Dracula. The name has become synonymous with vampirism in the past century thanks to Bram Stoker's 1897 novel of the same name and Bela Lugosi's portrayal of the character on the screen. Of course, the Dracula of the silver screen does not closely resemble the literary Dracula. Whoever reads the novel after seeing any of the hundreds of images of vampires that fill stores every Halloween is likely to be quite shocked.
Lugosi's Dracula, a portrayal that has been copied again and again, was a sophisticated-looking monster dressed in a tuxedo and cape. Stoker's Dracula never wore a cape(the cape was an invention of Hamilton Dean, who adapted Dracula as a play). Lugosi was considered by many to be a very handsome vampire, which is another contrast to the literary Dracula, who was an almost animal-like creature with ears that were "at the tops extremely pointed", hairy palms, and sharp nail.
There are, of course, differences between other actors who played Dracula and the literary count in Stoker's novel, but those variations between print and film are not the end of our Dracula comparison. It seems that there are also a few differences between Stoker's Dracula and, as you might have guessed, the real Dracula.
Who was the man who inspired the world's most famous literary monster? According to those who wrote about the real Dracula's endless atrocities, he was a monster as well. In fact, as we shall see, Vlad Dracula committed many acts that rival the literary Dracula when it comes to cruelty. However, why did Stoker turn him into a vampire in his novel? Was Dracula a vampire?
The creatures described in the pages that follow possessed no supernatural powers, yet still thrived off the blood of others. They are the mortal blood drinkers of the past--humans who earned the title of "monster" or "vampire" because their unexplainable bloodlust. Prepare yourself for a look at some terrifying mortals who have proven, in some cases concretely, that their category of vampire exists.
Vlad Dracula was born around the year 1431 in Sighisoara, Transylvania. His father was Vlad Dracul, which meant "Vlad the Dragon". He was given that name because he was in the Order of the Dragon, a group of soldiers who protected Christianity and the land of Eastern Europe from the Turks(Muslims). The suffix "a" added to "Dracul" means "son of", so the name "Dracula" meant "son of the Dragon". Dracula was eventually known by another name, but more on that later.
Dracula spent the earliest years of his adolescent life in his father's court. He was most likely trained in various physical disciplines and was taught to endure severe hardships that all future rulers must be able to endure. The throne of Walachia, which would one day be his father's, would also eventually be Dracula's, and his father must have wanted his son to be prepared. The discipline was not necessary; Dracula had apparently been born with a strong mindset of his own.
From when he was very young, Dracula supposedly enjoyed watching criminals being taken from their cells to the courtyard to be executed(usually by hanging). That sadistic tendency was probably amplified when, at a young age, Dracula and his brother Radu were kept as hostages by the Turks to guarantee that Dracul would keep a pact he made with the Turkish Sultan. One can only imagine how cruelly he was treated and how he would have been affected by the treatment.
We will not get into the historical details of how Dracula eventually became ruler of Wallachia, as that part of his life takes us out of the scope of this piece. Instead, let's look at his cruel behavior, which Stoker uncovered when researching Romanian legends.
Dracula was a sadistic ruler. Under his reign, crime eventually became non-existent because the punishment for any crime was death, usually by impalement, which took different forms. Normally, a tall, sharp, wooden stake was placed firmly into the ground. Criminals were then thrown on top of it, with their abdomens or backs facing the point, and were left there, their weight and the sharp points doing the rest. Another variation of the execution method included placing the victim vertically on the stake and having it enter through his or her rectum.
Dracula punished his subjects on other ways as well, but impalement was generally his preferred form of execution, and for that reason he was called Vlad Tepes, which means "Vlad the Impaler". H still preferred to call himself Dracula, however.
But what about blood drinking? Even though Romanian tales of Dracula do not label him a vampire, Radu r. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally have found mention of Dracula drinking the blood of his victims. Dracula often had dinner wile he watched the execution he had ordered, and on one documented occasion, he included the blood of one of the executed in his meal(it is believed that he dipped his bread into it). However, there is not enough available evidence to show that he drank blood at any other time in his life.
If Dracula really did drink blood, it might have been to show his ultimate power over his subjects. Because of the lack of other evidence, Dracula is the least likely candidate for a true mortal blood drinker. Unlike some of those whose descriptions follow, Dracula did not seem to thrive on the act of drinking blood, but rather on its shedding. He is included in here to show how Stoker's model for a fictional vampire actually did drink blood, at at least once. However, Dracula provides another mystery that warrants his inclusion in this book.
Stoker said in his novel(through the medium of Dr. Van Helsing) that Dracula possessed such willpower that combined with the strange occult forces of the land from which he came, he was able to return from the dead as a vampire. That willpower, Stoker mentions, certainly was a trait of the real Prince Dracula, and as for returning from the dead, there is a mystery surrounding Vlad Dracula's death and burial.
Dracula was supposedly assassinated and beheaded in 1476, probably by one of his political enemies. His corpse was then said to have been buried in the island Monastery of Snagov at the foot of the chapel altar. When that "grave" was opened during the course of diggings in 1931-32, it was found to contain some animal bones and a few artifacts. In another part of the monastery, a grave with a headless body was found, and the rotted clothes do seem to match those of a prince. Was Dracula's corpse moved? Was the headless body found in the other grave buried to throw Dracula's enemies off? We'll never know, although I'm sure that more than one fan of vampire fiction would like to believe that Dracula had really risen from the grave.
The Blood Countess
Elizabeth Bathory, known as the Blood Countess, was a mortal blood drinker who has also been immortalized in literature and film, although rarely accurately. Bathory was born in Transylvania in 1560, and lived there until she married the Slovak Count Ferenc Nadasdy in 1575. The couple then lived in Nadasdy's castle in the Slovak Republic.
While heading her household, the always-cruel Countess began to punish her servants in vicious ways. Eventually, she began to kill some of them. Her husband died in 1604(she was never implicated in his death), and Bathory apparently kept on murdering until suspicion about her activities arose in 1610. By that time, approximately 650 victims were said to have died at her hands. But what did she do with them?
In 1611, Bathory was convicted for her crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment in a room in her castle with no windows. Only a small hole was made for food and water to be passed to her. She died in that room three years later. Just as she was locked away, so were the records of what she had done. A Royal Edict declared that she was not even to be mentioned.
Years later, documents surfaced that detailed what Bathory had done, and helped her earn the title of "Blood Countess". Raymond T. McNally, one of the authors of Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, wrote a book about Bathory entitled Dracula Was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. The title refers to the possibility that Bathory influenced Stoker's placement of the novel in Transylvania, even though Bathory started committing her crimes after she moved away from that district. More importantly, the book is valuable because it contains some of the legends that arose about Bathory's practices.
The most famous of those is the belief that the countess killed young ladies to bathe in their blood. She supposedly did that to become younger. In one instance, a girl accused Bathory of biting her. That method of attack, along with the bathing in blood, has sparked interest in the countess and has surrounded her with vampiric legends. However, like Dracula, it can't be proven whether the countess felt the urge to drink the blood of her victims.
It has been speculated that evidence and testimony in the Bathory trial was kept from the public. More than one writer has assumed that some of those lost records include descriptions of various acts of vampirism that Bathory might have performed. Of particular note is Gabrial Ronay, who McNally cites as having said that Bathory's "acts of vampirism and ritual murder were kept out of the trial records."
Let's say for a moment that the Blood Countess did not actually drink her victims' blood, and only bathed in it, apparently with the intent of appearing younger (Stoker used the idea of growing younger with the help of blood in his novel, although his fictional count drank it to accomplish that). What would make Bathory believe that doing so would make her appear younger? McNally includes a particularly interesting translation from the German scholar Michael Wagener in his book that shows how Bathory could have come to think the way she did. Here's an excerpt:
Elizabeth used to dress up will in order to please her husband....On one occasion, her chambermaid saw something wrong with her headdress, and as a recompense for observing it, received such a severe box on the ears that blood gushed from her nose and spurted on her mistress's face....When the blood drops were washed off her face, her skin appeared more beautiful: whiter and more transparent on the spots where the blood had been. Elizabeth, there fore, formed the resolve to bathe her face and her entire body in human blood, so as to enhance her beauty....
The account goes on to mention details of how Bathory, with the help of her assistants, would kill her victims and bathe in their blood at four in the morning. Is that account accurate? Even if only the first couple of lines are true, we know that the countess was a person who obviously took her appearance very seriously and could act viciously when it came to matters concerning it. As for whether the skin of the countess became "whiter and more transparent" after being splashed with blood, I"m sure many medical professions would disagree. It seems that in her rage, the countess had delusions she didn't want to surrender at a later time. If she was as cruel a person as historians claim, the "rejuvenating" bloodbaths might have been a convenient excuse to her subconscious for her behavior.
Until the late nineteenth century, investigations of the activities of mortal blood drinkers were usually surrounded with a great deal of superstition, making it difficult to tell exactly what really happened. In other words, ridiculous accusations were made about the status of the blood drinkers' souls, and not enough factual evidence was compiled about the crimes they committed.
The following case is a good example. It is a little short, due to the lack of accurate information available, but it illustrates how easily facts can become distorted or even invented in courts of the past.
Gilles de Rais
Born in 1404, Gilles de Rais grew up to become a great soldier of the French Army; it has been written that he and Joan of Arc shared the battlefield against the English. In addition to his military fame, Gilles was quite wealthy, and of the upper class. Finally, he was considered a bloodthirsty killer.
Gilles was arrested and brought to trial on the accusation that he was responsible for the rising number of missing boys from the area. According to the his peers and his own admission, Gilles was involved in researching and practicing magic and alchemy, which was not unusual, as several wealthy individuals of that era delved into the arcane arts. It is not certain, however, whether those acts made him a suspicious individual in the eyes of his peers or if hard evidence existed to support his arrest. It is possible that Gilles' peers simply feared the occult.
As was common in those days, Gilles was tortured during the trial in hopes of obtaining a confession. His torturers were not disappointed. Gilles admitted to torturing the young boys, drinking their blood, and murdering them. That hysterical confession and the amount of self-incriminating information it supposedly contained, with the sensational associations between Gilles' alleged crimes and his occult interests, make it difficult to tell what really happened. Just how much of Gilles confession was coaxed out of him, as was done in the witch trials?
The occult practices of de Rais have been referred to as Satanic. If he did practice evil magic, it is even more likely that he could have performed the acts he admitted, making de Rais a "monster" the likes of which hasn't been seen often history. Gilles was found guilty and executed in 1440. His remains were burned.
Now let's turn our attention to a few more-recent vampires. There is a great deal of evidence available to support the factual nature of the actions of these mortal blood drinkers, due to the efficiency of the legal system in effect during the cases. When the vampires were "hunted", no evidence or testimony was hidden. The vampire hunters in the following cases used notebooks in addition to badges, handcuffs, and guns.
We can assume that the law enforcement agents who hunted the following vampires knew they were after mortals, so the abundance of information just mentioned should not seem out of the ordinary. However, as you read the cases, try to imagine what the investigators would have done if they had reason to believe that the vampires they were hunting were not human. Would cases of immortal blood drinkers receive the same publicity as the following ones, or would they be kept secret?
Born in Germany in 1879, Fritz Haarman was another military man turned vampire. He was the sixth child in an impoverished family, and openly showed his hatred for his father from a young age. Haarman was a disturbed child, and his condition worsened as he approached his teen years. At the age of seventeen, he was arrested for child molesting and was put in a mental institution. He escaped soon after and made his way back home, where he became engaged to a young lady who became pregnant with his child. When the baby was stillborn, Haarman called off the wedding plans and left to join the army.
For someone as disturbed as Haarman, it is surprising that he did well in the military. He probably would have remained in the army were it not for medical problems. Haarman was diagnosed as having newrasthenia and was discharged in 1903. Desperate, Haarman changed his lifestyle to the complte opposite of what it was in the military. He went from his brief period of following orders and being disciplined, to break laws and being a criminal. He was caught and arrested often for minor offenses, and spent a good portion of the next decade in prison.
Sometime around 1917 or 1918, Haarman met a male prostitute named Hans Grans, who would become his partner in some sadistic and vampiric crimes. Haarman and Grans would bring young men to their home and feed them a filling dinner, with plenty of alcohol to wash it down. Then, when a victim became tired from all the food and alcohol, Haarman would seize and bite into his neck, sucking on his blood until the helpless victim died.
It is estimated that Haarman vampirized some fifty young men, although he was only accused of killing twenty-seven. What did he and Grans do with all of those bodies? The answer to that is pretty gruesome--they chopped the bodies into steaks and sold them on the streets as beef. That "underground" meat market went on from 1918 to 1924.
Of course, the complete bodies of the victims could not be turned into sellable meats. Grans and Haarman dumped the bones and organs into a canal. That would eventually become their undoing; bones and skulls and floated to the surface in 1924. The police were already suspicious of Haarman because of his history, and went to question him about the cases of missing men from the area during the past six years.
They found more than enough evidence to connect Haarman to the victims--their clothes were still in his house. Haarman eventually confessed to the crimes and became known as the "Vampire of Hanover". He was sentenced to death, and at his own request, was decapitated in a public execution in December of 1924. Hans Grans would go on to serve only twelve years in jail.
The evidence in the case of Franz Haarman is complete enough to show us that he was truly a disturbed individual. What is not known is whether he was imitating fictional vampires when he attacked his victims in the manner described, or whether he was simply acting on some monstrous instinct.
Now let's move on to another early twentieth-century vampire who has achieved notoriety for his gristly actions.
John Haigh (date of birth uncertain) was raised by a devout puritanical family in Yorkshire, England. As a result, he was a very religious child, and was even a choir boy. From the information that has been gathered, it is clear that Haigh was will liked by all who knew him when he was young. When he moved out to live on his own, however, he changed.
This vampire's career of evil began, like that of Haarmann's, in a non-vampiric way. John Haigh spent several years of his adult life serving time for thefts. We can't be sure how those years affected Haigh; however, when he finally got out of prison, he was anything but a common thief. He stole more than just his victims' possessions' he also took their blood.
In 1943, Haigh was released from prison for the last time before performing the crimes that made him famous as a mortal blood drinker. After he got out, he murdered a young man by the name of Donald McSwann. Haigh then proceeded to drink the man's blood, take some of his belongings, and dissolve the body in sulfuric acid, apparently believing that there would no evidence with which to convict him.
That gruesome modus operandi would be the one that Haigh would follow for approximately five years. In that time, John Haigh murdered and drank the blood of McSwann's parents, along with three other individuals, disposing of their bodies each time in acid. You might be wondering by now how we know that Haigh drank his victims' blood if all of their bodies were dissolved? Like Haarman, when Haigh was caught, he confessed.
the vampiric killer's last victim was a wealthy woman named Mrs. Durand-Deacon. Haigh fooled her into thinking they could go into the artificial fingernail business together. When she went to his home to see the materials for the undertaking. Haigh shot her in the back of the head. He told police that he then went to his car, got a drinking glass, and returned to the corpse. Using what he said might have been a pen knife, Haigh cut into the side of the woman's neck and filled his glass with her blood. After he drank, he took all of his victim's valuables and dissolved her body, or so he thought.
Parts of Haigh's last victim did not dissolve. Among the remains were bones, dentures, and part of a foot that helped to positively identify the victim as the missing Mrs. Durand-Deacon. This evidence led Haigh to testify to all the previously mentioned acts. He was hanged for his crimes in 1949.