Along with werewolves and zombies, vampires are among the most popular mythological monsters sweeping mainstream popular culture. They appear in blockbuster film series and on various well-established television shows, in addition to video games and books that are too numerous to list. They are even the basis for a subculture sometimes linked to “goths” (not always to the goths’ delight as spoofed on South Park). Some of this almost obsession with vampires is fun and relatively harmless. On the other hand, it has also resulted in the depiction of historical figures in a less than historical manner and has encouraged mentally ill people to seriously believe they are either vampires or that they should at least act like them. As such, the vampire craze has had a negative side effect that blurs history and can even have fatal consequences. This list focuses on a mixture of historical people erroneously depicted as vampires and actual mortal serial killers who either believed themselves to be immortal members of the undead or who were exaggerated as such in tabloids. While some names on this list are obvious and must be included in any top ten list on historic vampires, others may be a bit more surprising. That worked out in such an unintended way that the first five entries are criminals whereas the next five are legendary people whose lives have been idealized and blurred over the years from whatever historical basis there once was concerning them.
10. Tracey Wigginton (born 1965)
Our first entry is a woman from Australia who was accused with three others in a murder of a man in 1989. Winnington, her then girlfriend Lisa Ptachinski, and two other women lured a 47-year old man to a park at night. Winnington proceeded to stab the man twenty-seven times. According to Ptachinski, they allegedly did the crime in order to drink his blood and as a result Wigginton has been dubbed “The Lesbian Vampire Killer”. Wiggington plead guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. While in prison, she assaulted a fellow inmate and a prison guard. In 2012, Wiggington, now on crutches, was released from prison. Earlier, Ptaschinski was rumored to be released in 2008, but those rumors were later dismissed as false.
9. The Vampire Clan
The Vampire Clan consisted of teenagers who claimed to be vampires. The group included Howard Scott Anderson, Dana Cooper, Roderrick Justin Ferrell (born 28 March 1980), and Charity Keesee. The group were companions of a Heather Wendorf, whose parents the male teens had murdered. They also burned a V mark on Heather’s father’s body. Why? Well, Ferrell claimed he was actually a five-hundred-year-old vampire named Vesago. Ferrell, who was convicted of felony murder, burglary, and armed robbery, was sentenced to life without parole. Anderson received the same sentence. The girls received different sentences as they were apparently not at the house when Heather’s parents were murdered. Keesee was sentenced to ten and half years in prison for two counts of third degree murder, robbery with a gun or deadly weapon, and burglary armed with weapon or explosives. Cooper was convicted of the same charges as Keesee, but received a prison sentence of seventeen and a half years instead.
8. The Vampire Rapists
Nicknamed as The Vampire Rapist, Wayne Boden’s (c. 1948 – 27 March 2006) known victims include Shirley Audette, Marielle Archambault, Jean Way, and Elizabeth Anne Porteous. The four attacks occurred in Canada from 1969 to 1971. Boden was convicted and imprisoned from his crimes. In 1977, he briefly escaped from prison before being recaptured. He died in 2006 from skin cancer (not sure if it was because of sunlight…). Contemporaneous with Boden, albeit in the United States rather than Canada was another “vampire rapist.” John Brennan Crutchley (pictured, 1 October 1946 – 30 March 2002) has been nicknamed The Florida Vampire Rapist. He was convicted of kidnapping and sexual battery for which he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Crutchley is a known rapist, but also a suspected serial killer, who may have been involved in various disappearances, including the unsolved case concerning sisters Katherine Mary Lyon (aged 10), and Sheila Mary Lyon (aged 12).
7. Richard Chase (23 May 1950 – 26 December 1980)
Dubbed The Vampire of Sacramento for drinking his victims’ blood, Chase was a convicted murderer before he committed suicide by overdose of prison-doctor prescribed antidepressants. His first murder was most likely a drive-by shooting, but his later crimes included cannibalism. One of his victims was even three months pregnant at the time that he fatally shot her three times. Various television crime procedurals have had episodes based on his crimes. He was sentenced to die in the gas chamber, but managed to escape that fate.
6. The Vampires of Germany
For some bizarre reason, two separate individuals, contemporaneous with each other, both participated in vampire-like crimes in Germany in the 1920s. Known as The Vampire of Düsseldorf, Peter Kürten (26 May 1883 – 2 July 1931) killed from 9 to 60 people, attempted to murder 7 others, and sexually assaulted an unknown number of people. Possibly even worse was a man known as the Vampire of Hanover. This individual, Fritz Haarmann (pictured, 25 October 1879 – 15 April 1925), killed at least 24 to 27 people before he was executed by guillotine at age 45 in 1925. Of the vampire killers of the twentieth century, Haarmann has the most confirmed victims, which is why he ranks so highly on this list.
5. Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943)
Tesla as well as the other top four names on this list are without a doubt more household names that the criminals listed above. As such, they appear higher in the rankings, although they are less likely to have been historic “vampires” in the sense of ever drinking anyone else’s blood. That reality has not stopped everyone from authors to filmmakers to portray them as vampires in well-known aspects of popular culture. So, just as surely as Abe Lincoln was probably not really hunting vampires for most of his life, nor were these individuals acting like vampires either. Regardless, in the Canadian television series Sanctuary (2007-2011), the famed Serbian-America scientist and inventor is a recurring character and a vampire. So, in addition to being depicted as a “mad scientist” in other forms of media, Tesla also gets to be seen as a vampire, too! Yay?
4. Billy the Kid (c. 23 November 1859 – c. 14 July 1881)
In real life, Billy was an infamous outlaw of the Wild West in American popular culture. Yet, in BloodRayne 2: Deliverance (2007), Billy is not only seen as gunslinger and the primary villain of the film, but yes he is also a vampire who must fight a half-human half-vampire named Rayne. Rayne triumphs and later goes onto to battle Nazis (because why not?) in BloodRayne: The Third Reich. Meanwhile, Billy has also appeared alongside Elizabeth Báthory and Vlad the Impaler in the McFarlane’s Monsters III: 6 Faces of Madness series of action figures released in 2004. Because Billy was more likely a criminal than Tesla and has accordingly been depicted as such much more regularly than Tesla, I have ranked him higher on this list.
3. Salome (c. AD 14 – between 62 and 71)
Salome is the oldest historical figure to appear on this list and thus ranks quite high. She is already a sort of villainous seductress in the Bible. Historically, she may have performed the Dance of the Seven Veils for King Herod Antipas, who had married her mother Herodias. Herodias was previously married to Herod II, the father of Salome and half-brother of Herod Antipas. According to Ancient sources, the dance was pleasing enough that the king offered his niece a choice of reward for her performance. Her mother then urged her daughter to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter as punishment for his criticism of Herod’s marriage with Herodias. The king agreed. She appears as a vampire first in the book Dead as a Doornail as the owner of a Casino called “Siete Velos” and the maker of a vampire called Mickey. In the HBO supernatural series True Blood, which is based on the aforementioned novel, Salome is depicted as one of the oldest and most powerful vampires. She holds a high position as a Chancellor of the Vampire Authority. She implies to fellow vampire Bill Compton as if the Biblical account of her involvement on John’s beheading is not reliable.
2. Elizabeth Báthory (7 August 1560 – 21 August 1614)
The so-called “Blood Countess” could be the worst female serial killer of all time, but that is if the legends about her are indeed true. She was alleged to have killed between 80 and 650 people. Her antagonists claim that she started after getting a servant’s blood on her and thinking it made her skin look younger. Then, she reportedly would shower or bathe in the blood of young peasant girls as some kind of perverse fountain of youth. But were all these rumors true? Some have actually suggested that she was framed (we can probably safely agree she really was not a vampire, at least!). She was a powerful woman in a misogynistic time. She was also a Protestant whose primary political opponents were Catholics. Moreover, a supposed diary of hers has yet to be examined by historians. As such, the truth behind her legend is still not entirely clear. Yet, she continues to be depicted as a vampire killer in popular culture. Really, after number one on this list, no one else has been so thoroughly engrained in popular culture as a vampire than the Blood Countess. She has appeared as the subject of over two dozen films, several plays, a number of video games, an action figure and a doll, and of course many appearances in works of literature.
1. Vlad the Impaler (1431 – 1476)
As with the Blood Countess, many of the more lurid allegations against Vlad come from a bit later than his lifetime or from potentially biased sources. For example, the oft reproduced woodcut (that has even appeared on T-shirts!) showing Vlad dining amongst a veritable forest of impaled victims dates from 1499, more than twenty years after Vlad’s death. Later, in the 1800s, author Bram Stoker fully transformed Vlad into the vampire known as Dracula in the book of the same name. This book has been adapted into dozens of films and comic books. Dracula has to be among the two or so villains to appear the most times in films, comics, and video games. Heavy metal band Gwar even wrote a song about him, which can be heard at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGyu85OUKew for your amusement. The historic Dracula (the name means “son of the dragon”) was certainly involved in military campaigns, but whether he was as bad of a guy as he has been made out in popular culture is debatable to say the least. Yet, he is believed responsible for 40,000 to 100,000 deaths, numbers that far surpass anyone else mentioned on this list, even combined. Vampires have remained a major aspect of Romanian culture and more recently communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (26 January 1918 – 25 December 1989) was nicknamed “Vampirescu” by Romanians for economic policies that sucked the country dry during 25 years of rule.
So, do you think any of these historical figures were actual vampires? And why have vampires remained such a prominent aspect of our popular culture for the past couple hundred years?
Dr. Matthew D. Zarzeczny, FINS, the author of Meteors That Enlighten the Earth