The bizarre life of the murderous French fortuneteller La Voisin

Parisian, fortune teller, serial killer, secret abortionist, poisoner, clairvoyant, black mass priestess, businesswoman, possible sociopath: quite a resume for one person. But this list of crimes and occult practices did indeed belong to a single individual: Catherine Monvoisin. Born Catherine Deshayes, La Voisin ("The Neighbor," as she came to be known) lived from 1640-1680 under the reign of King Louis XIV, as outlined on Headstuff. La Voisin's tale quickly turns from sympathetic to bizarre, and is one of ambition, opportunism, manipulation, subterfuge, and ever-escalating violence that eventually led to La Voisin being burned at the stake while drunk.

Drawn to esotericism from an early age, La Voisin started her career very simply: reading palms out of her home when her husband's business failed. As a child, La Voisin had shown a talent for what was referred to as "cold readings," meaning she was exceptionally good at reading people, and so developed her talent for "fortune telling." Non-Christian beliefs were taboo at the time, but many individuals believed there was a spiritual, or even scientific, basis for occult powers. This cultural belief, plus La Voisin's shrewd mind and oratorical skills, would lead to her being acquitted of heresy when brought before the professors at the Sorbonne theological college. 

Leading up to then, La Voisin's reputation had grown, and she had caught the attention of some high-profile clients within the French nobility. She'd also expanded her services to performing abortions, or otherwise disposing of unwanted children.

Doubling down and expanding services

After facing down the Sorbonne, La Voisin started consulting with people not only about fortune telling, but how to change their fortunes. What began as recommendations to pray to saints quickly became the selling of magic charms. La Voisin was drawn into the occult community within Paris, including alleged "sorcerer" Adam Lesage, and was eventually approached by Marquise Françoise-Athénaïs de Montespan, who wanted to seduce King Louis XIV, himself.

In truly business-savvy style, La Voisin upped her game and held a full-on black mass for Montespan in her basement, gave Montespan a potion, and shortly thereafter, Montespan did indeed become lover to the king. By 1673, though, Louis was becoming disinterest in Montespan, so naturally, La Voisin staged a baby sacrifice using pigeons's blood in a dark basement to appease her client. As a result, La Voisin's fame grew, and she expanded her services to poisoning. She then became embroiled in a realm of entanglements, assassinations attempts, and intrigue between nobility, and like Walter White's meth empire, her poison empire expanded.

Eventually, Paris officials began a campaign to cleanse the city of corruption. When fellow poisoner Marie Bosse got drunk at party in 1679 and started bragging about the money she earned from selling poison, she was arrested. This led to a sting on La Voisin, who was ultimately burned at the stake after convincing her guards to give her all the food and alcohol she wanted the night before her execution.