First, Rachel heads to Nyírbátor, Hungary to tell the tale of Countess Elizabeth Báthory de Ecsed – a Hungarian noblewoman and purported serial killer & sadist that bathed in blood to stay young. Then, Emily honors Transgender Day of Remembrance (Nov. 20) by telling us the history of San Fransisco’s brutality against trans people and the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot of 1966, the first act of resistance against police brutality (even before Stonewall).
Elizabeth Bathory – The Blood Countess
Today, we’re going to Hungary to cover one of my favorite topics – female serial killers – Elizabeth Bathory.
Elizabeth Bathory was born in Near-ba-tor in either 1560 or 1561 to George Bathory VI and Anna Bathory. And, as European Royals in the 16th century were known to do, she was a product of inbreeding. Awesome. Probably because her parents were closely related, young Elizabeth suffered from severe epilepsy, and her parents were all, can’t have that child countess having seizures, we’d better get some cures in here. There’s a lot of folklore about her childhood, but not a ton of evidence, because you know, 1500s. But some of the theories are that her ailments were treated by witchcraft and Satanic Worship. Or, you know, they were treated by rubbing the blood of someone who didn’t have seizures onto her lips… or if that’s too much she could use a piece of their skull. No big deal.
Anywho, when Elizabeth was 10 years old, she was betrothed to Ferenc Nádasdy. He was of lower status than she was, so when they got married, Elizabeth was 15 and Ferenc was 19, Ferenc started going by the last name Bathory. They moved into the castle, but then Ferenc got a promotion – he was a chief commander for the Hungarian army, and in 1578, he ended up going to war against the Ottoman Empire. So Elizabeth stayed behind to manage the castle, have babies, and tend to the citizens. She and Ferenc had 4 children, but there were some rumors that she took lovers while he was away.
She sounds like a fairly nice lady so far, yes?
But that’s not what this podcast is.
Around 1602, peasant girls who had been looking for work in Chack-ee-tay castle started disappearing. Like, a lot of peasant girls.
People started to look to Countess Elizabeth to figure out what was happening, and she was all *shrugging noise.* Obviously, people were skeptical, and rumors started to spread. Then, in 1604, Ferenc died, and more and more girls started going missing. Obviously, everyone was a little sus.
The story is, Elizabeth lost her shit when she lost her husband. She would lure girls to the castle under the guise of work, and spoiler alert, she murdered them. Then, for more of a challenge, she would murder young women and girls who were sent to the castle for education. And, when she went full bezerker, she would kidnap girls who would never otherwise have come to the castle.
She went on a murderess spree for SIX years, evading the law because she was a countess – who is going to mess with her! Eventually, Hungarian King Matthias II sent out his bitch… or you know, number 2, György Thurzó (George), to investigate Elizabeth and all those missing girls.
And he was able to collect statements from over THREE HUNDRED witnesses. I have no idea how this is possible – is she cocky? Not stealth? Is everyone terrified of her?
Well they should be, and here’s why:
Allegedly, according to witness accounts, Elizabeth Bathory tortured her victims. She burned them with hot irons, beat them to death with clubs, poured ice water over their bodies and then put them outside to let them freeze to death, stuck needles underneath their fingernails, covered them in honey so that bugs would eat their skin, sewed their lips together, and ATE CHUNKS OF FLESH OFF THEIR BREASTS AND FACES.
Ready for more? Apparently she was also a big fan of scissors. She used them to cut off these girls’ hands, noses, and genitals. Oh, and the skin between their fingers.
And there are also some more… imaginative accusations. Including, cannibalism and having sex with Satan himself.
And of course, the reason that her nickname is the Blood Countess and accused of being an actual vampire, is that she was accused of bathing in the blood of these girls to keep her appearance young.
György Thurzó was a little bit concerned. He charged Elizabeth Bathory with the murders of 80 girls, however allegedly, it could have been up to 650, according to Elizabeth’s supposed diary, which has never been found.
Also, Elizabeth’s accomplices, one of whom was a wet nurse for Elizabeth’s children, were burned at the stake for witchcraft. Elizabeth ended up bricked up in her Chack-ee-tay-castle bedroom. She stayed in isolation until she died in 1614.
But, is any of this horrible story historically accurate?
Some Hungarian scholars think that King Matthias II may have had some pretty shady ulterior motives. He owed a massive debt to Ferenc, and he did not want to pay that debt. So, he was all, “SHE MURDERS YOUNG GIRLS” and then didn’t give Elizabeth a chance to defend herself in court. Also, a lot of the testimony from these “witnesses” contradicted each other – most of them were not first-hand accounts – there were a lot of rumors and hearsay, but King Matthias was all, “sucks to suck bro, lock her in the mother-fucking castle.” Elizabeth’s family did not get an opportunity to defend her or testify on her behalf either.
Regardless, she wasn’t innocent. She most definitely abused her servants, and probably did murder at least some of them. However, she probably wasn’t a vampire. She didn’t bathe in the blood of young girls – those rumors didn’t start until Elizabeth had been dead for over a century. Interestingly enough, there are some historians who think that these stories stemmed from the need to justify Elizabeth’s violence, because she was a woman. Women can’t be violent just for violence’s sake alone. She must have been a vampire.
She wasn’t, of course, but she was a countess who knew how to run her shit to keep the Bathory family in power. And she ruled without a man and continued to accumulate wealth. And that can be pretty threatening to a king. Another possibility is that she was targeted by the Lutheran church because she was a Calvinist. And they were all – SHE’S A DEMON.
Again, she was probably a sadist. There were definitely many bodies found in her castle, and she thought that being an aristocrat shielded her from consequences. And it kind of did, because instead of being burned at the stake, Elizabeth died in her own bed, in her sleep, at 54 years old.
Fun fact, Elizabeth Bathory is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific female murderer AND the most prolific murderer of the western world.
That is the crazy, somewhat true story of Elizabeth Bathory, the Blood Countess/Countess Dracula.
Compton’s Cafeteria Riot & Trans Rights
This episode is coming out on November 18 and that means that two days after this episode comes out it will be November 20… because that’s how time works… But the reason I bring up November 20 is because every year on the 20th we observe a little-known but very important day called Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) and this is a day that honors the memory of transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of antitransgender violence.
So before I dig into my actual story – I wanted to tell you a little bit about TDOR. So TDOR was initially started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999 in honor of Rita Hester who was a transgender woman that was killed in 1998. Gwendolyn hosted a vigil to commemorate Rita and all of the transgender people who had been lost to violence since Rita’s death.
As Gwendolyn said:
“Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”
This is an exceptionally important topic that needs to have much more visibility and discussion around it, so I wanted to highlight a piece of history today that might help us have some of that discussion.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 has already seen at least 45 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because quite often these stories go unreported — or misreported. In total HRC reported 44 murders, so this year will – once again – be a record breaking year.
And these are all murders of trans people, specifically because of their gender as a transgender person. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners or strangers, some of whom have been arrested and charged, while others have yet to be identified. Some of these cases involve clear anti-transgender bias. In others, the victim’s transgender status may have put them at risk in other ways, such as forcing them into unemployment, poverty, homelessness and/or survival sex work.
There is a really nice list of all 45 people lost in 2021 on hrc.com and we will link to that list in our show notes. They deserve our remembrance on the 20th and I would talk about them each individually here but it would just take too long. Which is terribly sad.
Now, even though TDOR did not start until 1999, transphobic violence has been happening for many decades and so I’m going to tell you a bit about the history of transphobic violence in San Francisco that led up to the Compton Cafeteria Riot of 1966. This was the first known instance of collective, militant queer resistance to police brutality – it actually happened 3 years before Stonewall. Oddly enough, however, it is rarely talked about or known about even! So, I’ll be sharing more about it and the incidences that lead up to the riot, which took place in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco.
OK to set the stage a little bit, let’s talk about what life was like in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco in the mid-1960s. If you research the Tenderloin District a lot of what you’re going to find in the “official record” is that it had (and has) a reputation for being a magnet for homelessness, drug use and crime. Back then a lot of people referred to it as a “containment zone for illegal activity” and shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly these days, the news media spent a lot of time in the 60s fear mongering and reporting that the Tenderloin was a “hotbed for homosexuals and transvestites to engage in a marketplace of vice, degradation and human misery”.
I want to put a pin in the story real quick to mention that transvestite is not a politically correct term anymore. I just used it because that is quite literally what the news stations were saying in their reports, but today the word transvestite has largely been replaced with the term cross dresser and that applies to a person who expresses their gender by wearing clothing associated with the opposite gender. So cross dressing is a means of gender expression rather than sexuality.
Personally I feel like we’re moving a little farther away from there even being “girl clothes“ and “boy clothes“ and I think that’s really positive because who really gives two shits about whether or not women want to wear pants or men want to wear skirts or whatever. Dress how you want to dress there shouldn’t need to be a label.
But, I will say, as someone who is a heterosexual cis gendered person that grew up in a really small town and went to a Christian college… A lot of these terms and concepts were relatively new to me when I became an adult and I’m still learning every day what words are appropriate, and what each term means and represents. So I just wanted to run quickly through some high level guidance because we’re talking about things that happened in the 60s today and I’ve found in my research that a lot of phrasing was used that would be considered very derogatory today or just didn’t actually apply to the people being referenced.
Plus, one piece of my job is helping companies transition through major changes and we always talk about how, to actually change a person’s behavior the first step on the behavior change continuum is awareness. I think that can be applied beyond a corporate communications setting. I think that the first step in the fight against discrimination and ignorance is through knowledge and awareness. So, here is more information about terminology.
- Cisgender, or simply cis, is an adjective that describes a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Transgender, or simply trans, is an adjective used to describe someone whose gender identity differs from the sex assigned at birth. A transgender man, for example, is someone who was listed as female at birth but whose gender identity is male.
OK back to talking about the Tenderloin District in the 60s. While the media and government referred to this area as a hotbed of criminal activity, it was really one of the rare places that had affordable housing in the heart of the city for low income trans people and people of color.
So you have to remember that in the 60s it was straight up illegal to be transgender and most transgender people from that time suffered greatly with joblessness and homelessness. This was so prevalent because they could not keep a job – not because they weren’t qualified or capable – but because people in the workforce refused to work with them.
I was listening to an interview with a woman who said that when she went on an interview in traditional male clothing she would not be hired because she was too feminine looking of a man, but when she went dressed as a woman they would hire her but then eventually find out and fire her for illegally impersonating a woman.
So it was a lose-lose situation and often resulted in many transgender people, especially transgender women, resorting to sex work to be able to survive. The Tenderloin District was a place where they were accepted. As one woman in the documentary Screaming Queens said, “The Tenderloin was the gay mecca of San Francisco. Anybody and everybody who was [queer] came to San Francisco. It wasn’t in the news or in the paper; it was by word of mouth that people came to the Tenderloin.”
Now, not all of the Tenderloin District was super friendly to trans people. There were actually areas where even the gay bars would not let transgender folks in, but there was one spot on the corner of Turk and Taylor Street called Compton‘s Cafeteria where everybody knew each other’s names.
So, have you seen RENT the movie? You know the scene where they all gather at that restaurant and sing and talk about life and stuff? That’s how I picture Compton’s. It was a 24 hour diner and at the end of the night transgender women would head to Compton’s to come down off of their high, commiserate with each other about their Johns, and frankly, make sure that they all knew that the others were alive. Which is a very sobering reality to think about; for all sex workers and people in these high-risk populations, the reality of possibly losing your life EVERY DAY is just… I cannot imagine.
And, keep this in mind as well – in that time (and I think still today) people who are transgender or queer or gay or whatever form of ‘different’ they are from what society says is normal – were just, disowned by their families. So, Compton’s was a place to eat and drink $0.60 cups of coffee, definitely, but it was also where they went to see their chosen family and be safe when being their real selves.
Plus, as one of the women on the documentary I watched said… it was just a local favorite because it was close to everything… adjacent to the hair salon, the corner bar and the bathhouse. Just a short walk to Woolworth’s to buy fake eyelashes, and it was two blocks from the airline bus terminal which is where many drag queens and trans women would go to change from male to female clothes.
Of course, there was one thing about the Tenderloin District that was especially troublesome. You see, even though it was often referred to as crime-ridden it wasn’t because there weren’t any police officers around. It was because the police officers who patrolled the Tenderloin District often misused their power to blackmail sex workers or request payoffs from restaurant owners that allowed transgender people to work or eat at their establishments.
So they were there… They were just part of the greater problem. Actually they pretty much were the problem because on top of this shitty money situation where they were favoring their own pocket books over the safety and well-being of a community, they were contributing to the brutality that was happening against transgender people in the area.
And the brutality was widespread and bad enough as it was without police getting involved. One woman Felicia Flames who frequent in Compton‘s in the 60s was quoted saying, “people were thrown out of hotels, they were stabbed, they had their breasts cut, they were mutilated because of their genitalia. We were something that could be thrown away in a trash can.”
Another woman in the documentary I watched was quoted saying that they would be sitting in Compton’s and people would walk past dragging huge crosses and screaming at them through the windows “you’re going to burn in hell!” In the most Christian way possible I’m sure #brotherlylove.
Yet another woman was talking about her world as a sex worker… About how the first five minutes with any John were the scariest because those were the five minutes where are you might get arrested or stabbed. Because sometimes it was a sting operation and sometimes it was a man who didn’t realize he had just picked up a transgender woman and retaliated. And let’s be honest sometimes it was a man who knew he picked up a transgender woman and hated that transgender woman so much because of something that literally affected him in no way that he killed her. That’s what we call a hate crime people.
So on top of all of this, I just mentioned the risk of getting arrested, well the police were generous with their arrests of transgender women at this time. I mentioned this once before but it was actually illegal to be transgender and if you were caught you could be arrested for it. They called I the crime “impersonating a female.“ Of course, sometimes they also just got arrested for “obstructing the sidewalk.”
Here’s a quote from Felicia Flames again, “If we had lipstick on, if we had mascara on, if our hair was too long, we had to put it under a cap. If the buttons was on the wrong side, like a blouse, they would take you to jail because they felt it was female impersonation.”
Another interviewee also said this: “The police could harass you at any time. They would ask you for pieces of ID. You had to have your male ID if you were born male and didn’t go through a sex change. They would pat you down, and while they’re patting you down, of course they’re feeling you up. They would arrest you and put you in the big van, Big Bertha, and drive you around town. When they turned a corner they turned sharply, so people would fall. They’d go over a bump, fast down the hill and make you look a mess by the time you got to the booking station.”
Plus, once they got to prison it was terrible there as well. They would force them to cut their hair so they looked like men again and if they refused they would throw that woman into the hole. One woman apparently was in solitary confinement for 60 days.
So, needless to say… Tensions were building among the transgender population. This had been going on for a long time and I’m sure that each second the passed – each moment that they had to feel like they couldn’t be themselves on the street for fear of being attacked – they felt more and more wronged and pissed and tense. And they had every right to be.
In the predawn hours of an August morning in 1966, a late-night argument between patrons grew physical. Police were summoned, and everyone knew what to expect next: Widespread arrests of anyone who looked like they weren’t wearing what their gender dictated.
So these cops walk in and walked up to one woman and put his hands on her. Now I don’t know because it wasn’t in any of the research whether that meant that he grabbed her to arrest her or if that meant he groped her… But either way tensions came to a head that night.
That woman stood up and threw her coffee in his face. And like a scene from a goddamn food fight in a movie the entire place kind of erupted. Women were throwing salt shakers through the glass windows, people were over turning tables, chairs and dishes were being thrown around… and outside, people realized what was going on and joined in. They were breaking the windows of squad cars and someone even lit a newsstand on fire.
So the police run out of the restaurant – probably either to arrest people or book it out of there – but the 60 people in the restaurant followed them out and joined in the riot that was happening outside.
It is said that the scene included drag queens and transgender women just beating the shit out of police with their big bags and their high heeled shoes. And I’m just picturing it as a slow fight scene and just, like, slow clap to that image. Girl fucking power.
Now, I do want to say that I realize that rioting can be a sensitive topic. We experienced a lot of riots in this country over the last several years. I lived in St. Louis when Michael Brown was killed and there were riots in Ferguson all throughout St. Louis. We saw the worldwide protests and riots that took place after George Floyd was murdered last year.
I know that a lot of people will say… we should not glorify the destruction of property or violence or lighting newsstands on fire. Is it the best best way to make headway toward progress or get your statement out in a positive way? Probably not. And a lot of people, especially folks who have never been in a place of oppression, talk about how that’s criminal and they should be arrested and they’re just making their lives worse and harder by doing these things… but I think that people who have never been oppressed can’t possibly understand the place these people are coming from.
I was just mentioning earlier this concept of the tension that builds. The pressure that rises inside of a community that is kept down and abused and brutalized for decades or longer. These are people who were not being treated like people for a long time. And for some reason on that night it was like the straw that broke the camel’s back and they had had enough and they just wanted to fight for their rights as humans. Not even as transgender people. Just as straight up human beings that deserved to be treated with respect and love and care.
So what happen after this riot. And why don’t we hear about it more? Well apparently at first there was a lot of joy after the riot. Yes a lot of these women went to jail but most of them were like “I do not care this has needed to happen for a long time.“ It was really the first time ever that they had stood up for themselves and said no we’re not gonna tolerate this anymore.
Of course, there were consequences that followed.
Immediately following the chaos, restaurant owners banned trans women and drag queens. The community picketed against the decision the following night, and Gene Compton’s replacement windows were soon reduced to shards on the sidewalk.
And it should have been a major news story… But it just wasn’t. No San Francisco news publication would touch the Compton’s Cafeteria riot; that’s why it’s unclear what day it actually occurred (a commemorative panel from 10 years ago simply gives the date as August 1966). To the press and public, LGBT people were so revolting then — in ’60s “peace and love” San Francisco, ironically — that even something as newsworthy as their Anchorman style street battle with police needed to be kept from innocent eyes. Rolling my eyes hard at that one.
Unfortunately things didn’t just change at the snap of a finger or the slap of a cop’s face. San Francisco specifically had a law against cross dressing that remained in effect until July 1974. But, some progress was made.
In the documentary I watched they highlighted one police officer named Elliott Blackstone. Now, honestly I wasn’t going to talk about him at all because he was part of the police force but the documentary made a couple of interesting points about him and what he did to stand up for these people so I changed my mind. Plus, no joke, in this documentary as like probably a 65-year-old man he says and I quote, “I knew very little about sexuality other than that I enjoyed sex.”
Anywho, Officer Blackstone was put on the Tenderloin beat as a young cop and as I just mentioned he didn’t know much about sexuality. But, instead of blindly hating these people that were different from him, he did something that was pretty cool – especially for a white, cisgendered, heterosexual man in the 1960s. He decided to not make assumptions based on his ignorance and instead expand his knowledge! First he talked to people and read a lot of just approached this thing that maybe was ‘scary’ because it was different with compassion. Basically, he just wanted to understand people better – and I think more of us need to do this today.
So, this felt pretty progressive and I’m glad I looked into him more because he was pretty instrumental in helping this population. He helped get laws against cross dressing changed, he stood up for transgender people in the tenderloin district, and he even helped create a group they called The National Transsexual Counseling Unit to offer social services to the trans community. He even served as the first ever liaison between police and the community.
One other thing that caught my eye as especially cool was the creation of the Center for Special Problems and it was a program that helped provide ID cards for trans people that had their preferred gender listed. This is really important because back then you could not go get a new ID with your new gender on it and so having this ID card with your gender helped them find legal employment much easier.
Sadly, Officer Blackstone’s department did not like that he was advocating for these people and eventually went ahead and planted some narcotics in his desk so he was let go from the police department.
So, obviously it is great that so many things improved after these brave people stood up for their rights. But honoring this moment in history also requires us to recognize and remember what we talked about at the top of this episode which is the fact that many of the hardships of 1966 remain for people in the trans community. As much as there’s been progress, the realities and disparities they face are still there.
We are still losing people to violence that is put upon them based solely on their sexuality and gender. And there are still a lot of people in this community struggling to survive because of the discrimination that they suffer. I know I’ve talked about it one other time on the podcast – don’t remember when or what episode – but in July of this year I was able to volunteer at an organization in St. Louis called the Metro Trans Umbrella Group and volunteering there gave me an opportunity to learn a little bit more about some of the real hardships placed on trans people even today in 2021. It’s still extremely difficult for them to receive proper healthcare, there still discriminated upon in the workplace, many of them suffer from homelessness and are targeted by police brutality still – and the number of incidents and assaults, etc. are likely VERY underreported when you hear some of the following statistics.
According to “How the Criminal Justice System Has Failed Transgender Americans”, “57% of trans people feel uncomfortable calling the police for help.” Trans people would feel uncomfortable calling the police because the police won’t see them as victims according to their gender. It has been reported that 58% of trans people who encountered police enforcement that knew they were transgender experience harassment and abuse from the police.
So, if you are a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and you’re struggling please reach out for help. I’m going to link all of these resources in the show notes, but for trans adults, the TransLifeline is a crisis line that is led and operated by only trans individuals. The Trevor Project is specifically for LGBTQ+ youth. If you need legal support, the National Center for Transgender Equality or your local ACLU offer great support.
And, everyone else – there are great resources out there about how to be better allies for our trans communities. The Trevor Project has resources, GLAAD does as well, and so does the Human Rights Campaign. Again, all linked in the show notes for you!
SO, I want to wrap up today’s story with a quote from a transgender woman named Donna Personna who was in attendance at the Compton’s Café Riot. She was asked recently about her thoughts on the trans community being more tolerated these days. She said…
“Tolerated? I am to be loved, adored and respected. Fuck that shit … Give me my rights.”Donna Personna
So, for any member of the trans community listening to this podcast, we just want you to know that you are loved. You are adored. You are respected.
Thank you so much for listening.
Trans Community Resources
If you are a member of the trans community and need support, several resources listed below:
- Trans Lifeline:
- US – (877) 565-8860
- Canada – (877) 330-6366
- The Trevor Project – https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/
- ACLU – https://www.aclu.org/
- National Center for Transgender Equality – https://transequality.org/
Allies of Trans Individuals, here are some great resources for you:
- GLAAD – https://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies
- Human Rights Campaign – https://www.hrc.org/resources/be-an-ally-support-trans-equality