WORMWOOD FILES: "Vampire Tales"

Investigation by Dr. Abner Mality

Pity the poor vampire! No supernatural creature has had its image take such a beating in the last couple of decades. Once dreaded and feared by whole populations, popular teen fiction and horrendous cinematic garbage like the "Twilight" movies have turned the vampire into a misunderstood, almost "cuddly" misift. Being a vampire is almost like having acne or going through puberty, only you become allergic to sunlight. But to make up for that, you get to glow in the dark like Tinkerbell.

Who needs such bullshit? A few more years of this pop culture nonsense...spread even further by weak-kneed TV shows like "The Vampire Diaries"...and only a select few will remember that vampires were once damned creatures of evil. Living corpses reeking of the grave, gorging themselves on blood like two legged leeches and crawling back to their tombs to flee the sunlight.

I view it as a duty....nay, a sacred crusade...to keep alive the image of the vampire as a fearsome being of the night. Thus, I am compelled to write this edition of the Wormwood Files. It would take far too much time for me to cover the history of vampirism. a history which goes back to the dawn of humanity. Even a look at vampires in film and TV would be a huge undertaking. Instead, I want to focus on a few historic incidents which suggest that the "Nosferatu" may be more than just a superstitious legend.

To be sure, there have been plenty of "human" vampires in history....crazed men and women who believed they had to drink blood to sustain life. None of these was more famous than the grotesque "Blood Countess", Elizabeth Bathory. This wicked noblewoman carved her name in history by bathing in the blood of virgin girls in an attempt to stay young and beautiful. The number of Elizabeth's victims is uncertain, but she had scores of girls killed to satisfy her bizarre lusts. Captured at last, she was walled up alive in her chambers as punishment.

In more recent times, there have been many deranged individuals who have killed victims to drink their blood. The Englishman John George Haigh was perhaps the most famous of these...the murders he committed in the late 40's/early 50's created a sensation with their gruesome details. Other serial killers motivated by literal bloodlust include Germany's Fritz Haarman and Russia's infamous Andrei Chikatilo. In the 1990's, Florida was rocked by a series of gory murders comitted by a teenage "vampire clan", led by Roderick Ferrell and inspired by the role-playing game "Vampire: The Masquerade". Such crimes have become more common in this sensationalistic, media-driven age.

But what of REAL vampires? True blood-drinking supernatural ghouls, not just whackos who think they're the real thing. Do such undead fiends truly walk the Earth?

Demetrious Myicura thought so. The fear of vampires dominated his life so much that his existence revolved around keeping the monsters at bay. He believed in them implicitly...and that belief led to a horrible, lonely death for the elderly Polish immigrant.

It was 1973 when Myicura's emaciated, grotesquely contorted body was found in his dreary home in the village of Stoke-on-Trent in England. The elderly man had worked quietly in the village since the late 1940's, keeping to himself and making few friends and acquaintances. It was only after he had missed work for several days that the police were called to investigate. What they found seemed out of place in modern, technological Britain.

Myicura was found dead on his bed in his cold and meanly furnished abode. He had taken all electric light bulbs out of their sockets and lived in candlelit silence. His body was found on his bed fully clothed, with his knees bent upward and his right elbow bent behind his head. A huge mound of clothes lay at the foot of the bed. Myicura's body was rigid with rigor mortis and his mouth gaped open as if frozen in a scream of terror.

There was more strangeness in the room. Salt was sprinkled everywhere, including the bed itself. Newspapers were spread around the bed...as if to warn Myicura if anybody approached him while sleeping. Anyone stepping on the newspapers would make a loud crackling sound. Several containers were strategically placed throughout the room. Many were filled with combination of urine and salt. On the window a bowl held a mixture of human waste and garlic.

The police were mystified by these strange details. An autopsy showed that Myicura actually died of suffocation...the old man had choked to death on a piece of pickled garlic. The cause of death seemed natural yet the circumstances were decidedly UNNATURAL. Further investigation discovered that all of the weird items surrounding Myicura's death were designed to ward off vampires...the salt, the containers mixing waste and garlic and salt, the newspapers, the piece of pickled garlic It was theorized that this was the way that the old man lived, each night consumed by fear of the living dead. Instead of swallowing or chewing the garlic piece, Myicura had choked on it. All of the strangeness was part of old Polish folk remedies for vampirism.

Demetrious Myicura must have been brought up in an atmosphere of dread. The terrors of the vampire had been so thoroughly ingrained in him that even when he moved to a modern, "civilized" country, that fear still dominated his life. And eventually it claimed him.

Were the vampires that Myicura feared real? No evidence was found of any vampire-type murders in the Stoke-on-Trent area. Police ruled his passing as "death by misadventure". But who can truly say? Was he a mentally disturbed, lonely old man...or was there a root behind his fear?

Up until very recent times, vampires were strongly believed in in many parts of Eastern Europe, particularly the rural areas. Although the old beliefs are fading away, they are not gone yet....older folks in remote areas still hang garlic outside their doors at night. Those most likely to return from death as vampires, such as suicides, are still buried at crossroads to prevent their revival. The further back in time we go, the more prevalent belief in vampires becomes.

A case in 1732 showed that even police and "rational" authorities from cosmopolitan cities like Belgrade were convinced of the existence of the walking dead. It is one of the most well documented cases of actual vampirism on record.

Reports came in from a remote rural village that inhabitants were dying at an alarming and unnatural rate due to an outbreak of vampirism. Although the more sophisticated urban police were cynical, they did not dismiss the possibility of the supernatural automatically. A team of seasoned investigators set to discover what was troubling the village.

It was obvious when they arrived that the village was in the grip of deadly fear. Many respected locals, including the town priest, mayor and prosecutor, came forward to tell the grisly story. A local farmer who had committed suicide three years earlier had returned from the dead as a vampire to plague his family. He preyed in particular upon his young nieces and nephews, killing four in total by draining them of blood. The ghoul was caught in the act of trying to kill a fifth child but was forced to flee when confronted. This was how the villagers knew for certain the identity of the killer.

The policemen were assured the killer was indeed dead and were given the location of his grave. The plan was to dig up and open the grave at twilight, await for the vampire to awaken and then dispatch him by the time-honored method...an iron stake through the heart, followed by a swift decapitation.

When the grave was opened, the hardened police were shocked to see the rigid but undecayed form of a man, ruddy cheeked, with long beard and hair and fingernails which continued to grow after "death". Worse yet, the figure's eyes were open in a glassy, unseeing stare. Unnerved by the eerie sight, the gathering quickly impaled the vampire with the iron stake. A huge amount of blood, mixed with a viscous white fluid, gushed forth from the wound as the ghoul issued a horrifying groan. His head was quickly struck off and the body tossed in a quicklime pit.

When the police returned to Belgrade, they made a sober report of what had happened and each testified to what they had seen. Those depositions can still be found in the record. It seemed as if, in one little village in Wallachia in 1732, vampires were real.

The story of a family member returning from the grave to prey on his family inspired the story "The Wurdalak" in Mario Bava's classic film "Black Sabbath". It is also a characteristic of most vampire folklore that vampires prey first upon their own kin.

One famous "true" vampire story has now become clouded by doubt. This was the story of the "Vampire of Croglin

Grange", which has been cited for decades as a signature tale of the macabre. There has always been debate whether the "Vampire" was indeed a supernatural blood sucker, a human lunatic or even a werewolf or alien being! Now there's an issue about how "real" the story was in the first place.

The story concerned a beautiful young lady recovering from fatigue and stress with her two brothers at Croglin Grange, a remote country estate located next to some forbidding moors. During a warm summer's eve, the lady left her window open and was attacked by some skeletal, barely human fiend that grabbed her by the hair and bit her neck. Hearing her screams, her brothers arrived and chased the ghoul away before further harm could be done. A posse was set out to find the culprit but he was not found.

Terrified by the encounter, the lady left Croglin Grange for a long period of time, but worked up enough nerve to return the next year. Sure enough, the "vampire" returned but this time, the victim was ready. Armed with pistols, the brothers rushed in at the first cry and shot the bony intruder in the leg. Showing incredible speed for such an emaciated creature, the monster fled. This time, the brothers were able to follow the trail of blood from its wound...to an open mausoleum in a local graveyard, where a gruesome sight met their eyes. The remains of corpses and broken coffins were strewn about and the "vampire" was found laying in an open casket, in a catatonic state. The "vampire" was dispatched in the traditional way, bringing an end to the terror of Croglin Grange.

There was a lot of speculation on what exactly the intruder was. He was described as thin to the point of starvation, filthy and dishevelled. Some descriptions made him out as more beast than man and since his attacks came on nights of the full moon, some thought he may have been a werewolf. Others thought that it could have been some deranged lunatic living like an animal in the moors.

Alas, investigation revealed a number of inconsistencies in the story. The actual Croglin Grange was anything but a well-appointed mansion. Local stories on the incident were non-existent and shrewd observers pointed out that the Croglin Vampire's attack on the beautiful lady mirrored a scene in the famous "penny-dreadful" novel "Varney the Vampire". Somewhere, there might be a shade of truth behind the Croglin story, but it seems most of it was just a rousing good tale based on a combination of several sources.

Despite this, there are still tales of "true" vampires occasionally popping up amidst reports of Gothic loonies playing dress-up and drinking blood. In England, the Rev. Neil Smith, a priest of renown, has long held that real vampires lurk amongst us. He claims to have dealt with several actual cases of vampirism.

The legend of blood-sucking killers who live after death is so prevalent amongst all cultures of the world that one wonders if there is some kernel of truth to the vampire legend. Perhaps vampires are distorted versions of people who were buried alive or afflicted by psychological maladies or rabies. Perhaps...

Better buy an extra clove of garlic just to be on the safe side!

This is Dr. Abner Mality, turning out the lights.