Dr. Stephen Kaplan met me in a coffee shop at an anonymous intersection of Queens, New York.
He was cautious about having strangers over to his house, he said, because in his line of work he ran into some very weird people. "Murderers, psychopaths, blood cultists, vampiroids, degenerates...last year I got fan mail from a werewolf in Georgia…"
Kaplan is founder and director of the Vampire Research Centre in Elmhurst, New York. Not only are there vampires, actual vampires, he said, but he has met a number of them.
For the record, they neither slept in coffins nor turned into bats at night. "Vampires are not immortal either, but they do live a long time."
At first glance, Kaplan is not someone you would associate with so singular an interest. On the plump side, he was dressed in a three-piece suit and a darkish striped tie. But on his left hand was a silver ring, a gargoyle that you could have seen from across the street. The ring is a good-luck token that a vampire gave him.
"Vampires like me," said Kaplan, "they like my sense of humor."
But no, he is not putting the rest of us on. If anything, he was doggedly earnest. Indeed, if you listen to him long enough you almost start to think of vampires as people with this, uh, quirk. Some people like getting dressed up in rubber, some people are exhibitionists and some will, well, bite you in the neck.
Take "Mrs X", a vampire from California he interviewed not long ago. "Her children were aware that she was a vampire, but she didn't drink blood in front of them."
Didn't the kids have a problem with the, uh, concept? "Well, it depends on the age," said Kaplan seriously. "If you're told when you're two or three years old, maybe by the time you're a teenager, you're getting used to the idea that Mommy is a little different."
Maybe. Not that Kaplan himself stumbled into vampirology that way. "It started, I guess, as a youngster, listening to radio raconteurs discuss such bizarre things as abominable snowmen and UFOs..."
Classed as intellectually impaired as a child, he was to catch up in the end, overcompensate, even, going to college for years and years, until he had degrees in this and degrees in that.
Intrigued by para-psychology, he gave countless classes in extra-sensory perception, telepathy and the rest of it.
Since founding the Vampire Research Centre 15 years ago, he has compiled the only "vampire census" ever taken.
"There are about 500 vampires worldwide," he said, "and we've heard from several vampires in Australia."
These days, fewer and fewer vampires seem to respect the traditions. Count Dracula’s nip on the neck, it turns out, may even be a bit old-fashioned.
VAMPIRES find volunteers. They hang around with "blood cultists" or people who practise witchcraft.
"Mrs X had paramours who would accept the love bites, as she called them, but vampires will use syringes, razor blades, small knives..."
"Hold it right there," I told Kaplan, "I'm squeamish." "Well, make sure you're not the victim, heh heh."
But Kaplan is dead serious about the "science" of vampirology. "We're no fly-by-night outfit," he said, "and we separate the facts from the fiction."
Not everyone is quite convinced.
The Bela Lugosi image of the vampire is "pure mythology", said Paul Kurtz, chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). "On the other hand, there are people who have a penchant for tasting blood. Some people are sexually aroused by drinking it."
CSICOP "debunks claims" about the supernatural. Its executive director is Australian Mark Plummer, who used to be a lawyer in Melbourne.
Questioned about the existence of vampires he seemed to have trouble keeping a straight face. "This is an issue we can sink our teeth into," he said. "Still, I feel there's more chance of being mugged than bitten in the neck."
Other than investigating them, Kaplan has no truck with vampires. "Some people in the business are vampires themselves," he went on. "They lose that objectivity."
Little irritates him as much as "the crackpots" who muscle in on his turf. "Look at this," he said, showing me a story from the National Enquirer.
The story was about a "famed psychic researcher" called Eddy Warren. "Year before, last, this guy found 150-year-old dead vampires coming back to attack people in Vermont. Then he sent out a Press release about levitating Cabbage Patch dolls. The guy's a quack. Just look at this story..."
To be honest, I was still staring at the photograph. It showed the famed psychic researcher, a middle-aged, double-chinned man in a sober suit and spectacles, holding a crucifix over a Cabbage Patch doll that was floating above its crib.
Talk about a picture being worth a thousand words, even if the story itself said that one of the Cabbage Patch dolls possessed by demons had tried to choke its owner.
"I mean, can you believe that they'd give this guy publicity?"
"I'd believe anything," I said.
Author: Elisabeth Synhausen
Source: Originally published in The Advertiser March 14, 1987. Re-printed in Investigator July 31, 1993.