was apparent that they had been starved for months, and many had sustained extreme wounds and scarring and worse. These reports provoked an angry mob to attack the house, ultimately forcing Delphine to go into hiding in Paris.

As the years went by, more exaggerated tales surfaced of Delphine LaLaurie's legendary cruelty. One story claims that the Madame chased a young slave girl to the top of the house, brandishing a whip. Rather than suffer the lash, the girl jumped to her death, and Delphine had the body secretly buried. Still more rumors stated that the LaLaurie slaves were put through brutal body mutilations and subjected to inhumane experiments. Though none of these events were proven, they certainly gave the creators of American Horror Story: Coven a source of inspiration for their fictional account of Madame LaLaurie.