Hello! And welcome to A Murderess Affair. My name is Gabrielle and this is the podcast about women in history known for mayhem and murder. Our woman of the week hails from the Russia, but before we talk about her let’s go through some quick updates!
We have a new logo! Very thoughtfully and wonderfully designed by my very own cousin Jackie, who you can find on instagram @mamacita_doll. She has some amazing artwork that she sells on etsy so if you’re interested definitely take a look there. I honestly love this new design so much, it’s perfect for this spooky season.
We’ll soon have merch with those new designs available for purchase so make sure to keep up to date with frumiousreads.com/shop. Also, check out our old merch designs still available for purchase on amazingly soft and comfy T-shirts for $15 a shirt. Those are only going to be around a little while longer so buy ‘em while you can!
Speaking of spooky, we are SO CLOSE to Halloween! I seriously cannot wait to celebrate my favorite holiday of the year. And what better way to celebrate throughout the month than by talking about a Russian noble who murdered many of the servants working there as a twisted sort of revenge for her lover having an affair with another woman.
Her name was Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, and she was the 3rd daughter of a wealthy Russian family. Her parents were both nobles, her father was Nikolai Avtonomovich and her mother is said to either be Anna Ivanovna Davydova or Tatiana Tutcheva, there’s some inaccuracy there. She married a noble officer, Gleb Axeyevish Saltykov when she was really young, and had two sons with him, Theodore and Nicholas. Her first husband ended up dying, and she was a widow with 2 kids by the time she was 25 years old. She was also now the owner of a large house in Moscow with a lot of land and workers, called “serfs”. It’s estimated that at least 600 serfs worked on the land. She was known then as the richest widow in Moscow.
She came off as a very gloomy and withdrawn woman, understandable given that she had been married and widowed so quickly. She was also seen as very pious, who would donate money and resources to churches and monasteries. But, like many other royals that we’ve mentioned on this podcast who demonstrated such great charity, her seemingly pious nature hid a truly dark secret.
Saltykova eventually met a very young and handsome man named Nikolay Tyutchev, the grandfather of famous Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev. She appeared to be very happy at this time period, but ultimately this brief happiness did not last. Nikolay was having an affair with another woman, a young serf whom he eventually married in a secret church ceremony. The secret didn’t last long, and when Saltykova found out she flew into blind rage, and attempted to murder Nikolay for his betrayal.
Which, as someone who’s been cheated on, that’s fair. I don’t begrudge her too much for that.
Fortunately for Nikolay, unfortunately for everyone who was left behind to suffer under Saltykova’s horrible rule, he was able to escape to a family’s residence in Moscow before fleeing from the area altogether.
Saltykova, filled with rage and betrayal, turned her murderous feelings towards the female serfs who worked on her land. It was said that she especially targeted those who were young and blonde. She would beat them, breaking bones of children and pregnant women alike. She would throw them naked out of the estate in the snow, or pour boiling water on them while naked. The list of tortures goes on, and were specifically aimed towards women. At least, the physical torture was.
She didn’t make a habit of killing men, although 3 did die due to her treatment. Rather, she would instead kill those who were close to the men she chose, such as wives or children. One of the men in her service lost three wives due to her cruelty and tortures.
As is typical of those who hold a position of power, many complaints about her treatment and crimes were ignored or brushed away due to her influence and connection to powerful members of the royal court.
Eventually, the families of those victims, grieving for their loss, put enough pressure and made enough public outcry that Saltykova was finally tried and convicted.
There’s a message there, definitely, about not letting those in power silence you. Something I feel like is extremely important to bring up in the wake of the many injustices that have been happening under this administration. November 3rd is coming closer and closer everyone, make sure you get your vote in on time.
Anyway, back to Saltykova.
It all came to a head when the man who had three different wives killed while in service to Saltykova, who was named Ermolay Ilyin, and another serf named Sakhvely Martynov both fled from the mansion estate to St. Petersburg and brought a petition before the empress, Catherine II. It ended up being an extremely smart move on their part, turns out that Empress Catherine was actually putting forth a lawfulness initiative. So, not only did she instruct the College of Justice to begin an investigation into the accusations that had been made against Saltykova, she also decided to try her publicly in order to make an example of her.
Saltykova was arrested in 1762 and was held for 6 years while the investigation was conducted. Many of the witnesses and surviving victims were terrified of talking, understandably so considering the fact that the many times before people HAD tried talking it usually led to misery and torture. But, investigators were still able to put together information based on what they were presented.
According to forensics, over about 6-7 years Saltykova murdered 139 people, only 3 of those being men and the rest being women. Records of the Saltykova estate were examined, and slowly but surely more and more witnesses came forward, once they saw that this wasn’t something that Saltykova was going to be able to make disappear.
In fact, during this entire time Saltykova was unrepentant. She refused to make a statement as to whether she was guilty or innocent, proved herself to be of sound mind, and did nothing but taunt the priest when he came to try and gather her confession.
In the end, she was only formally found guilty of 38 murders out of the 139 she was connected to. Empress Catherine was unsure how to continue with her punishment, as the death penalty had been outlawed by Russia.
On October 2, 1768 Saltykova was given a life imprisonment instead of capital punishment. She technically went through two different sentencing, one in the Ivanovsky Cloister, and then another “civil execution” ceremony on Red Square in Moscow. At the Red Square, she was publicly beaten before being chained in front of the crowd gathered there for an hour with a sign around her neck saying “This woman has tortured and murdered.” After that hour, she was taken to serve life imprisonment in the basement of a convent.
She was kept in 24 hour guard in a windowless wooden room, in complete darkness. A nun would bring her meals along with a candle, but after she was finished eating the candle would be taken away.
This place was known as the Moscow cloister, where many women who were of noble or royal families would be taken after being accused of crimes. It basically comes off as being this dark hole where women who’d made political waves or an embarrassment of families with influence would be hidden to serve their sentences.
Now, Saltykova was actually not kept with these women, but instead in the basement in total darkness. But, after 11 years she was moved to the monastery buildings to serve out the remainder of her sentence there. The new cell had a window that would allow the guards and women to keep an eye on those inside, and Saltykova would oftentimes spit at those she saw watching her, try to stab them with a stick or other sharp objects that she would create inside her cell, or otherwise provoke them by screaming and yelling profanities.
She died at 71 years old, on November 27 1801. All in all, she was in prison for a total of 33 years.
And that, is the story of Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova.