Crime, Vampiric

Crime, Vampiric

(pop culture)

The great majority of people labeled as “real” vampires during the last two centuries manifested symptoms of what psychologists call hematomania, a blood fetish. (Sexual pleasure and other psychological needs of persons with this condition are met by the regular consumption of human blood, occasionally in conjunction with the eating of human flesh.) Presumably most of those who regularly drank blood located legal means of obtaining it, usually from a willing donor. Some, however, turned to crime, and a few joined the list of the West’s most notorious serial killers. The modern stream of vampiric crime related to hematomania had its precedent in the career of Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560–1614), who allegedly killed more than 600 people for their blood.

The Marquis de Sade and Gilles de Rais are frequently listed among the modern vampiric criminals, but the list of crimes attributed to neither included the drinking of the blood they might have shed. There is a distinction between those who draw pleasure from killing people or from the drawing of blood and those vampiric types who derive pleasure from its consumption. Likewise there is a distinction between people who drink blood for the overpowering pleasure it brings and those who occasionally sip blood (usually of an animal) as part of a religious ritual and believe they draw some supernatural power from the otherwise repulsive act.

Several vampiric killers emerged in the nineteenth century. The earliest reported case was that of a man named Sorgel, a German who killed a man in the forest and drank his blood in an attempt to cure himself of epilepsy. His actions led to his arrest and confinement in an asylum. That same year Antoine Léger killed a 12-year-old girl, drank her blood, and ate her heart. After his execution, Sorgel’s brain was examined by pathologists.

A more famous incident involved Sergeant Françoise Bertrand (1824–1849), who was arrested in 1849 in Paris for opening the graves of the dead and eating flesh from the corpses. While termed a vampire by some, he engaged in much more ghoul-like behavior, and went on to become the model of one of the more successful novels about werewolves, including The Werewolf of London. A generation later, in 1886, Henri Blot was arrested for a similar crime. He was caught because he fell into a sleep-like hypnotic trance after completing his work. He was apprehended quickly; he had violated only two bodies.

The United States has been home to one vampire killer, seaman James Brown. In 1967 Brown was discovered aboard his ship, a fishing boat on its way to Labrador, sucking the blood from the body of a crewman he had murdered. He had already killed and drained another sailor. He was arrested and returned to Boston. Brown was sentenced to life in prison, where he killed at least two more people and drank their blood. Following the second killing, he was sent to the National Asylum in Washington, D.C., where he remained confined in a padded cell until he died.

Fritz Haarmann (1879–1924) is another famous vampiric killer. By the time of his arrest and execution in 1924 in Germany, he had killed and cannibalized more than 20 people. However, during the last several years, he also began to bite and suck the blood of his victims. Contemporary with Haarmann was Peter Kürten (1883–1931), also from Germany. Kürten killed first as a nine-year-old boy. He killed again in 1913. Then in 1929 he began a series of ghoulish crimes in which he stabbed and then mutilated his victims. At the height of his crime spree in August of that year, he killed nine people, mostly young women. His initial excitement at killing someone gave way to a fixation on blood. He began to drink the blood of his victims, continuing even after the blood he consumed made him sick. In one case he bit and drank from the wound. Finally arrested in 1930, he was executed the following year.

Through the twentieth century a number of reports of vampirelike criminals have surfaced. A few, such as John George Haigh (1910–1949) and Richard Chase, became famous. Others received no more than passing notice. During the 1940s, Haigh operated out of a home in London. There he killed his victims, drained their blood, and then disposed of the bodies in a vat of sulfuric acid. Richard Chase (1950–1980) began his crime spree in Sacramento, California, in December 1977, when he shot and killed a man. The following month, he killed again, and this time he drank his victim’s blood. He continued this practice in a string of killings in January, until his arrest at the end of the month. It turned out that as early as 1974, he had killed a cat and drunk its blood. In the following years he killed a number of animals and drank their blood in hopes that it would improve his physical health. After his arrest he moved through a complex legal process, including scrutiny of his sanity. Tried and convicted of multiple murders, he was sentenced to death, but cheated the executioner by committing suicide.

The most famous case of vampire-related crime in recent years has been that of Roderick Justin “Rod” Ferrell (1980–) and the small “Vampire Clan” he led. Ferrell claimed to be Vesago, a 500-year-old vampire. The product of a teenage marriage that quickly fell apart, his mother abandoned him during his teen years. Shortly thereafter he began to adopt his vampire persona. He was known to spend time in cemeteries through the evening hours. While he became delinquent with schoolwork and attendance, he became active in the role-playing game “Vampire: The Masquerade”, through which he came to know a wide range of people interested in vampirism.

In the spring of 1996, Ferrell reconnected by telephone with an old girlfriend, Heather Wendorf, who apparently told Rod that her parents were hurting her and that she wanted him to come get her, but that he would have to kill them to do so. In November 1996, Ferrell and several companions went to Florida, met up with Wendorf, killed her parents, and fled the state. They would later be arrested in Louisiana. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in 1998 and currently (2009) awaits execution.

Beginning in the 1990s, the media developed an interest in “vampire” related crime and regularly gave wide coverage to any cases that in any way related to vampiric activity. The advent of the Internet facilitated the wide dissemination of the accounts of such crimes and related court action. While most vampire crimes concern serial killers who in some manner include blood drinking in their crimes, it would also include any crimes in which the killer was motivated by the blood of the victim, any crime committed by someone involved in the vampire subculture, and any crime directed against people who have developed a vampire persona. A reminder that many folk beliefs about vampires survive around the world occurred in 2007 in Guyana when three people were arrested for killing a woman who had wandered into the town of Bare Root. Shortly after she appeared, a resident saw a child with a red mark on her chest, an indication of a “Old Higue,” a traditional vampire in the East African-based vampire beliefs of the country. Vampires, there, are women who may shed their skin and fly around drinking the blood of small children and infants. The woman was called out as a possible vampire and several techniques applied to identify her. In the end, she was stabbed and left to die. The woman turned out to be a person suffering from a mental disorder and incapable of rationally responding to the people who initially encountered her. Several vampire-related crimes are reported annually worldwide.

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