If you haven’t been clawed, drained, ripped, bitten or sucked yet, don’t go off guard. I interviewed vampire buffs, visited graveyards, consulted skeptics, and searched the literature.
The truth that I dug up is as frightening as the fiction. Savage attacks by putrid vampires and howling werewolves still occur.
From Pine (1984) and Wilson & Grant (1981) I learned what they are.
Vampires of folklore and legend are the living dead who lie in their coffins by day and search for victims, to suck their blood, at night. If deprived of blood the vampire starves. Five other things will destroy him — direct sunlight, a silver bullet, a wooden stake through the heart, incineration, and beheading. Garlic keeps him at bay. So does a crucifix and holy water blessed by a Catholic priest.
Hollywood embellishments include vampires of superhuman strength who vanish in puffs of smoke or turn into bats.
Werewolves are humans who become part wolf on nights of the full moon. Tremendously strong and vicious they tear wretched victims asunder and eat the body parts they find tasty.
Legend often originates in fact.
Erol Feww (pronounced ‘few’), Alf Nowm and Rosa Tunef of the Port Adelaide WEREWOLF RESEARCH CENTRE invited me over.
Erol summarized his research:
"A reign of terror began near Cologne in Germany in 1564. All the victims were gruesomely mutilated. Limbs were scattered about, guts torn out, and skulls split open. The remains were partly eaten. Terror of the werewolf gripped the countryside.
"The mayor of Cologne organized search parties. Peter Stubbe, a rich local merchant, was observed running on all fours and howling. In prison Stubbe admitted to killing and eating over 200 people. He was executed in October 1589."
Except for 2,000 books in his garage Erol seemed normal. One of his references for the Stubbe saga was The Giant Book Of Fantastic Facts.
Erol went on:
"There are literally thousands of similar stories. In France alone 30,000 werewolf sightings were reported between 1500 and 1700 A.D. Some such ‘werewolves’ were nut cases suffering from lycanthropy a psychiatric condition where the person fancies himself a wolf. But no doubt most reports were by superstitious peasants externalising their own fears — perhaps after seeing a literal wolf.
"In 1518 Jean Peyral was executed in France after confessing to changing into a wolf and committing numerous murders.
"In 1521 Michel Verdun and Pierre Bourgot were brought to trial in Poligny, France. Both confessed to changing into wolves and to cannibalism.
"In 1573 Gilles Gamier admitted to killing 12 children with his teeth and devouring them.
"In 1598 long haired, ragged looking, Jacques Rollet was found on the scene when peasants chased wolves away from the body of a dead girl. Rollet claimed he too was sometimes a wolf."
Alf Nowm now took over:
"Human freaks gave impetus to werewolf legends. A few people are born with horns on their forehead. Others are completely covered in long hair. Yu Chenhuan, born in China in 1977, was known as the ‘Wolf Boy’. Two hairy freaks of the 19th century were Jo Jo the dog-faced boy and Lionel the lion-faced man."
Alf showed me a reference in Parker (1983). Then, illustrating his points with newspaper clippings, Alf went on:
"Occasionally children are raised by wolves or other animals. In 1920 two ‘wolf girls’, aged about seven, were captured in Midnapore, India, by Reverend Singh. They scampered on four limbs and ate only raw meat and milk. In 1982 staff at a hospital in Kenya began taming a hairy human ‘animal’ aged about 20, who grunted and ran on all fours. Similar stories in the past must have added fuel to the werewolf legend."
Rosa Tunef added this shocking information:
"One medieval theory was that werewolves could turn their skin inside out. That was how they supposedly hid their wolf-like fur during the day when they lived as humans. Inquisitors therefore investigated werewolf suspects by cutting into the skin. Hundreds died horribly in this way."
Adelaide cousins Cal Raud and Vera Pym are vampire buffs. Over a bottle of tawny port they showed me books by Volta & Riva (1963), Masters (1974) and others. This is what I found out:
Vicious, blood hungry, vampires were known to the ancient Babylonians, Assyrians and Greeks and have terrorized Europe for centuries. The Eyrbyggia Saga of Iceland, for example, tells of vampires in the year 1000 who killed 18 servants in one household.
In 1732 public officials and 24 soldiers from Belgrade (Yugoslavia) opened a grave in a mountain village. Inside was a healthy man who had been "dead" for three years. During those three years five relatives died from vampire bite. The soldiers pierced his heart with an iron bar.
On June 7, 1732, at the village of Medmegna, also near Belgrade, a woman named Miliza was exhumed after being buried 90 days. The woman looked fatter than before her burial.
In 1743 Arnold Paul of Hungary "died" when a cartload of hay fell on him. Four persons subsequently died from vampire bite. Forty days after his burial Paul was exhumed. The sheet covering him was blood-splattered. The District Governor ordered that a stake be driven through the body. The "corpse" struggled, emitting fearful shrieks.
Hundreds of similar incidences occurred in Europe involving "corpses" buried as long as 30 years. They were dragged from graves and tombs and made to shout, bleed or scream before being beheaded, impaled or burned.
Until about 1800 vampires were a vivid reality to most people. As recently as 1969 The Times reported:
"Villagers near the West Pakistan town of Okara are reported to be sleeping indoors, in spite of fierce heat, because they believe vampires are about. They attribute recent deaths among sheep to vampires."
Vera Pym let me browse through her collection of news reports on live burials as she spoke:
"In times past impoverished beggars and fugitives broke into tombs or mausoleums to live there. Under cover of night they came out to scavenge for food. Sometimes, especially when the moon was bright, they would be seen. This is a source of some vampire rumors.
"Indian Yogis can reduce their heart action to the point where a stethoscope cannot detect it. Persons drowned in icy water sometimes survive for 30 minutes without breathing. Certain illnesses such as catalepsy, epilepsy, cataplexy, hysterical trance and sleep paralysis produce a deathlike imitation. In 1921 a torrential downpour extinguished the flames on the funeral pyre of Rajah Ramendra (1884-1946) of Dacca (Pakistan), and revived him. The Rajah spent the rest of his life in legal battles to prove he was alive. He finally succeeded, and regained his fortune, just before his death.
"In Palermo, Sicily, Antonio Percelli, aged 56, climbed from his coffin during his burial service. Mourners fled screaming. The shock killed his mother-in-law and she took his place in his grave.
"In 1896 Franz Hartman wrote Premature Burial. This book was a literal chronicle of disgusting horror. Even nowadays there are reports every year of people misdiagnosed as dead. So it must have been much more common in the past when the criteria for pronouncing people dead were less clear."
By this time I was choking on my tawny port. I realised that some of the "vampires" dug up from graves were really premature burials! Vera clinched her argument:
"Tribes and races that cremate their dead are relatively free of vampire stories."
Here are the opening sentences of some of Vera Pym’s news-reports collection:
The Advertiser, 5 April, 1969:
Several "miraculous" revivals of people thought to be clinically dead have made Israeli doctors look again at the definition of death.
The Advertiser, 16 January, 1974:
TURIN. Tuesday — An elderly Turin man died of fright yesterday after waking up and finding himself in a coffin with the undertakers about to take him away.
The Advertiser, 5 January, 1972:
MENDOZA, Argentina, Friday — Police said yesterday they were investigating a case in which a doctor, pronounced dead of a heart attack, may have been entombed alive.
The Advertiser, 28 February, 1974:
LONDON—Birmingham Hospital surgeons discovered a 64-year-old man was still alive when they cut him open to remove a kidney for a transplant operation.
The Advertiser, 30 March, 1985:
AMSTERDAM — An Irishman is recovering in hospital despite being declared dead after being pulled from a frozen pond.
Bangkok World, 9 July, 1975:
COLOMBO (UPD) A 20-Year-Old Hindu woman is a northern Sri Lanka village who was presumed dead came back to life when the last funeral rites were being performed, the English language daily Ceylon Newspaper reported yesterday.
Vera showed me a list of almost 250 movies on the vampire theme. Cal Raud explained:
"The movie vampire, Dracula, is named after a 15th century Rumanian prince called Vlad Dracul (1431-1546). Prince Dracul fought numerous wars and depopulated whole towns. His favorite method of executing his enemies was to have them thrown onto upward pointing spears. He once impaled the entire population of a town in this way. Another time, in January 1531, he had 3,000 Turks impaled before breakfast.
[Errata: The name and date should be “Vlad Tepis (1431-1476)”. Dracula, meaning “son of the devil”, was his sobriquet or nickname. The impalement of the 3,000 Turks occurred in 1461.]
"Dracul’s name became associated with murder, blood, guts and horror. Eventually he himself was beheaded. But only after he had lost and regained his throne three times. The myth therefore began that he would return yet again."
Vera explained that a number of theatre plays on the vampire theme, but not yet using Dracul's name, drew European crowds in 1820. Other stage plays on vampires were released through the century especially in the 1850s.
Some 19th century writers treated vampires seriously and matter of fact. In 1851 came On The Truths In Popular Superstitions by Herbert Mayo senior surgeon of Middlesex hospital and professor of physiology at King’s College. Dr. Mayo claimed: "This is no romancer’s dream... Do I believe it? To be sure I do. The facts are matters of history; the people died like rotted sheep."
Around 1900, A O Eaves wrote Modern Vampirism: Its Dangers And How To Avoid Them. Eaves opened with: "Want of space will prevent elaborate and detailed proofs being given…"
Then followed many blood-curdling accounts and speculations. Finally, Eaves recommended self-protection using garlic and saucers of nitric acid.
Vera explained further:
"Three 19th century novelists played major parts in arousing public attention.
"John Polidori wrote The Vampyre. Thomas Prescott-Prest wrote Varney The Vampire a book of over 860 pages. In 1897 novelist Bram Stoker (1849-1914) developed the myths about Dracul into the horror classic of Dracula. Then came Hollywood."
Hollywood "came" that evening to us also. Switching from Port to a 1977 Cabernet Shiraz we watched vampire video movies. By using "fast forward" for the boring bits we got through four of them. An instructive and entertaining evening!
THEY REALLY EXIST!
At the University of Adelaide I encountered Con Rogay a biology student studying blood. He told me about bloodsucking mosquitoes, bloodsucking vampire bats, bloodsucking leeches, single-celled blood parasites, and the Malayan vampire moth Calyptra eustrigata.
He explained that some people have a psychiatric condition that gives them a sexual thrill from drinking or licking warm blood. Then as we munched a kilo of cherries in the cafeteria he got to the point:
"In 1963 Dr Lee Illis of Britain presented a paper titled On Porphyria And The Aetiology Of Werewolves.
"Porphyrias are a group of genetic diseases that strike one person in 200,000. About 20,000 sufferers live in South Africa and 5,000 in the rest of the world. In this disease porphyrin, a molecule necessary in red blood cells, is defective.
"The sufferer undergoes vomiting, nausea, limb weakness and partial destruction of the nervous system. A rare form of porphyria leads to paralysis, psychotic disturbances, anaemia and insanity. Severe constipation and gut pains can make the sufferer mean and nasty.
"Even worse can follow if he gets too much sunlight. The skin becomes itchy and scarred. Nose and fingers drop off. Gums recede and teeth appear large and brown. Excessive hair-growth, even on the forehead, results.
"Drinking large quantities of blood can alleviate the symptoms. Red blood cells live about 120 days. But garlic activates an enzyme that destroys them faster and makes the symptoms of congenital porphyria worse."
My cherries suddenly lost their taste. The key words "nasty" "sunlight" "teeth" "hair" "blood" and "garlic" made everything fit together — so I thought.
Porphyria is easily misdiagnosed even today. In Medieval Europe the severer symptoms, especially if they included drinking blood at night, would have had one interpretation. Suppose only several porphyria sufferers per century fought the severer symptoms by staying in tombs by day and coming out at night to find blood! Such wretched freaks, when caught, would be killed as "vampires" or "werewolves".
Such examples would give the vampire superstition a basis in reality that only vampires of the movie type (which thankfully don’t exist!) could beat!
I found no club centred on garlic — no garlic equivalent of the WEREWOLF RESEARCH CENTRE. Therefore I checked up encyclopedia references and also a newspaper article by Liz Byrski. Then, over a beef and tomato sandwich sprinkled with garlic salt, I read them.
Garlic is a hardy perennial plant that grows wild in Europe. Its bulbous roots are used in cookery. Its white flowers can be dried and used as spice.
In 1973 Demetrius Myiciura of Stoke-On-Trent in England choked to death on garlic flowers which he used to stuff into his mouth at bedtime. Myiciura, a Polish expatriate, was terrified of vampires.
If garlic works then Cleopatra (69-30 BC) was safe for she ate it constantly. But her breath and skin stank terribly as a result. This would have repelled not only vampires but also all but the randiest of men — which her boyfriend, Mark Antony (83-30 BC), surely was.
Garlic supposedly promotes good blood circulation, protects against disease and environmental pollution, and has anti fungal properties. Some "Health Food Shops" sell Garlic Oil Capsules.
I failed to find out at this time how garlic became associated with vampires. But a quote by Liz Byrski from Dr Toru Fuwa, Head of research of Wakunaga Pharmaceuticals in Japan, seemed significant:
"Raw garlic oxidises in the system and becomes toxic in large amounts. It destroys red blood cells and results in anaemia and it can irritate and burn the mucous lining of the mouth, the oesophagus and the stomach."
The West Terrace Cemetery is one of Adelaide’s oldest and largest. I visited it, and the Cheltenham Cemetery, to assist my mood for this report. It was near evening and the roar of traffic 200 metres away contrasted starkly with the eerie silence of the tombstones.
In neither cemetery did I see any "walking dead". The odds were against it anyway, I learned from Con.
BLOOD CRAVING MONSTERS!
Dutchman Skorno Loontz, who now lives near Port Adelaide, collects case reports of unusual crimes. He told me about Countess Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) who tortured, bled, and murdered 600 peasant girls to drink their blood or bathe in it. She felt that washing in the blood of young girls was the secret of long lasting youth.
Next Skorno spoke about a book by Augustin Calmet published in 1749. Calmet described "vampires" who were tracked to particular tombs and who then fought like madmen to avoid being transfixed with a wooden stake or burned.
"Gilles de Rais (1405-1440) was a rich and famous French baron who fought alongside Joan of Arc against the English. During his last 10 years de Rais, now a recluse, kidnapped, sodomised, tortured and disembowelled up to 150 children. He drank their blood for the sexual excitement this gave him.
"Around 1849/1850 many cemeteries in Paris had graves broken open at night and the bodies mutilated. Vampire rumors spread! The culprit turned out to be Sergeant Victor Bertrand who had a sexual attraction to corpses — a condition known as necrophilia.
"From 1919-1924 Fritz Haarmann (1879-1925) of Hanover, Germany, murdered 27 boys aged 12 to 18 by holding them down and biting into their throat. Known as the "Hanover Vampire" he was executed by beheading."
Skorno paused to show me an extract from the London Daily Express 1925, April 17:
VAMPIRE BRAIN. PLAN TO PRESERVE IT FOR SCIENCE.
Berlin. Thursday, April 16
The body of Fritz Haarmann. executed yesterday at Hanover for twenty-seven murders, will not be buried until it has been examined at Göttingen University.
Owing to the exceptional character of the crimes — most of Haarmann’s victims were bitten to death — the case aroused tremendous interest among German scientists.
A generous warm-hearted person, despite his morbid hobby, Skorno offered biscuits and red grape juice before going on:
"Albert Fish was an American sadomasochistic maniac who, from 1910-1935, murdered and partly ate up to 400 children.
"Peter Kurten (1883-1931) was called the "Monster of Dusseldorf". Kurten raped nine kids, cut their throats, and drank their blood. He claimed that blood was as necessary to him as cigarettes are to others.
"John George Haigh, born 1910 of Plymouth Brethren parents, hanged 1949, confessed to murdering eight people and drinking their blood from a wine glass.
"Idi Amin, dictator of Uganda until 1979, is alleged to have sucked or eaten body parts of murdered political opponents.
"Around 1980 Denis Nilsen of London killed up to 16 homosexuals, dissected the bodies, and partly ate them."
Skorno wanted to go on and give examples country by country. But I felt the information already given was enough. Anyone could see that such ghoulish crimes could be a major origin of ancient vampire legends.
We switched to raspberry lemonade and made pleasant conversation about other mutual interests — such as Holland which I have visited twice. When I got up to leave, Skorno gave me two news clippings:
The Advertiser, 1985 April 9:
MIAMI — John Brennan Crutchley, 39, accused of kidnapping, raping and drinking the blood of a teenage girl, is to stand trial on May 19 on charges of rape, kidnap, robbery, aggravated assault and theft in connection with the November attack. The victim, from California, was hospitalised for blood loss after the assault.
The Advertiser, 1986 March 29:
LONDON— A wolf-man sex pervert wailed under a full moon as he lay hidden in bushes, armed with a hammer and knife, to lure a woman, 28, into an ambush, according to detectives at Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire. When the woman went to investigate, the man tore off her clothes and subjected her to what police call "a serious perverted sexual attack" which stopped short of rape. However, the woman grabbed the hammer, hit her attacker over the head and escaped.
I presented my findings on vampires to the SA Skeptics Association. These intellectuals, always eager to refute crazy claims, gave me copies of articles in New Scientist 1984 April 26 and September 13.
A spokesman for the skeptics stated: "The alleged connection between porphyria and vampires has been refuted."
The first New Scientist article (by Lionel Milgrom) gave a lot of biochemistry before getting onto "iron deficiency prophyria". It listed much the same symptoms as Con Rogay had described.
The second article, by R S Day, said in part:
"Iron-deficiency porphyria…does not constitute a ‘porphyria’…
People lacking vital iron porphyrins, for whatever reason, cannot replenish their haem stores directly by simply drinking blood, because haem absorption by the gut is minimal.
I should emphasise that during my research of all types of porphyria, involving several hundred patients, I have encountered not one with either a lust for blood or any unnatural aversion to garlic. Such nonsense is particularly unfortunate in South Africa, where variegated porphyria is more common than in any other country.
Stories sensationally linking the problem with vampirism discourage those with porphyric symptoms, or a family history of such symptoms, from seeking expert advice."
I found Con Rogay dissecting a bat in the university zoology lab and confronted him with the New Scientist articles. There was a rule against eating while dissecting and so this time Con kept his cherries in his book bag. He indicated one of the books, The Encyclopedia Of Horror, which I opened to page 111 and read:
"This rare type of congenital porphyria occurs in modern times in certain places and districts in countries like Sweden and Switzerland, but Dr Illis emphasises that only about 80 such cases have been reported in recent times in world medical literature. He adds they should not be confused with a common and widespread type which has nothing what ever to do with the subject of lycanthropy. One type of porphyria is relatively common and occurs in all countries."
"Only 80 in recent times out of tens of thousands," emphasised Con. "Perhaps R S Day just hasn’t studied the right examples."
Vampires of superhuman strength, who are virtually indestructible, who live for centuries, who emit bolts of lightning and change into bats, obviously don’t exist. At least I found no direct evidence of them.
Genuine supernatural werewolves are equally elusive.
My search therefore centred on the question of how such widespread belief in such creatures originated. Indeed until two centuries ago belief in vampires and/or werewolves was almost as common as belief in God. And lots of people still live in fear of vampires today! A widespread intercontinental, trans-cultural belief that survives 3,000 years would need recurring evidences, other than rumor alone, to sustain it.
Historical and medical evidence that could account for vampire/werewolf legends therefore constituted the main part of my research. The sorts of crimes, settings and behaviors I’ve described are sufficient to account for the vampire rumors — especially when uneducated and superstitious peasants exaggerate them in the retelling.
The debate about the relevance to vampirism of a "rare type of porphyria" is unresolved. The next step might be to try to find some of those alleged 80 humans who resemble werewolves or vampires.
"The Werewolf Research Centre has closed down," said Vera Pym by phone. "Its members might be joining my group."
"Oh, I’m glad to hear that," I replied
"Anyway, how’s your article progressing?" she asked?
"Its almost finished. One thing’s missing however. The readers will want to know how to protect themselves. Just in case!"
"Use garlic daily. Don’t sleep alone. Get bite marks checked by your doctor. Shop during daylight."
"What about saucers of nitric acid? You mentioned them the night I watched your movies."
"No good. The vampire would just step over or around them."
Ask a silly question!
[The author — W Scherz — has used a pseudonym. "Scherz" means "joke" or "hoax" in German. The reader may like to unscramble the other names and relate them to Vampyre, Dracula, Werewolf, Nosferatu, Yorga, Wolfman, Kronos and Zolton. Zolton is Dracula’s dog. Kronos is a fictious vampire hunter. The facts reported under the different names are, however, as accurate as the sources consulted.]
Byrski, L 1988 A Smelly Rose With Many Uses. In: The Australian, June 8, p. 11
Cropper, C et al The Giant Book of Fantastic Facts, Haddock, Britain
Grant, J 1988 Great Mysteries, Quintet, Britain
Hartmann, F 1896 Premature Burial London
Maltin, L 1984 TV Movies 1985-86, Signet, USA
Masters, A 1974 The Natural History of the Vampire, Mayflower Books, Britain
New Scientist 1982 October 28, pp 244-245
1982 November 18 p 459
1984 April 26 pp 9-13
1984 September 13 pp 53-54
O’Keefe, D 1983 The History of Ideas, Macquarie Aust.
Parade 1956 May pp 22-23
1961 August pp 36-37
1966 October pp 64-65
Parker, M 1983 The World’s Most Fantastic Freaks, Octopus, Britain
Penrose, V. 1972 The Bloody Countess, Nel, Britain
Pine, D 1984 The Vampire Cinema, Galley Press, Britain
Sim, M 1974 Guide To Psychiatry 3rd edition, Churchill Livingstone, Britain, pp 228-230
The Advertiser 1985, June 1 p 5
1987, March 14 p 23
Volta, O & Riva, V 1963 The Vampire An Anthology, Pan, Britain
Wilson. C & Grant, J 1981 The Directory of Possibilities, Webb & Bower, Britain
Author: Wolfgang Scherz
Source: The March 29, 1993 issue of Investigator.