Historic Vampires

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While researching the tale of Mercy Brown for the Cemetery Stories post, I read that she was the only accused vampire ever exhumed in the United States. The very idea that this is a notable fact gave me the willies. Is this so common in other countries? As it turns out, exhumation over supernatural suspicions happened quite often in our history, and many people have been accused of vampirism during their lives. There are so many such people that I limited this list to examples of the different reasons people became known as vampires. Warning: these stories are all gruesome.

The Serial Killer: Vincenzo Verzeni

Vincenzo Verzeni of Bergamo, Italy, was a serial killer who derived sexual pleasure from the act of murder by strangulation and from drinking blood and eating the entrails of the deceased. He was called The Vampire Strangler of Bergamo in the press. In 1873 he was arrested for attempted murder after an interrupted attempt at strangling at teenage girl. Verzeni was found guilty of two murders and several attempted murders and was sentenced to hard labor for life at a psychiatric hospital. He died in custody in 1918.

The Torture Victim: Clara Geisslerin

Clara Geisslerin was a 69-year-old widow in the town of Gelnhausen, Germany when she was accused of witchcraft in 1597. Among the charges were graverobbing, murder, and consorting with demons. Under torture (by thumbscrews and the rack), she confessed to sexual relations with demons in the form of animals and to drinking the blood of sixty children that she had killed. She also named twenty other women who were guilty. However, Geisslerin recanted her confession when the torture was stopped. Local authorities, fearing for her soul, resumed the torture a second time. Geisslerin again confessed, adding that she had conceived many children with the demons and had killed them all. She recanted once more as soon as she was taken off the rack, and told her accusers that God would be their judge. The other twenty suspects had been questioned and implicated Geisslerin by then, so the old woman was tortured a third time. A confession was once again elicited, but Geisslerin could not recant this time because she died under the pressure. The judges in the case attributed her death to the devil, who did not want Geisslerin to disclose any further details. Case closed.

The Deceased: Arnold Paole

Arnold Paole was a Serbian soldier who lived a relatively undistinguished life, but became a famous vampire after his death from a fall around the year 1725. Paole had told a tale of how he was once bitten by a vampire in Turkey, but that he had taken steps to reverse the curse, which involved eating soil from the vampire's grave and smearing himself with the vampire's blood. That tale was remembered by those left behind in the village of Medve?a. Within a month of his death, four people reported that Paole had attacked them; all four died soon after. Paole was, of course, blamed for their deaths and his body was exhumed. Expecting to find a skeleton, the villagers were shocked to find he looked rather fresh (after all, Paole had only been buried a few weeks earlier). The appearance of fresh blood at his mouth and the lack of decomposition convinced them that he was, indeed, a vampire. When they drove a stake through the body, Paole's corpse groaned and emitted blood. The villagers then burned the body. They then exhumed the four "victims" and, wonder of wonders, found they, too, were not yet decomposed. They were all staked and then burned.

A few years later in 1731, more than a dozen Medveda citizens died of a mysterious malady. Two of the dead had been to Turkey and brought back tales of vampires, and one had reported she had eaten meat from a sheep that Arnold Paole (or possibly one of his "victims") had slaughtered. The regional authorities sent a contagious disease expert to investigate. He found no evidence of a disease, but suspected rampant malnutrition as the cause of the deaths. The villagers, however, were convinced of a vampire curse. Once again, all the victims were dug up from their graves. Some were found to be in a "vampire condition" (not decomposed). Those bodies were beheaded and burned. Others that were observed to be rotting were reburied as innocent.

The Butcher: Fritz Haarmann

German serial killer Fritz Haarmann became known as the Butcher of Hanover and the Vampire of Hanover as well when his crimes came to light in 1924. Children playing near a river found a stash of human bones, which led to a search and discovery of more than 500 body parts in varying stages of decay. Haarmann had served time as a pedophile and dealer in stolen goods (including black market meat), so he was one of many suspects. He was also a police informant. Haarmann was arrested in the act of luring a boy into his apartment, and a search of the premises turned up bloodstains and some possessions belonging to missing boys. His defense? The blood was from his black market butchering business! Haarmann later confessed to raping, killing, and butchering "between 50 and 70" young men. He was found guilty of 24 murders and suspected of several others, and was executed by beheading in 1925. It was never proved conclusively that the meat he sold was from his victims, but that's what many believe.

The Necrophiliac: Francois Bertrand

Sergeant Francois Bertrand of the French Army earned the nickname the Vampire of Montparnasse by his habit of graverobbing for pleasure in the 1840s. Bertrand had been a model soldier. He also felt an attraction to dead bodies, and would invade cemeteries to dig them up. Bertrand was not attracted to male corpses, but often had to dig up several bodies in order to find a female. Those he would mutilate, often after gratifying himself sexually. He sometimes bit or tasted the flesh as well. His compulsion led him to cemeteries all over France, wherever his unit was stationed, but he was arrested for his activities in Montparnasse. Bertrand was court-martialed and convicted only of damage to state property for violating the graves. After serving his one-year sentence, Bertrand committed suicide in 1850.

The Tyrant: Vlad III

Vlad the Impaler was the ruler of Wallachia from 1456 to 1462 (plus two other short reigns). The region is now part of Romania. He is remembered most for his atrocities while consolidating his power, expanding his realm, and defending it against enemies. Between 40,000 and 100,000 of his enemies were tortured and killed by impalement, a very painful and public method of death. Vlad was known to take pleasure in the procedure. The nickname Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler in English) was bestowed after his death in 1476. Vlad's father, Vlad II, took the name Dracul from the organization called the Order of the Dragon (Dracul is Romanian for "the dragon"). The Romanian suffix "ulea" means "son of," so Vlad III was sometimes called Dracula. Bram Stoker used the name for his fictional vampire, which is how Vlad became associated with vampirism. Christopher Lee, who played Dracula in several Hammer Horror films, portrayed Vlad III in a 1975 documentary.

See also: Historic Werewolves and Real Monsters: The Science Behind the Legends

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October 27, 2011 - 6:29am
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