This Female Serial Killer Had Over 2,000 Victims

The woman stepping out of the building was probably staying in the shadows, covering her head and ducking away quickly. She had a reason to be secretive: she had just left the dwelling of Catherine Monvoisin, (Montvoisin?) DeShay, a sorcerer and fortune-teller who provided abortions, but now dealt in providing poisons. The woman sneaking off was a client who would be murdering one of DeShay's alleged 2,500 victims.
It was in the mid-1600s in Paris, France. Catherine DeShay, born around 1640, had married a merchant named Antoine Monvoisin (sometimes spelled Montvoisin). When Antoine's business collapsed, Catherine began making a living as a
17th century print of Catherine DeShay

fortune teller, "reading faces," and palmistry. She had a "gift from God," she would say, having told fortunes from the age of nine. "Eventually, these gifts led her to become one of the most mystical and fascinating people in the second half of the 17th century Paris" (Klimczak). She was also a midwife, which included performing abortions. Catherine became "La Voisin" ("the neighbor"). While telling fortunes, she found there was a market for potions, aphrodisiacs, black masses, magical amulets, and poisons. She dressed for success in a red robe embroidered with eagles in gold thread.  As La Voisin's business prospered, her client list became more impressive. Nobility flocked to her, all wanting to know what their future held. And they wanted to purchase poisons to alter that future, should it need a little help. 
La Voisin's clients were upper-class citizens, for La Voisin's prices were not cheap. Most came to eliminate a husband, as many clients were female, or a competitor be it political or amorous. This included the official mistress of King Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan, who initially purchased love potions and spells to woo the king. When his interest in Montespan waned and then dissipated, Montespan conspired with La Voisin and several others to poison the king. There was a mishap, and the king's life was spared, unbeknownst to anyone except the conspirators.
La Voisin was so successful she branched out by creating a network of fortune-tellers throughout Paris, including one of her daughters. La Voisin took up residency at the Villeneuve-sur-Gravois. By day she sold her wares and doled out futures. By night the famous clairvoyant entertained the privileged upper class with parties and music in her lush garden. It was common knowledge she was a drunkard, but she was also a trusted source for all things black magic and the go-to person if you wanted to get rid of someone permanently. And she was no slouch. "La Voisin regularly attended service at the church of the Jansenist abbé de Sant-Amour, principal of the Paris University, and the godmother of her daughter was the noblewoman Mme de la Roche-Guyon" (Ramsland). La Voisin supported her mother, husband Antoine, and their four children, and as many as at least six paramours, with her wealth. She grew to hate her husband; she usually greeted him with, "Have you dropped dead yet?"(Somerset) She visited the royal court, the homes of the royals and wealthy, and houses of worship to perform her ceremonies and sell her wares. Some priests took part in the black masses. 
La Voisin is suspected of causing at least 2,500 deaths. These victims would be the number of people who died from poisoning, ingesting the potion she had sold. There were also babies murdered during sacrifices for the black masses. Serial killer expert Peter Vronsky lists La Voisin as a serial killer. 
But a royal death, public persecution, and religion were to be the downfall of La Voisin. First, the Duchesse d'Orléans, sister-in-law to Louis XIV, died; her death believed to be poison (in truth, it was gastroenteritis). Then there was a riot of people accusing witches of stealing children for use in black mass. Next, priests came forth to add that people were confessing to using poisons. There was a sweep of the city to arrest anyone practicing "witchcraft." La Voisin, well known for her profession, was arrested on March 12, 1679.
"Paris is full of this kind of thing, and there is an infinite number of people engaged in this evil trade," La Voisin told her interrogators. The persons interviewing her received permission to torture their arrestees, but not La Voisin, because she would start naming names that would embarrass many in the aristocracy and members of the royal court. So the interviewers kept her drunk and let her chatter instead. On October 10, a drunk La Voisin admitted she did sell "poison and magical services to several members of the royal court; she also described the development of her career." She denied taking part in black masses and performing abortions, said nothing of her role in Madame de Montespan's plot to murder the king.
The criminal case was a sensation. The "Affair of the Poisons" of 1679 was akin to the O.J. Simpson murder trial of 1995 in public interest. It "implicated persons at the highest levels of French government and nobility"(Klimczak). The trial began on February 17, 1680, and lasted two days. In the end, thirty-six death sentences were handed down. Only La Voisin was burned at the stake on February 22, 1680; the other thirty-five were sent to prison. 
Records reveal that on her way to the burn pyre, La Voisin shoved the priest away. Tied to the stake, she feebly attempted to kick away the hay. It was, of course, in vain. And none of her once-loyal customers, who only days ago held her in high esteem, came rushing to her aid. She died a "witch" burning alive. 



Resources
The Brooklyn Museum
Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, Heritage Floor
Online resource located at https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/eascfa/dinner_party/heritage_floor/catherine_deshayes
Klimczak, N. (November 5, 2016). The Black Masses of La Voisin: How A Fortune Teller Became A Murderess in the French Royal Court.
Ramsland, K. (2005). The Human Predator. The Berkley Publishing Group: New York City
Somerset, A. (2003) The Affair of the Poisons: Murder, Infanticide, and Satanism at the Court of Louis XIV. St. Martin's Press: New York City.
Vronsky, P. (2007) Female Serial Killers. The Penguin Group: New York.


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