Drinking Someone Else’s Blood Doesn’t Make You a Vampire

Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed, the Hungarian countess born in 1560 and descended from various princes of Transylvania, was publicly accused of murdering 80 young girls; it’s often speculated she killed over 650. Considered the “most prolific female serial killer in history,” a dubious superlative if ever there was one, Báthory has been nicknamed “The Blood Countess.”

As a well-connected noblewoman, Báthory never faced trial for her crimes. In 1610, a few years after rumors of the atrocities taking place inside the castle began to spread, the Palatine of Hungary began a formal investigation. Testimony was collected from over 300 witnesses, who described severe beatings, burnings, mutilations, and starvation. In some cases, Báthory was seen biting the flesh off the victims’ bodies. Four people were tried and convicted for acting as Báthory’s accomplices; two were burned at the stake, one was beheaded, and another was sentenced to life in prison.

“The Blood Countess” sounds fantastic. But surely, in the few cases of so-called Renfield syndrome examined thus far, the unembellished facts—complex and nuanced and difficult—are horrifying enough.

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