The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers


In 1995, a young woman in Douglas County, Washington, was unable to get her mother or fourteen-year-old sister, Amanda, to answer the phone. That was unusual, so she went to check on them. The front door was locked, so she went around to a sliding rear door that was always unlocked. Inside the home, she found their bodies. One was in a bedroom and one in the family room, both smeared in a great deal of blood. She ran to a neighbor, who called for help. The responding police officers observed that the victims of this grotesque double homicide had been sexually mutilated in a variety of ways by someone who seemed more animal than human.

As reported by Seattle-area papers, and described in former detective Vernon Geberth's book on sex-related homicides, the last time the surviving relative had had contact with her mother, Rita, was at 10:00 P.M. the night before. Rita had a boyfriend, but his time was quickly accounted for. Investigators looked inside and around the house for evidence, and an examination of the bodies later at the morgue narrowed the time of death for both to between 11:00 P.M. and 3:00 A.M.

On Amanda's wrist, a stopped watch indicated that a struggle had occurred around 11:35. She had been stabbed and bludgeoned in the head, then raped, after which the killer had shoved a baseball bat into her vagina. He'd also eviscerated her, placing skin from her genitals onto her face. She lay on her mother's bed.

Rita, lying on a couch in the family room, had been stabbed thirty-one times and viciously mutilated, her breasts removed and placed near Amanda. Her genital area was excised and stuffed into her mouth, and in a final indignity, her body was posed for exposure. Both victims clearly had suffered before they'd died.

The Butcher

There was no sign of forced entry, so the investigators assumed that the victims had either known their killer or that he'd watched them long enough to know about the rear door. When detectives checked incident reports for the night, they learned that a man garbed in black named Jack Owen Spillman III had been arrested at 2:00 that morning not far from the crime scene, on the suspicion of burglary. A search of the area turned up a bloody knife, and the blood was matched to one of the victims. They also found a witness who had seen the truck near the crime scene at 11:30.

Although Spillman had been released from custody, since they had nothing on him, they watched him while they looked into his background. They noted a record for rape and burglary, along with attempted rape, and he was suspected in the disappearance of the daughter of a woman he'd been living with; the girl was still missing.

While under surveillance, Spillman tossed out an item that, when retrieved, turned out to be a blood-soaked ski mask. The blood would match one of the victims. There was a blood stain near an opening in this mask, as if he'd put his mouth to a wound. (It was later learned that he'd drank Amanda's blood.)

More questioning of people in the area turned up reports that Spillman had been seen in the vicinity of Amanda's activities. He was arrested, and his car and residence were searched. More evidence in the form of blood, hair, and fibers turned up to implicate him, and he had no alibi. Spillman was employed as a butcher, according to news report, which explained why the wounds had been so precise and skillful.

Serial Killer Ambitions

He had stalked this family for months, keeping his eye on Amanda, so once he'd pounced, Rita had become an incidental victim. Even so, Spillman had exerted a great deal of rage on her body as well. To avoid the death sentence, as stated in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Spillman confessed to the double homicide and added a third — the missing girl. When she was exhumed, it appeared that she had been buried in precisely the same position as Spillman had left Amanda on the bed.

Geberth indicates that Spillman's cellmate told authorities that he had "bragged that his ambition was to be the most famous serial murderer in the country." He thought of himself as a werewolf, he said, and thus stalked "prey" the way a ravenous beast might do. He'd studied other killers to learn how to avoid being caught, such as shaving his body hair. He'd long fantasized about torturing girls and wanted to cut out the heart of a victim to eat it. He also desired to keep his victims in a cave, and complained that his first one had died too fast as he was torturing her with a knife. After burying her in the woods, he apparently exhumed her body several times for sexual purposes. When recounting his blood-thirsty fantasies, Spillman reportedly would grow quite frenzied.

He pled guilty to three counts of aggravated murder and received life in prison.

Spillman is a modern-day case of someone who identifies with a savage beast. Others like him were described during the nineteenth century as psychiatric cases.

Mad Frenzy

In 1879, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, an alienist (psychiatrist) at the Feldhof Asylum, and a professor of psychiatry in Strasbourg, published A Textbook of Insanity, in which he categorized mental diseases. Seven years later he produced a "vocabulary of perversion" in Psychopathia Sexualis with Especial Reference to the Antipathic Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Forensic Study. This book offered 238 cases, including some men noted for their bestial appetites.

Vincenz Verzeni, 22, was imprisoned in 1872, accused of attempted murder and suspected in several actual ones. His case began with the mutilation of a fourteen-year-old girl along a village path. Her intestines had been torn out and tossed some distance, a piece had been torn from her leg, and her mouth stuffed with dirt. Another woman in the area was likewise violated, and a third nearly met the same fate but survived to finger Verzeni.

In accordance with medical beliefs at the time that viewed skull formation as diagnostically viable, Verzeni's skull was examined for evidence of physical abnormality and his cranium found to be both asymmetrical and larger than average. Both of his ears were defective, and the right one was smaller than the left. In addition, his penis was "greatly developed." All of these signs indicated some degree of depravity to the researchers of that era.

When Verzeni finally confessed to his deeds, he admitted that the murders and mutilations sexually aroused him. He especially enjoyed putting his hands around someone's neck. If he climaxed before they died, he said, they were allowed to live. Otherwise, they lost out. From one corpse, he admitted, he'd sucked blood and from other bodies he had ripped out and carried off pieces because he derived a powerfully erotic sensation from them. Verzeni was held up as an example of supreme degeneracy.

Another man described in Krafft-Ebing's book was a 24-year-old vine-dresser who murdered a twelve-year-old girl, drank her blood, mutilated her genitals, and ate part of her heart. When caught, he confessed quite indifferently to the deed, as if what he'd done mattered little when compared to his own needs.

"A great number of so-called lust murders," wrote Krafft-Ebing, "depend upon combined sexual hyperesthesia and parasthesia. As a result of this perverse coloring of the feelings, further acts of bestiality with the corpse may result." He also pointed out that it was generally accepted among experts on serial sex crimes that white males committed most of the truly perverse acts.

Let's look at another such bestial case that actually advanced the cause of forensic science.

Hidden in the Blood

The murder and dismembering of two young boys in 1901 on the island of Rugen, off the coast of Germany, turned the attention of local authorities toward a strange, reclusive man named Ludwig Tessnow, a carpenter from Baabe. The two boys had failed to return from their play, so a search was organized. It wasn't long before searchers came across some of their parts, which had been scattered over a wide area in the woods near their home. When their heads were found, the skulls were shattered, and from the eight-year-old, the heart was missing. A blood-stained stone proved to be the murder weapon.

Earlier that day, someone recalled, Tessnow had been talking to them. Authorities went to interview him, but he denied any involvement. Still, they searched his home, which produced recently-laundered clothing that bore suspicious stains. He claimed that they were from wood dye, which he used daily in his profession. There was not much anyone could do to prove otherwise. But then a magistrate recalled a similar crime, also associated with Tessnow.

Three years earlier in Osnabruck, Germany, two young girls had been found in the woods, butchered and disemboweled in the same manner as the boys. The man seen loitering near the woods, his clothing stained, was Tessnow. At that time, too, he had claimed that the stains were from wood dye. So he'd had a ready excuse then, which had worked, and he now knew he had a good cover. It helped him as well when a local farmer reported that a man who looked like Tessnow had fled from his field, leaving behind seven slaughtered sheep. Their legs had been torn or cut off and tossed about the field. Tessnow was brought in for a line-up and the farmer had no trouble picking him out.

Still, the police needed real evidence to tie Tessnow to the murders. Then they heard about the test that biologist Paul Uhlenhuth had developed only four months before that could distinguish blood from other substances (such as wood dye), as well as distinguish animal blood from human. The authorities contacted him and asked him to test Tessnow's clothing and the blood-stained stone. Uhlenhuth was ready for such a test, and he applied his method to more than one hundred spots. He then announced the results: While he did find wood dye, he also detected traces of both sheep and human blood. They were quite distinct from one another, and his tests proved it.

With this evidence, Tessnow was tried, convicted, and executed.

No one called Tessnow a werewolf, but his compulsive ripping apart of animal and human corpses was similar to the "werewolves" from earlier eras. There was actually a period of time in which such killers were considered fairly common. Before we learn more about them, let's look at the werewolf legends.

The Werewolf Tradition

Over several centuries, wolves have been the scapegoats for crimes committed in communities that defy casting blame a resident — including wolves that were actually humans who had changed their shape into animals. These offenses seemed altogether inhuman, committed by someone possessed by a force that could only originate from some supernaturally evil place. Former FBI profiler Gregg McCrary theorizes that the state in which some mutilated victims were found before people understood criminology may have spawned the werewolf myths. "There's a reluctance to admit that someone in our community would be capable of the kind of evil we see in brutal murders," he says. "Evil is so overpowering that we want to attribute it to some 'monster,' but the reality is that many good people can have some terrible flaws."

In some folklore, wolves were associated with the devil, so it was a natural step to view people who committed heinous and savage acts as having somehow come into contact with Satan and been trapped by him in the form of a wolf. There were also tales that he offered something tempting in exchange, or simply stated that the experience of transformation itself as a mystical medium. Many different cultures have propagated such ideas, and werewolves have long held our fascination.

Author Anne Rice, famous for her writing on vampires and erotica, believes that the mythical notion of the werewolf embodied the blending of both sadistic and masochistic tendencies in people. "On the one hand, man is degraded as he is forced to submit to the bestial metamorphosis; on the other hand he emerges as a powerful sadistic predator who can, without regret, destroy other men." In that case, the myth "may arouse emotions in us that are hard to define." It's a sense of both attraction and dread.

Man-Beast Shape-Shifting

The belief in the possibility that humans could change shape has been traced to 600 B.C., when King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible thought he'd suffered from a condition that involved romping around as a wild beast for four years and growing out his hair. By the 1500s in France, it was a diagnosable medical condition, known as lycanthropy. (In some countries, people also thought they could shift their shape into other creatures, such as bear, leopards, jackals, tigers, and birds.) Two of the most informative early sources about the myths were The Book of Were-Wolves, by Sabine Baring-Gould, a nineteenth-century archaeologist and historian, and The Werewolf, by Montague Summers. Both tracked the shape-shifting ideas from ancient times and across different cultures. Summers believed that these man-beasts were real and the result of some sort of encounter with Satan, which either produced lunacy via possession or the actual ability to shape-shift.

One that Baring-Gould relates from Scandinavia is a typical tale: A man and his son, both bandits, came upon two sleeping men in possession of wolf skins. They donned them and could not get them off. When they began to feel and howl like wolves, they went into the woods to slay hapless travelers together.

But these practices were taboo, and for some people taboo subjects acquired an erotic aura. These folks dressed in wolf-skins at night, according to Summers, as a way to contact Satan for the beast's special powers. When they managed to make "the change," says the lore, they were granted a period of complete abandon into blood and violence. Tales were told around Europe of hunters who hacked off the paw of a wolf only to find a woman's hand in their pouch and a woman in town with a mysteriously bandaged arm. That still plays out in novels and movies today.

Popular stories play up the idea that the transformation is effected by the cycles of the moon, with the night of the full moon having the power to physically turn a person into a marauding wolf. He or she can then lope about, killing as they please and having no memory of it. When the night's over, they return to human form, often with the taste of blood in their mouths and sometimes with dead animals in their possession. They might believe they had nightmares about killing, and the evidence that they did it is repellent for them. Those who grasp that they've been cursed may attempt to lock themselves into barred rooms to prevent any more killing. They warn their loved ones not to let them out, beg for release though they might. In the twentieth century renditions, anyway, the werewolves are often full of remorse and feel captive to a state not of their choosing. They are destroyed only by a silver bullet to the heart.

But that's fiction. In the real world, lycanthropy has long been considered a form of lunacy that compels people to eat raw meat, attack others, grow their hair, and run on all fours. Baring-Gould offers another interesting account from the sixteenth century.

The Wolf Boy

As the story goes, some girls tending sheep one afternoon in an area in the south of France came upon a strange-looking 13-year-old boy. "His hair was tawny red and thickly matted, falling over his shoulders and completely covering his narrow brow. His small pale grey eyes twinkled with an expression of horrible ferocity and cunning, from deep sunken hollows." He also had strong white teeth that looked like fangs, dark skin, and large hands with pointed black nails. His clothing was in tatters. To the girls, he appeared to be starving.

As they gathered around him, he asked them to select among themselves who was the prettiest; he meant to take her as his bride. Introducing himself as the son of a priest, he also told them that he sometimes wore a wolf-skin cape that changed him into a wolf for an hour at dusk three times a week, whereupon he romped over the countryside with a gang of nine others. His preferred meal, he stated, was little girls like themselves. This confession caused the girls to run away.

His name was Jean and he'd tell girls he met that he'd sold himself to the devil. He often described the victims he'd already attacked and eaten. Since several girls from the village had indeed disappeared, their families began to wonder if these fanciful stories were true. Their concerns urged the authorities to investigate.

Cannibal Confessions

Grenier was no priest's son, it turned out, but the offspring of a poor laborer. He'd been hired by several villagers to watch their sheep but had often neglected his duties. Taken before the courts, he continued to state that he could take the form of a wolf, and then told his tale. When he was 10, he insisted, a neighbor had taken him into the woods and introduced him to M. de la Forest, a dark-skinned man who gave them both a salve and a wolf-skin cape. Thereafter, Grenier had found himself able to change into a wolf. He claimed that he'd killed a dog, but initially did not admit to anything worse.

Then under more intense questioning, he admitted to going into a house, grabbing a baby and killing it. He said he consumed it. In another village, he killed and ate pieces from a little girl, and then repeated this in another place. He had done these things, he said, at the command of the "Lord of the Forest," adding that his father often accompanied him, also in the form of a wolf. In addition, he'd seen his stepmother vomit up the paws of a dog and the finger of a child.

Since Grenier's accounts coincided with reports of missing children, his father and stepmother were questioned. They agreed that Jean believed himself to be a wolf, but denied that they had any involvement in his misdeeds. As authorities continued to investigate, they discovered that some children who'd been attacked but had survived bore wounds that were just as Grenier had described. (He had pointed to one girl who'd said she'd been attacked by a large dog and identified her wounds accurately as having been made by his teeth.) One girl claimed to have witnessed his transformation.

Grenier told his story again the next day in the presence of his father, without changing anything, but there was no evidence against the elder Grenier, so his case was dismissed. As for Jean, the court believed him to be an imbecile who was hallucinating, and the judge stated that "the change of shape existed only in the brain of the insane." In that case, because he was not responsible for his acts he could not be punished, so he was sent to perpetual imprisonment in a monastery at Bordeaux. If he attempted to escape, he was warned, he'd be executed.

The monks had quite a time of it. They were to instruct Grenier in the Christian teachings, but he immediately loped around the courtyard on all fours and ate a pile of raw offal. Still, they kept him there and tried to do what they could for him. An official from the court visited him after seven years and learned from Grenier that he still craved the taste of flesh and still entertained visits from his dark master. Only a few months later, at the age of twenty, he died.

Adam Douglas indicates in The Beast Within that this case effectively ended the persecution and trials of supposed werewolves in the French judicial system. But before that, there were numerous sensational incidents involving the so-called loup-garou.

The Devil's Belt

During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had to deal with the Protestant revolt, which inspired church officials to make their doctrines more forceful in those countries loyal to the Pope. Thus, they supported campaigns throughout central Europe to rid the populace of satanic entities. In other words, it was a fear campaign designed to make people more eager to cling to God and the Church. As a result, between 1521 and 1600 several men were prosecuted in court for therianthropy (becoming a wild beast). In fact, during one extended period, some 30,000 cases of werewolf "infection" were reported to authorities. In God's name, inquisitors sometimes hacked these people apart to search for the telltale wolf hair supposedly planted inside their bodies. No one was immune from arrest, and some witch-finder generals fully indulged their lust for torture.

Witch-hunters were especially active in France, a country fighting for its former political glory. At that time, demons were blamed for a great range of criminal behavior, with the devil inspiring his followers to take different shapes. Some people viewed themselves as being cursed with an animal compulsion. They not only killed but also consumed their victims' flesh and drank the blood.

In the countryside, governing bodies issued proclamations to warn citizens about werewolves and to instruct them in how to arrest and punish the beasts. In essence, "shapeshifters" were people leading degenerate lives that endangered others. Yet despite the Church's firm attempts to convert everyone to the true faith, mystical practices calling on nature deities continued to flourish, especially in outlying areas. Many practitioners viewed shape-shifting as a gift not a curse. And for those people who possessed a strong sexual drive, a pact with the devil seemed a perfect excuse — a way to "accept" that their misdeeds were beyond their control.

For example, in 1521, Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun were tried in Besancon, France. They said they had pledged obedience to the "master" of three black men they'd met in exchange for money and freedom from trouble. They had then been anointed in a ceremony with unguents that changed them into savage animals. Together they had torn apart a seven-year-old boy, a grown woman, and a little girl, whose flesh they consumed. They so loved lapping up the warm blood that they could not help but continue to kill. They also had sexual relations with female wolves, "as Dogges follow a Bitche." In fact, Verdun had supposedly been discovered in the guise of a wolf. It seems that a traveler had wounded him before he could kill and had followed his trail to his home, where his wife was bathing his wound. The court listened to all this with little tolerance and both men were executed for sorcery.

The stories from these times had a common narrative: a woman or child would be found torn and partially eaten, and wolves would be seen bounding away. Confessions from one or more people always followed, but how freely they were given in those days of hideous torture is open to much doubt. It's likely that actual wolves were to blame, but people ended up paying the price. As with any scapegoat, their executions made communities feel purified of evil and therefore safe again.

But the wolves just kept coming back.

The Spectral Man

Gilles Garnier was an odd-looking, reclusive man living in Dole, outside Lyons, France, with his wife and children. They didn't have much, so Garnier would go into the woods to look for game. One day, he later reported in a tortured confession, he encountered a "spectral man," who offered him an unguent and showed him how to become a wolf. That way, he'd have an easier time chasing down game for his family. Garnier said that he proceeded to kill, but his victims were often human. He was caught in 1573 after people saw him attack a child and forced to confess. That's when he offered his version of the trapped-in-a-wolf story.

After the Feast of St. Michael, he claimed, a ten-year-old girl wandered into a vineyard. In the form of a wolf, he seized and "killed her both with his hands, seemingly paws, as with his teeth." He dragged the body to the woods, stripped off the clothing, and indulged his lust for raw flesh. Then he tore off some to take home to his wife. He tried this again with another little girl, but the approach of a group of people interrupted him. About a week later, he attacked a young boy, ate flesh from the thighs and belly, and tore off a leg. Then he apparently made the mistake of attacking a child while he was still in human form and this time witnesses recognized him. He and his wife were both arrested.

Garnier blamed a force outside himself. The court agreed that he was the victim of dark forces, but that failed to mitigate their decision to find him guilty. They believed they must purge him from their midst, and only the purity of fire would accomplish that. Because the case was so shocking, the Parliament of Franche-Comtè decided to set an example. To show people what would happen should they enter into pacts with the devil, they burned Garnier alive. Afterward, a pamphlet was printed at Sens, vividly depicting his crimes, conviction, and punishment. In truth, he'd probably done nothing of the kind, but children were being attacked in that area by wolves, and in light of the pervasive superstition, it was easy for witnesses to "see" human features on these beasts. Indeed, there were eyewitnesses at Garnier's trial who corroborated his statements. Yet he was likely the victim of contagious hysteria.

A case that depicts acts similar to actual serial killers with a penchant for torture and blood showed up in France not long afterward.

Werewolf of Châlons

The "Demon Tailor," known also as the "Werewolf of Châlons," was arraigned in France on December 14, 1598 on murder charges so shocking that after the trial all court documents were destroyed. Officials wanted no one to see in writing what he had done. Nevertheless, there were rumors, and these were written into documents that have been passed down.

The unnamed man was reputed to have lured children into his tailor shop in Paris, where he tortured them with sexual perversions before slitting their throats. He would then dismember them, dress the flesh as if he were a butcher, and consume the remains. When he could not get victims that way, he roamed the woods, supposedly in a wolf's form, to find them, and he was alleged to have killed several dozen. Officials raided his shop and found barrels full of bleached bones in the cellar, along with other foul items. They were presumably human, although it's unclear if officials were actually able to make that determination or were guided instead by superstition.

This offender was quickly convicted and sentenced to die by being burned at the stake. Nigel Blundell reports that a large crowd gathered to watch him get his due. Even as the flames burned hot and scorched his flesh, he showed no remorse for his deeds and never confessed or asked for forgiveness. "He could be heard cursing and blaspheming to the very end." The people took that as a sign that his soul belonged to the Devil.

The same year, a sister, brother and two of the man's children — the Gandillon family — were tried together in France. Rosemary Ellen Guilley tells the tale in Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters: Pernette Gandillon believed she was a wolf and displayed wolf-like behavior. She attacked two children one day, and the older one survived to identify her to authorities. They seized her and "tore her to pieces." They then accused her brother, Pierre, of being a witch and a shape-shifter. He and his son confessed that they possessed an ointment that allowed them to change into wolves. The scars on their bodies reportedly attested to attacks from dogs when they were in wolf form. Once they were imprisoned, they moved around on all fours and howled. Pierre's daughter was also accused as a witch, and all three were hanged and burned. But only Pernette had been a killer.

It was not just France that had a werewolf problem. Another famous case had also emerged in Germany.

The Wolf-Girdle

Around the middle of the sixteenth century, the town of Bedburg, near Cologne, experienced a long bout of inexplicable murders. Guilley, Blundell, Steiger, and numerous other authors offer descriptions of the tale from a 1590 chapbook. Over the course of twenty-five years, from time to time a savagely mutilated body would be discovered. These victims had in common a disagreement with an otherwise unassuming man by the name of Peter Stubb (Stump, Stumpf, or Stubbe). But young girls who did not know him also had met such a fate. During one period, dismembered limbs were found on a regular basis out in the fields and the townspeople feared a marauding wolf. Some authors indicate that Stubb actually did these things, while others believe that he was merely the victim of a system that needed a scapegoat. It's impossible to know the truth.

As the story goes, the authorities used hounds to track down the beast in 1589, only to discover, according to the illustrated chapbook, Stubb removing his wolf-hair girdle and transforming back into a man. He was caught and "voluntarily" offered a rack-inspired confession, describing a string of atrocities from incest to murder to cannibalism. Ordered to produce his girdle, he said he'd abandoned it. People were sent to find it, but could not locate it, so authorities assumed that Satan had come along and picked it up to use it again on some other hapless soul.

The murders of some thirteen or fourteen children were attributed to Stubb, as well as attacks on two pregnant women that ended with fetuses torn from them as they died. Apparently Stubb implicated his mistress, Katherine Trompin, and his daughter, Beell, in his crimes, and they supposedly "knew" that he had feasted on the brains of his son (the product of incest with his daughter). Stubb declared this "a most savory and dainty delicious" repast. He'd also raped children, he stated, and had torn out their hearts to consume while still hot and beating.

Stubb was tried with his mistress and daughter as a "pack," and all three were convicted of murder. He was further tortured on a wheel with heated pinchers, his flesh pulled off, and his limbs broken with wooden hatchet blows. Then he was decapitated and his head displayed as a lesson to others while his body was burnt on a pyre. His mistress and daughter, forced to watch his fate, were burned there as well. The rack on which he'd been tortured was broken into sixteen pieces, each representing a victim, and displayed for the community.

By 1603, some 600 alleged shape-shifters had been likewise burned. Although voices were raised in opposition from influential places, the trials and tortures continued. In fact, as late as 1764, the blood-sucking Beast of Le Gevaudon started a three-year panic in France. Reportedly, it was a large wolf that could walk erect and it attacked women and children. A posse killed it with a silver bullet.

Several women, too, had confessed to participating in rituals in which they killed children, animals, and other women. After Francois Secretain admitted that she'd had illicit relations with the demon, in the shape of a black man, she was executed.

But the times changed and the Church lost ground to medicine and science. Eventually lycanthropy became one of the disorders studied by the alienists. Jean Grenier had more or less led the way, and eventually all such cases were considered more appropriate for psychiatry than the stake.

Vacher the Ripper

In 1824, twenty-nine-year-old Antoine Léger went to live in the woods by himself, and apparently he was not content to just live off animals. He lured a girl into his cave and killed her. Apprehended, he was tried by the district court of Versailles, at which time it came out that he'd eaten parts of his victim. Alienists diagnosed him as being psychotic.

By century's end, in 1897, a tramp named Joseph Vacher, 29, was tried in France for eleven murders. He had been arrested after a seventeen-year-old shepherd was found strangled, stabbed, and with his belly ripped open. Vacher wrote a confession for the judge, claiming that he suffered from an irresistible impulse and had committed murder during frenzies. He thought that, having been bitten by a rabid dog when he was a child, his blood had been poisoned. As his victims died, he said, he drank blood from their necks.

A team of doctors examined the defendant. In the end, because his memory was clear about the crimes and because he had run off, they decided that Vacher had demonstrated sufficient awareness to be judged sane and therefore responsible for what he had done. Yet he had a history of "confused talk," spells of delirium, persecution mania, and extreme irritability. Indeed, three years earlier he had been treated in an asylum when he'd killed a woman and had sex with her corpse. He also had once removed the genitalia from a boy and from a girl. If anyone had a claim to insanity, he did, but in 1898, at the Ain Assizes, he was convicted, and within two months executed.

Ironically, during Vacher's spree, Dracula was published in 1897 in England, introducing the shocking image of the predatory life-sucker who commanded wolves and could shift into the shape of one.

Mental Disease?

There have been many explanations for the werewolf delusion, from the disease porphyria in which people develop photosensitivity, to rabies, to consuming hallucinogens via rancid grains. The "cures" involved everything from purging to rubbing opium in the nostrils. Yet none of those cures would affect someone suffering from mood or psychotic disorders. Nor change the appetites of a sexual predator given to violence. It's possible that some "werewolves" were simply sadistic killers who had found a culturally-formed image through which to act out their fantasies.

Dr. Stephen Giannangelo addresses serial killers who derive a joy from their killing sprees in The Psychopathology of Sexual Murder. He says that they experience a "pervasive lost sense of self and intimacy, an inadequacy of identity, a feeling of no control." These things then manifest in an ultimate act of control — murder. Such killers develop deviant sexual motivations that become consuming fantasies that issue in an initial murder. When they find reward in that, they continue to look for other opportunities, refining their approach and acting out further deviance. The form it takes is influenced by whatever image or object has a sexual hot button in the fantasy. Bestial paraphilias that encourage savage attacks are obviously potentially dangerous.

Some psychologists have found the cases of lycanthropy to be an interesting study. Far from being nonexistent, there are still people who believe they have changed into beasts.

The Medical Literature

Not all people who suffer from the delusion of being a wolf actually kill other people. Yet cases from psychiatric literature over the past thirty years can help us to understand something about their disorder. Among the cases noted in the 1970s-era Canadian Psychiatric Association Journal and American Journal of Psychiatry are:

* Mr. H, 21, was convinced that after taking a combined dose of LSD and strychnine, he could become a wolf. He said the he'd actually watched the fur sprout on his hands and face, and it wasn't long before he felt the urge to chase and consume live rabbits. During therapy, he heard voices, which he attributed to Satan, and believed that he possessed supernatural powers. Toxicological tests assisted his doctors with a diagnosis of toxic psychosis. They gave him anti-psychotic medication, to which he responded, but he then left therapy and could not be found thereafter.

* Mr. W, 37, behaved in accordance with werewolf myths about howling at the moon, growing out his hair and beard, and sleeping in strange places outside. A brain biopsy revealed deterioration of his cerebral tissue. He responded positively to anti-psychotic medication, but he continued to show a mental age far below that which he'd exhibited before his psychosis set in.

* Ms. B, 49, experienced constant fantasies about wolves and eventually came to believe she was transforming into one. She might suddenly strip naked and drop to all fours at a party, or gnaw for hours at the bedposts. She believed she was possessed by the devil and felt powerless to stop her cravings and compulsions. She was put on medication and showed improvement except during a full moon phase. When she looked into a mirror, she claimed that she saw a wolf's head. Eventually she was released from the hospital, apparently freed from her delusions.


In addition to psychological issues, there appears to be a biological manifestation as well, responsible for making some people grow a thick matting of hair on their faces and upper bodies. Brad Steiger reports this in The Werewolf Book. Apparently, Dr. Brian K. Hall, a biologist at Dalhousie University in Canada, gathered nineteen such individuals and took blood samples, finding that a mutant gene was responsible for the condition. In some cases, it had been inherited, showing up in several generations of a single family.

Dr. Richard Noll, a clinical psychologist, edited Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons, which includes reports of lycanthropy from the clinical literature. Noll states that since 1975 there have been eighteen documented cases. Six of them involved delusions about wolves and the rest were a collection of other animals. The diagnosis most commonly given to the behavior of these people was bipolar disorder, but also delusional depression and schizophrenia. Noll believes that lycanthropy more closely resembles zoanthropy, "the delusion that one has been transformed into an animal," which he says may be better described as a dissociative disorder.

Among the papers that Noll reprints is one from Paul Keck and others, published in a 1988 volume of Psychological Medicine, in which twelve patients with diagnosed lycanthropy were studied. The manifestations ranged in duration from a single day to thirteen years, and the patients ranged in age from 16 to 38. They all had been found at McLean Hospital, from a survey of 5,000 psychotic cases. There were ten males and two females. Most had been diagnosed with either delusional depression or schizophrenia, although other disorders were present as well, so the mental health experts involved in the study concluded that lycanthropy was not specific to any one psychiatric disorder. Seven out the twelve had experienced a complete remission, and only two were unresponsive to treatment. Their conclusion: "Like other curious and memorable syndromes...lycanthropy persists as an occasional but colorful feature of severe and occasionally factitious psychosis. However, it appears that the delusion of being transformed into an animal may bode no more ill than any other delusion."

Maybe...but maybe not.

The Full Moon Killer

In Italy, the so-called "Monster of Florence" stopped killing in 1985 after thirty-two victims had died over a period of seventeen years, most of them killed during the full moon. The "monster" seemed obsessed with couples in cars on deserted streets who were making love. All of them were shot through the window, and then the females were often mutilated; in some cases, their sex organs or breasts were removed with what appeared to be a sharp implement, such as a scalpel.

The first incident occurred, according to Lane and Gregg, in August 1968 when a man and his mistress were shot while they made out near a cemetery in the outskirts of Florence. The woman, Barbara Locci, was married, so her husband was tried, convicted, and sentenced to imprisonment. He had confessed but had then retracted his confession. No one believed the retraction, since he had a clear motive and he'd been leaving his home with a suitcase when police had arrived the day after the murder to question him. Then, six years later on September 14, 1974, another couple was shot outside Florence, and ballistics testing matched the bullet to the same Berreta that had shot the .22 caliber bullets that had killed the couple in 1968. The woman had been stabbed 96 times, clearly during frenzy.

Again, years went by before another such incident was linked to this offender. On June 6, 1981, a couple was killed and the woman's genitals were mutilated. Her vagina had been entirely cut out and removed. After that, the killer stepped up his pace. In 1983, using the same gun, he killed a pair of homosexual lovers, but they were not mutilated. Some officials speculate that he'd made a mistake.

After the last couple was murdered in 1985, with the man chased down and the woman horribly cut up, an assistant DA received an envelope containing strips of skin from the breast of the female, removed after she was shot. The Monster of Florence was clearly playing a game, but they were no closer to identifying him.

Over the years since 1968, investigators had questioned more than one hundred thousand people. Then, during the early 1990s they identified Pietro Pacciani, a 68-year-old farmer with a taxidermy hobby who had served a prison term for stabbing and stomping a man to death. He'd also sexually molested his own two daughters and was allegedly involved in an occult group.

Despite his claims of innocence and only slight circumstantial evidence against him, Pacciani was convicted for seven of the murders. But then he was freed on appeal. However, two of his associates, Mario Vanni and Giancarlo Lotti, were arrested and convicted for their part in five of the murders. A judge ordered a new trial for Pacciani, whom the public believed was guilty. Then, before his retrial, Pacciani died from a drug overdose, so the murders officially remain unsolved. There are sources that say that the two imprisoned men are innocent, but so far, no one else has been charged with the murders.

The fact that the incidents occurred under a full moon and were carried out in what appeared to be a bestial frenzy marks this series of crimes as similar to those committed by people who described themselves as driven by savage, wolf-like compulsions.

Serial Beasts

Not all serial killers who get the moniker "werewolf" or "wolf" actually behave in a wolf-like manner. Michael Lupo of London liked that his name meant wolf — he was even referred to as "The Wolf Man" - but his murders involved strangulation. Likewise, the "Werewolf of San Francisco," William Johnston, used a straight razor on his three victims during the 1930s, rather than ripping them apart in a frenzy. Since he'd dragged it along their bodies several times, the results had the appearance of claw marks. Two victims had been prostitutes and one had been his wife.

And not all "werewolves" actually killed. In London, Bill Ramsey first experienced a strange sensation and its accompanying foul odor when he was nine years old. He began to think of himself as a wolf and to experience rage-filled compulsions in the form of seizures that made him snap and bite. This pain dogged him into adulthood, but he kept it under control until one night in 1983. He went to a hospital, and as he was being treated, he lunged out and bit a nurse. He then ran to a corner and crouched on all fours, like a wolf, growling at anyone who came near him.

The police arrived to take him into custody. Several people grabbed and restrained him on a gurney until a sedative could be administered. From there, he was taken to a psychiatric institution. It was not clear what should be done for him.

Steiger describes how demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren soon got involved with the case. They proposed that Ramsey was possessed by a "werewolf demon" that needed to be exorcised. With the family's permission, they invited Bishop Robert McKenna to perform it. They all gathered in Connecticut for the ritual, along with four police officers, just in case things got out of hand. It was said that Ramsey possessed great strength and they feared what could happen should he become possessed, break free and escape. During the ceremony, a crucifix was applied to parts of Ramsey's body while Latin incantations were said.

Ramsey apparently thought the ritual was bogus before it began, but supposedly the bishop recognized the demon spirit inside the man. The ritual lasted for half an hour, as the bishop commanded the demon to leave Ramsey's body. The officers restrained Ramsey when he tried to attack McKenna, but eventually, as described in the Warren's book, Werewolf, he experienced a force leaving his body. Supposedly, he found peace from the demons and was free thereafter from any further possession.

It's not clear whether there was much follow-up, so as to note whether Ramsey was genuinely "cured." Even so, the ceremony might merely have had a powerful psychological effect on him. As such, he might have come to believe strongly enough in his religious purification that he was able to go on with his life.

The same cannot be said for one of the most monstrous beast-like serial killers in world history. It took a bullet to finally end his "curse."

Russian Savagery

In 1990, the Russian government announced the capture of a man wanted for nearly a decade for the murder and mutilation of dozens of women and children. The crimes of the lesopolosa killer, also dubbed the Maniac, were first noted as a series in 1982 with three corpses found in wooded areas. The authorities officially treated them as unrelated incidents, but the style of savagery was both similar in all three cases and also quite unusual, so the local detectives believed they had a serial killer. Richard Lourie and Robert Cullen both tell the tale in their books.

On girls and women, this offender would gouge the breasts and destroy the vagina, uterus and bladder or abdomen. On boys, he would mutilate the penis, scrotum and anus, and once even chewed out a tongue. A few early victims were also stabbed through the eyes. The "signature" was clear, but the Russian team's technology was archaic, making it difficult to run a proper investigation. They were able to determine that the killer had AB blood, which helped to eliminate suspects, but were forbidden from publicizing the murders to get public assistance.

Viktor Burakov headed the investigation, and more bodies soon turned up. Influenced by the FBI's behavioral science program, Burakov asked psychiatrists for help, and Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky agreed to develop a report. The killer, he said, was 25-50 years old. He thought the man suffered from sexual inadequacy and he may have blinded his victims to prevent them from looking at him. He was a sadist and had difficulty getting relief without using cruelty.

Suspecting that the killer was picking up victims at train stations, Burakov posted undercover officers to keep watch. This proved to be the right move. Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo, 54, a man who had previously been interrogated but was released, was seen at the Donleskhoz train station coming out of the woods. There were twigs on his coat and a red smear on his cheek. Not far away, another slaughtered and mutilated victim was found.

A Chilling Confession

Chikatilo was detained for questioning. He refused to admit to anything. When it appeared that they might have to release him, they brought in Dr. Bukhanovksy. The psychiatrist recognized in Chikatilo the type of man he had described in his report, so he read his narrative to Chikatilo, who finally broke down and admitted what he had done.

He said that his first murder had occurred in 1978, when he'd grabbed a nine-year-old girl and tried to rape her. When he could not achieve an erection, he used a knife as a substitute, killing her. Soon he became obsessed with reliving the crime. In 1981, he killed a vagrant girl looking for money, biting off and swallowing her nipple. When he cut her open, he found sexual relief. He took her sexual organs away with him.

The stabbing, he said, was in place of the sexual intercourse that he could not perform, and he needed violence for arousal. Over the years, it had become more depraved, but he couldn't stop. Male victims, he said, had had a different effect. Chikatilo would fantasize that they were his captives, and that torturing and mutilating them made him a hero, a person of importance. He also admitted to cannibalism, and sometimes he'd removed a uterus and placed his semen inside it, then chewed on it as he walked away. Or he bit off a part and swallowed it. "But the whole thing," Chikatilo said, "— the cries, the blood, the agony— gave me relaxation and a certain pleasure." In the end, he admitted to fifty-six murders, although there was corroboration for only fifty-three: thirty-one females and twenty-two males.

In trying to understand the savage nature of crimes like this, psychologists inevitably search through such a killer's childhood for erotic associations, as well as for sources of anger and hatred. Chikatilo had been a lonely child, mocked by others for his clumsiness and sensitivity. Rather than fight back, he seethed with anger but devised fantasy tortures for his tormenters. His first sexual experience as an adolescent involved ejaculating as he struggled with a ten-year-old friend of his sister's. Later in life, as he experienced difficulty achieving erections, the images of this erotic wrestling helped him to become aroused. Added to that were the frequent humiliations he'd received from women, including his wife and mother. All of this anger became entwined with his fantasies.

His bestial savagery and cannibalism have been associated with incidents to which Chikatilo was exposed growing up. During the early part of the twentieth century, after Stalin had crushed private agricultural concerns, the Soviet Union went through several widespread famines. Millions died from starvation and many desperate people removed flesh from newly-dead corpses. One story indicates that Chikatilo's mother told him that he'd once had an older brother who had been killed as a child and eaten. Whether or not this is true, the young Chikatilo may have believed it.

Found sane, the Maniac was convicted of the multiple murders and summarily executed. The authorities did not find him worthy of further study. Yet like other modern-day bestial killers, he's rare. The more we learn about such fantasies and delusions, from both violent and nonviolent people alike, the better we may be able to help them with treatment and medication. Indeed, some have responded, reverting, finally, to their "human" forms.


Baring-Gould, Sabine. The Book of Were-wolves. Blackmask Online, 2002, first published 1865.

Blundell, Nigel. Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. JG Press, 1996.

Cullen, Robert. The Killer Department: Detective Viktor Burakov's Eight-Year Hunt for the Most Savage Serial Killer in Russian History. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

Douglas, Adams. The Beast Within. New York: Avon, 1992.

Everitt, David. Human Monsters. Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1993.

Frost, Brian. The Essential Guide to Werewolves. University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Geberth, Vernon. Sex-related Homicides and Death Investigation. CRC Press, 2005.

Giannangelo, Stephen. The Psychopathology of Serial Murder. Praeger, 1996.

Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Monsters. New York: Checkmark Books, 2005.

Keck, Paul, et al. "Lycanthropy: Alive and Well in the Twentieth Century." Psychological Medicine, 1988, Vol. 18.

Lane, Brian and Wilfred Gregg. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. NY: Berkley, 1992.

Lourie, Richard. Hunting the Devil: The Pursuit, Capture and Confession of the Most Savage Serial Killer in History. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

Noll, Richard. Vampires, Werewolves, and Demons. NY: Brunner/Mazel, 1992.

Olson, Lise. "One Killer, Two Standards.", August 7, 2001.

Ramsland, Katherine. The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation. New York: Berkley, 2005.

Rice, Anne. "Whither the Werewolf," New York Times Book Review, April 5, 1987.

Schechter, Harold. The Serial Killer Files. New York: Ballantine, 2003.

Steiger, Brad. The Werewolf Book. Detroit: Visible Ink, 1999.

Summers, Montague. The Werewolf. University Books, 1933.

Warren, Ed and Lorraine. Werewolf: A True Story of Demonic Possession. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

About the Author:

Katherine Ramsland, Ph.D. has published twenty-five books. She holds graduate degrees in forensic psychology, clinical psychology, and philosophy. Currently she teaches forensic psychology at DeSales University in Pennsylvania. After publishing two books in psychology, Engaging the Immediate and The Art of Learning, she wrote Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice. At that time, she had a cover story in Psychology Today on our culture's fascination with vampires. Then she wrote guidebooks to Anne Rice's fictional worlds: The Vampire Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, The Witches' Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice's Lives of the Mayfair Witches, The Roquelaure Reader: A Companion to Anne Rice's Erotica, and The Anne Rice Reader. Her next book was Dean Koontz: A Writer's Biography, and then she ventured into journalism with a two-year investigation of the vampire subculture, to write Piercing the Darkness: Undercover with Vampires in America Today. Following that was Ghost, Cemetery Stories, and The Science of Vampires. She has also written for The New York Times Book Review, The Writer, The Newark Star Ledger, Publishers Weekly, and The Trenton Times.

Her background in forensic studies positioned her to assist former FBI profiler John Douglas on his book, The Cases that Haunt Us, and to co-write a book with former FBI profiler, Gregg McCrary, The Unknown Darkness. She has also written The Forensic Science of CSI, The Criminal Mind: A Writer's Guide to Forensic Psychology, The Science of Cold Case Files, and Inside the Minds of Mass Murderers and she pens editorials on breaking forensic cases for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Recently, she co-wrote A Voice for the Dead with James E. Starrs on his exhumation projects, and became part of the team. She also contributes regularly to Court TV's Crime Library and has written nearly three hundred articles about serial killers, forensic psychology, and forensic science. Her latest book is The Human Predator: A Historical Chronicle of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation.

Author: Katherine Ramsland
Source: CourtTV Crime Library


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