Hottest Hell Tours: Revealing the True Stories of New Orleans

Adjunct history professor Bond Ruggles runs a guided tour company offering entertaining, historically accurate, adult-only tours, proving the old adage that truth is stranger, and often more macabre, than fiction.

On any given day or night, you’re bound to run into tour groups clustered around arm-waving guides, crowding the French Quarter’s sidewalks. In a city that plays host to nearly 20 million visitors each year, tours are omnipresent, most of which regaling spine-tingling stories about reputed hauntings, vicious vampires and Voodoo . . . but are any of these terrifying tales true?

Bond Ruggles, co-founder and owner of Hottest Hell Tours, believes they should be. Moreover, she seeks to correct the inherent flaws in the way these stories are told. “I cannot be part of a company with all of these problematic, ‘Lost Cause’ mythologies and ideologies which continue to persist in Southern ghost stories,” says Ruggles.

Over the past decade, antiquated stories beguiling tourists with a fairy tale-like view of the antebellum South have been getting a much-needed overhaul. For example, guests visiting the historic Whitney Plantation in Edgard, Louisiana are now treated to the real story, one which no longer glosses over 200 years of slavery, America’s most horrifying legacy.

As an adjunct professor and life-long student of American history, Ruggles began tour-guiding nearly a decade ago, both here in New Orleans and in Charleston, North Carolina. Striving to provide both entertainment and authenticity, she made it a point to always do her research. While guiding, she frequently noticed people pulling out their phones, fact checking the tales she spun. “I don’t think people want the wool pulled over their eyes.”

Conflicting opinions and management styles caused Ruggles to leave the New Orleans tour company she worked for after a few years, and several guides who shared her beliefs left with her. “They wanted me to start my own [company], and at first I didn’t want to.” Completing her MA at the College of Charleston while working was all-consuming and Ruggles wasn’t sure she could take it on. But, after serious consideration and urging from her former co-workers, she decided to give it a go.

When Hottest Hell Tours was founded in 2019, it began as a partnership that lasted several years, but in the fall of 2022 Ruggles secured an SBA loan to buy her partners out. “Now I really get to do things my way.” says Bond. From the company’s inception, Ruggles (and her co-founders) wanted to tell the real French Quarter stories. Hottest Hell Tours not only has its own bevvy of gruesome tales to tell, they’ve also re-framed many oft-told local mythologies, highlighting the grim truths of our city’s past, not shying away from topics which should be at the forefront including the grisly treatment of enslaved African peoples; and the overwhelming misogyny found all too often in Southern ghost stories.

In fact, one of the first research papers Ruggles ever wrote picked apart several local legends, including the infamous story of Madam Delphine LaLaurie, a horror story which continues to haunt a hearer’s heart long after the tale is told. “I took other people’s research and demonstrated where sometimes they ignored evidence,” says Ruggles. “Or they bought into the perpetuation of the myth, which are facts included for convenience, not truth.”

As the legend goes, Madame Delphine LaLaurie was a wealthy socialite who was not only reputed to be a “black widow’, a serial killer who mysteriously offed her former husbands, she also supposedly tortured and murdered the African slaves in her household. In her research and her tours, Ruggles doesn’t excuse the wretched behavior of Delphine LaLaurie, after all, she was a slave owner, no different than her male counterparts. But this doesn’t alter the factual mis-telling and mis-representation in the way the story is told, a framework offering no credit to the horrific treatment of enslaved people, instead commodifying them, all while ignoring the prevalent social issues of the time.

Another overlooked, if not wholly ignored, fact was that Louis Nicolas LaLaurie, Delphine’s 3rd husband, was a “a dentist who claimed to be an orthopedic doctor, even though orthopedics didn’t really exist until 30 years after his death.” There’s also mountains of irrefutable evidence of medical experimentation on indigenous and enslaved peoples in the United States, which poses an obvious question. Why was Delphine blamed for the atrocities discovered after the fire? Especially when we know Delphine was afraid of her husband and reported him for what we now call domestic violence in an effort to separate from him. More importantly, what happened to those tortured, mutilated souls they discovered? Were they hospitalized?

“They were taken over to the Presbytère, near the Cabildo and laid out behind the wall so people could come and gawk at them,” says Ruggles. “Lets be real about why this story is so awful. It has nothing to do with Delphine or Louis LaLaurie, it has to do with the institution of slavery.”

The legend of New Orleans Voodoo and its queen Marie Laveau is another story often told by local tour companies. An African diasporic religion, Louisiana or New Orleans Voodoo is an amalgam of West African religions, Christianity (specifically Catholicism) and Haitian Vodou. Many stories about Voodoo tend to demonize it, citing the secretive and “witchy” practices of casting curses, malicious gris-gris, and Voodoo dolls bristling with stick pins.

Doug Presley, Senior Trainer for Hottest Hell Tours

Tour guide (and celebrity impersonator) Doug Presley offers a different perspective of Voodoo in the Gates of Guinee, a tour he leads (and wrote) for Hottest Hell. While walking from Congo Square to Pere Antoine Alley, Presley educates visitors about Voodoo and Laveau’s life through an insightful retelling which highlights her cleverness, business acumen, compassion and unerring community involvement. His narrative also excitedly embraces the Voodoo religion itself, one birthed in New Orleans by enslaved peoples in an effort to retain their West African faiths.

Hottest Hell Tours offers terrifying tales about the appalling treatment of prisoners at the old Parish Prison; the burgeoning American Mafia; our city’s notorious, unknown serial killer, the Axeman; savvy Madames, sex-circuses and the red-light-district aka Storyville’s role in the birth of jazz. Their chronicles seek to educate, as well as entertain, “it’s supposed to make you ask more questions, want to know more, do more, and research more.” says Ruggles. “We’re not going to trick you, we’re not gonna BS you. We’re going to give you a good time, but we’re also going to give you the good the bad, and the ugly.”

French Quarter residents interested in trying a Hottest Hell tour are invited to reach out to Bond Ruggles at

*A version of this article was originally published in French Quarter Journal

**Lead image of Bond Ruggles taken by Ellis Anderson

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