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The Bluebeard
"And oft she saw the closet door,
and longed to look inside.
At last she could no more refrain,
and turned the little key,
And looked within, and fainted straight
the horrid sight to see;
For there upon the floor was blood,
and on the walls were wives,
For Bluebeard first had married them,
then cut their throats with knives."

The Spear Counterpart of the Black Widow, the Bluebeard is a man who appears charming but hides a nefarious secret: he keeps marrying women and then murdering them.

Unlike the Black Widow, the Bluebeard is rarely motivated by greed, though in Real Life, historically that was a fairly common motivation. Often, he just does it for kicks or as the epitome of Domestic Abuse.

Named after the famous fairy tale. Not to be confused with Red Right Hand, although the Trope Namer's beard fell under that category. Not to be confused with the character from Felidae either. Nor with Captain Colorbeard; Bluebeards usually aren't pirates.


Examples:

Animeand Manga
  • A Lupin III episode dealt with this: a rich man married 99 women, murdered them, and encased their bodies in wax so he could preserve them. He planned to add Fujiko to his collection, but Lupin and the gang put a stop to that.
  • In Shinigami Hime No Saikon, Lord Kashburn's father was one of these. Originally, he lured noblewomen with the promise of wealth, then murdered them; when the money ran out, he moved onto the servants and farmers' daughters. In the end, Kashburn killed him.

Comic Books
  • Bluebeard appears in the comic book Fables, although his wife-killing days are supposedly behind him.
  • In the Grimm Fairy Tales version, the wife who opens the room finds what she feared: His previous wives' bodies, lots of blood, and all that. On his return, he flies into a rage, and she manages to stab him. Only then does she learn the truth. The room was enchanted, and had shown her what she feared to see. He was only looking for a wife who could trust him.
  • The Haunt of Fear (one of the original 1950s comics on which Tales from the Crypt is based) had a one-off story about a woman who discovers her new husband is Bluebeard's great-great-grandson and has indeed killed off all his previous wives. Predictably, he kills her as well so she can't tell anyone.

Fairy Tales
  • The Bluebeard from the 1697 fairy tale kept murdering his wives, reasoning that they had fallen to their curiosity by opening the door he had strictly forbidden for them to open. Traditionally, the room behind the forbidden door contains the bodies of his previous wives. Earlier versions use this as a moral for women not to disobey their husbands or get too curious. In a few versions, the story itself gets inverted to serve this message: specifically, the wife successfully resists the temptation to look, and this somehow grants her power over her husband to make him do whatever she says when he returns from his trip and finds himself deprived of his excuse to kill her.
  • A variation of this tale appears in many versions of "The Robber Bridegroom".
  • Fitcher's Bird is another variation — the main difference is that the bride rescues herself.
  • The bride in the Child Ballad The Outlandish Knight manages to save her life. "Six pretty maidens have you drowned here/And the seventh has drowned thee."
  • There is a version that completely subverts the story with a Perspective Flip. Bluebeard strictly forbids his wife from entering a particular room, but when she does, she finds that the room is perfectly normal and empty. It turns out that Bluebeard simply uses the room as a private place to rest when he doesn't want to be disturbed. He's understandably pissed when he finds out that his wife entered the room when he asked her not to, and ends up divorcing her and kicking her out of the house for her lack of trust.
  • Mr Fox is another version of this story, where the woman discovers the dead women and witnesses the mutilation of one of them. She presents the evidence to Fox, who flees, but is torn apart by villagers and their dogs. Unusually for the trope, the title character appears to be at least partially motivated by greed, as he takes special interest in one victim's diamond ring.
  • There is an Italian version called "Il Naso D'argento" ("The Silver Nose"). The "stranger" has a silver nose, and he is actually the Devil. The Forbidden Room is Hell, where he threw the first two disobedient wives. The wife's little sister, however, manages to save them. The 'silver nose' was typically a prosthetic nose used by men who suffered from severe syphilis, which could cause the nose to fall off. It would have been an early warning that the stranger was not very trustworthy.

Film
  • The villain in Souls for Sale marries women, takes out insurance policies on them, and kills them.
  • The title character of the Charlie Chaplin film Monsieur Verdoux.
  • Legendary screen cad George Sanders essays a modern-day (as in circa 1960) version of the role in Bluebeard's Ten Honeymoons.
  • Played fairly straight in the early-'60s French film Landru, based upon the story of Henri Landru (see the Real Life entry below).
  • There is Catherine Breillat's film version of the legend.
  • The bad Richard Burton film Bluebeard (1972) ups the ante by making Bluebeard a No Swastikas Nazi Nobleman, and, for additional Squick, throwing in a dash of I Love the Dead.
  • The title character of the horror movie The Stepfather marries women with children, only to slaughter them when they fall short of his expectations. He has ridiculously high standards, and so he goes through families fairly quickly.
  • Corpse Bride: Emily's fiancé Lord Barkis. He killed Emily before their wedding and took her money and family jewellery, and she became known in the underworld as "Corpse Bride", waiting for her true love she could marry. The villain wants to do the same with one more girl, and perhaps there were more unfortunate ladies.
  • Harry Powell from The Night of the Hunter. The film's main plot is him chasing after the children of his latest victim.
  • In the original House on Haunted Hill (1959), eccentric millionaire Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) is currently on his fourth wife. The first one disappeared, and the second two died of heart attacks, despite being in their 20s. At the end of the film, he frightens his fourth wife to death, but only because she was plotting to kill him for his money. It's implied that her predecessors may have been similarly interested in becoming rich young widows.
  • Fritz Lang's Secret Beyond the Door (1948) combines the Bluebeard motif with a hefty helping of Hollywood Psych.
  • Implied to be the case with Blue in Sucker Punch.
  • Spoofed in the old Italian comedy Le Sei Mogli di Barbablu, starring the great Toto (Antonio De Curtis). Bluebeard's previous wives in this one, including a young Sophia Loren in one of her first roles, haven't actually been killed, but are being held in suspended animation, and are revived by Toto.
  • A variant occurs in the 1942 grade-Z horror movie The Corpse Vanishes, starring Bela Lugosi. Lugosi's character is running a scheme where high-society brides are being put into a near-death state in the midst of their weddings, then abducted, having their blood drawn to provide the raw material for a formula which is intended to keep Lugosi's wife in a state of eternal youth, and then killed. The Intrepid Reporter who investigates the case finds the bodies of several of the victims in morgue drawers when she goes poking through the villain's lair.
  • The 1934 movie The Black Cat. This time, Bela Lugosi plays an ex-prisoner of war whose wife and daughter were married, then murdered by his evil rival (played by Boris Karloff.) Karloff's character was a Satanist who preserved his murdered wives and displayed them in his creepy house.
  • Invoked in Batman Forever. Dick Grayson asks what's behind a door (it contains the hidden entrance to the Batcave), and Alfred replies, "Master Wayne's dead wives."
  • Uncle Charlie in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt is one, although his motivation has more to do with being a misogynistic Serial Killer than it does with greed.
  • In The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter has a book titled Bluebeard on the shelf by his computer, perhaps as a hint to Peter falling in love with and eventually (accidentally) killing Gwen.

Literature
  • The Sultan in the framing device of the Arabian Nights stories is an extreme version, except that he makes no secret about it and has his wives executed. He kills off all his wives after one night to prevent their becoming unfaithful. The stories are told by his latest wife, Scheherezade, who uses a series of Cliffhangers to keep him interested enough to delay her execution. By the time she runs out of stories, it's been years and she has birthed the Sultan several children, and he realizes he is madly in love with her.
  • Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber has a "Bluebeard" retelling.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay's sonnet "Bluebeard".
  • There's a short story called "Captain Murderer", in which the titular character keeps marrying women and, a month after the wedding, asks them to make him a pie... and when they're done making the pastry, he kills them and uses their flesh as the pie filling. He gets done in when a girl whose sister was killed by him catches on to the plot, marries him, and, just before he kills her, poisons herself. He eats her and dies from the poison.
  • In The Shining, Danny recalls Bluebeard as he opens the door to a certain hotel room.
  • In Which Witch?, the ghost haunting Arriman's home murdered a ridiculously long line of wives and spends his death hitting his head in grief. This is Played for Laughs when he is brought back to life and does absolutely nothing but prattle on about his wives and how he killed them for the most petty reasons (having a small, yappy dog, smelling bad, eating too much, etc). The protagonists eventually are rid of him by hooking him up with Madame Olympia, who was infamous for murdering her husbands. After the two run off, there's speculation as to which will off the other first.
  • Lord Laphroig of Terry Brooks' Magic Kingdom of Landover series. Like Henry VIII, it was in order to produce a male heir. (And then he killed the heir and his mother when he found a better match in the daughter of the king.)
  • In Dorothy Gilman's The Clairvoyant Countess, the stepfather murdered his stepdaughter after her mother had left her all the money; it turned out he had murdered the mother as well, and a fair number of earlier brides.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Downplayed by House Bolton, which goes through wives (and other... sources of entertainment) at a very alarming rate. Ramsay has killed only one and severely domestically abused the other — although it's pretty plain he'd probably increase the number of horribly dead wives, given the chance. He's hardly secretive about it, either. However, his father has gone through two wives under mysterious circumstances, as well. House Bolton has, from time to time, had this reputation for centuries. Increasingly while reading, you suspect it's not been without cause. And, probably, played rather straighter for some than others.
    • Gregor Clegane doesn't have any known kids. That's because his wives (and other partners) tend to die before they have a chance to either get conceived or born thanks to horrific Domestic Abuse and his general For the Evulz tendencies. It is known that he's been married a few times (certainly twice). The problem is, none of his wives ever gets given a name. Nor is anybody, even in-universe, quite sure how many times he has actually been married. Even his brother doesn't know: not that Sandor would have bothered to keep track, anyway. He knows what his brother is like... all too well.
    • Cregan Karstark has, like Gregor and Roose above, had two wives for (presumably) political reasons. Both are also rather suspiciously dead without any children having had the chance to occur. He was planning on a third wife (his cousin)... except she made a break for it and put a spanner in that plan of his and his father's. Even describing this trope as one of her major reasons why she's wild about the idea of Taking A Third Option, as she quite honestly assumes that she'd also wind up "accidentally" dying. With the caveat on only after her produced at least one male heir for Karhold to solidify his hold on her claim to it.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Gaspard, the reputably insane Count of Lorn has married, and suspiciously lost, three wives. This trope is one possible explanation for this. (The other is that the wives are being assassinated by the Count's younger brother, who wishes to inherit the family title.)

Live-Action TV
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer's episode "Ted", Ted is an android who kills his spouses — and is Buffy's mother's newest boyfriend. Perhaps he just stuck them in the closet and left them, since his goal was to bring his creator's wife back.
  • A Fractured Fairytale show put a twist on this trope — the Bluebeard sold his wives' souls to the devil, to represent the Seven Deadly Sins. In the end, his seventh wife catches him in his own trap.
  • Naturally, shows up on Tales from the Crypt, with the expected comeuppance: his now-dead wives lure him to their graveyard, declaring they can't live... or die... without him.
  • Domestic Abuser Michael Dobson, played by Larry Miller on Law & Order, had his wives killed by hitmen on two separate occasions for the insurance money.
  • In one episode of The Closer they encounter a man who is in the habit of marrying Japanese women and killing them. When he's discovered he's already killed two wives (plus his four-year-old daughter from the second marriage) and has a new girlfriend, who claims he saved her and her son from her abusive husband back in Japan.
  • One of the killers whose statue is displayed in The Twilight Zone episode "The New Exhibit."
  • Played for laughs with the character Dr. Mickhead from the series Scrubs. He's suspected of murdering his wife, and it's an Open Secret amongst the Sacred Heart staff, and several scenes has him attempting to hide evidence(including giving a hammer to JD's then-girlfriend for safekeeping) before getting carted off in handcuffs.
  • An episode of Grimm was based on this story, although he wasn't killing them, but keeping them for breeding.

Music
  • Joanna Newsom's "Go Long" is a version of "Bluebeard".
  • Lady Ga Ga's boyfriend in the video for "Paparazzi" is implied to be one.
  • The traditional ballad "False Sir John" is about one wife-killer.
  • The seventh track of Sound Horizon's album Märchen, "Aoki Hakushaku no Shiro" (meaning "the blue earl's castle"), deals with this story.

Opera
  • Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle is a Freudian re-examination of the story. His castle is his subconscious, and Judith (wife #4) is casting light on his past by opening up every door with him, hand in hand. It doesn't end well...
  • Offenbach also wrote an opera on this story

Newspaper Comics

Oral Tradition
  • On a singles cruise, a woman meets a handsome, but older man. She talks to him, and they're hitting it off, when the man mentions he's a widower. "Oh, you are?" she asks. "Yes, I've had three wives, and they all died." "Oh, my god, what happened?" "Well, the first one... she ate poisoned mushrooms." "Really?" "Yes, and the second one... really tragic, she also ate poisoned mushrooms." "My goodness! What about the third one?" "Well, she was strangled to death." "Strangled! What happened?" "She wouldn't eat the mushrooms."

Poetry
  • A limerick by Ogden Nash:
    An elderly bride of Port Jervis
    Was quite understandably nervous
    Since her apple-cheeked groom
    With three wives in the tomb
    Kept insuring her during the service!

Tabletop Games
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The folkloric Bluebeard rules one of the realms in the Ravenloft setting.
      • There is also the nosferatu darklord of Valachan, who frequently marries young beautiful women; however, no matter his original intentions, his tailor-made curse invariably makes him more and more mistrustful of his current bride each day, until he snaps and kills them in a paranoid rage. None of his brides survived to see their first anniversary so far.

Theme Parks

Video Games
  • Nikolai Belinski, the Russian soldier in Nazi Zombies, has murdered at least five of his wives. Some of his weapon pickup quotes have him remarking on how it's the same one he shot one of them with. To be fair though, she was a bitch.
  • Zoltan Carnovasch from the first Phantasmagoria was made for this trope, with Don almost following in his footsteps.
  • The freeware Doom-engine game Judith, in which a series of flashbacks of a wife finding a secret room in her husband's castle with a torture victim inside and the subsequent mercy-killing of the victim leads to the wife encountering a particularly haunting version of this trope.
  • Dupin and the player character must outwit one of these in the Dark Tales series.
  • A popular strategy in Crusader Kings II is "Bluebearding" - marrying women for their dowries and high birth, assassinating them, and repeating the process. Despite the otherwise good AI, the Villain Protagonist will suffer no repercussions for his actions, unlike most of the evil strategies in the game.
    • This is often removed by GameMods, however, on the grounds of historical accuracy.

Webcomics
  • Bruno the Bandit tries this as one of his many schemes in Old Money. Too bad his new "beloved" turns out to be not just an old rich woman, but also the Black Widow.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • General Tarquin has had nine wives: while we know that he simply divorced the first one (Elan and Nale's mother), the ninth recently died 'of mysterious circumstances'. It also turns out that some of his former wives were convinced to marry him through brutal torture. It's also distinctly possible that when he said he was going out of the way to keep from having children (he didn't want an heir), he meant he was killing his wives for getting pregnant.
    • Subverted in the case of Tarquin's ninth wife, who really did die due to mysterious circumstances. She was distantly related to a certain black dragon whose family line Vaarsuvius cast the infamous Familicide spell upon.

Web Original

Western Animation
  • In Code Monkeys, Gameavision head honcho Larrity has had seven wives, all of which have died under mysterious circumstances. Added to the creepiness factor is that he has several of them stuffed and on display in either his office or his vault.
  • In The Venture Bros., Baron Ünderbheit has the heads of his seven ex-wives mounted on his dining room wall.

Real Life
  • "Bluebeard" is the official FBI designation for this type of Serial Killer.
  • Some believe that the fairy tale has its origins in Conomor the Cursed, known for murdering his wives as soon as they got pregnant.
  • Henri Landru is an infamous Truth in Television example who was motivated by greed.
  • Henry VIII, who had six wives, is often considered to be a Bluebeard despite the fact that "only" two of said wives (second wife Anne Boleyn and fifth wife Catherine Howard) got the axe, both convicted of adultery. Two of the others (first wife Catherine of Aragon and fourth wife Anne of Cleves) were divorced, the third (Jane Seymour) died of natural causes after producing a male heir, and the last one (Catherine Parr) survived him. His reputation in this area is augmented by the fact that he had plenty of other people executed over the political and religious complications involved in his High Turnover Rate of wives. In that time period Catherine of Aragon's death was attributed to him as well, with rumors of him or Anne Boleyn poisoning her, or his imprisoning her in a decrepit castle undermining her health, or even that she died of a broken heart. (Modern historians attribute her death to heart cancer.)
  • Drew Peterson, a former cop from Illinois who has been married four times — to increasingly younger women, to the point that his 4th wife, whom he began dating when she was 17, was 30 years his junior — physically abused all of his wives, cheated on the 2nd wife with the woman who would become his 3rd, and cheated on her with the girl who would become his 4th. He was recently convicted of the murder of his 3rd wife and is the sole suspect in the disappearance and likely murder of his 4th. Ironically, had his 4th wife not vanished, cops would probably have never taken a second look at his 3rd wife's death, which had heretofore been believed to be an accidental drowning.
  • Robert Weeks. In 1968, his wife Patricia disappeared after a dinner date in which they were to hash out the terms of their divorce. Her car was later found abandoned at a local shopping mall. In 1980, his girlfriend Cynthia Jabour disappeared after a dinner date in which she intended to break off the relationship. Her car was found abandoned in a casino parking lot. Three guesses what happened to his next girlfriend, Carol Ann Riley. In April 1988, Weeks was convicted of murdering Patricia and Cynthia, even though no trace of them, Carol Ann, or his male business partner (who had apparently discovered his unscrupulous business dealings) was ever found.
  • John David Smith's first and second wives disappeared without a trace. Each had complained that he was abusive and controlling and each was planning to file for divorce. While his first wife's remains were eventually found and he was convicted of her murder, his second wife's whereabouts are still unknown.
  • So called "dowry deaths" are still pretty common in certain parts of India, despite the fact that dowry has been prohibited by law since 1961.

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