Tales of vampire-like beings have been found in cultures all over the world for thousands of years, from the lamia of Ancient Greece to the revenants of medieval England. But the vampires we know today are largely derived from the folklore of Eastern Europe, embellished and popularised by 19th-century authors such as John Polidori and Bram Stoker.
But do vampires really exist? Let’s throw open our coffin lids, venture out into the night, and feast on this bloody banquet as the six men and women below were all alleged to be ‘real' vampires.
1. The Shoemaker of Breslau (1591)
This story might sound like cobblers, but it is apparently a real incident that took place in modern-day Wrocław, Poland.
In September 1591 a well-heeled (ahem) shoemaker named Weinrichius cut his own throat. Weinrichius was buried the day after his death and it wasn’t long before his ghost was spotted walking around the town. The dead shoemaker was also reportedly getting into bed with people at night and gripping their arms and legs so firmly that he left bruises in the shape of fingers on their bodies.
After about seven months, the local people, convinced they had a vampire on their hands, exhumed Weinrichius’s body and found that it looked fresh and complete, with the skin tight ‘like a drum’. There was a rose-shaped mole on his foot which was suspected of being a witch’s mark. The body was taken out and reburied under some gallows.
However, when the undead Weinrichius continued to terrorise the town, the body was brought up again and dismembered. Those who did the butchering remarked that his heart looked ‘as good as that of a freshly slaughtered calf’. Next, all the bits of the bootmaker were burnt, and the ashes were cast into the river.
2. The Prowler of Pentsch (1592)
Just a year later, in a town not too far from Breslau, another vampire rose up.
A local dignitary named Johannes Cuntze was severely injured one day after being kicked in the privates (and possibly the head too) by a ‘lusty gelding’. After this, the wounded Cuntze began showing signs of delirium, leading to rumours that he was in league with the devil. While on his deathbed, a black cat burst into the room and pounced on the dying alderman. The frantic feline scratched Cuntze’s face to shreds.
Very soon after his burial, reports were going around the town that he had returned from the dead and was causing mischief. Hoofmarks would show up in the snow after the vampire was spotted, and the fiend was accused of sexually assaulting a woman and tormenting the local vicar by ‘squeezing’ him when he was in bed.
In July 1592, after five months of terror by the undead Cuntze, the townsfolk finally dug up the corpse. Cuntze’s body showed no signs of decomposition and when his leg was cut with a blade, fresh blood poured out. The body was removed, dismembered, and burnt.
3. The Peasant Vampire (1725)
One day in 1725, in the small village of Kisiljevo in eastern Serbia, a local peasant named Petar Blagojević was buried in the village churchyard with the familiar ceremony of a Catholic funeral.
Within nine days of Petar being laid to rest, nine locals had gone from healthy to dead – from young to old, they all showed signs of ‘nervous exhaustion’. Every one of these nine people stated outright on their deathbeds that Petar Blagojević was the sole reason they were dying. They all claimed that he had come into their bedrooms at night as a vampire, sat on them, and then ‘sucked from them their strength’. It was also said that Blagojević, after his death, went to his old family home and murdered his son by drinking his blood.
When Petar’s grave was opened up, in the presence of the whole village, the hair, nails, and beard had grown, and ‘fresh blood’ was seen in the mouth. The body was then taken out and a sharp wooden stake was driven through Petar’s body. At this, blood was seen to spurt from his mouth and nose.
4. The Monster of Medveđa (1726-1732)
Arnold Paole was a young Serbian soldier who, in about 1725, had returned to his home village of Medveđa after a tour of duty in Greece. Paole told his wife-to-be that while serving in Greece he’d been attacked by a vampire, but he wasn’t too worried about turning into a vampire himself because he’d found the beast’s grave and burned it.
However, a little while later, he was climbing up onto a hay wagon when he lost his footing, broke his neck and died several days later. It wasn’t long after he was buried that villagers began to see him wandering about at night. Some even had dreams where he visited them while they were in bed and the next day, they’d feel physically drained and weakened by something unaccountable.
Several weeks after these initial reports, numerous mysterious deaths started occurring in the village. Some of these unexplained sudden fatalities were of people who had reported dreaming about Paole visiting them.
Paole’s grave was opened up, his body was covered in garlic and a stake driven through his heart.
But Paole’s curse didn’t stop there. Six years later, an ‘epidemic’ of vampirism hit the same village, with multiple people joining the ranks of the undead. 14 corpses were exhumed from the village graveyard and examined, with a medical report of the findings signed by Austrian doctors and army officers. 12 of the bodies were found to be ‘unmistakably in the vampire condition’.
5. Dracula’s Bride (1913-1993)
In Pisco, Peru, late on the night of 8th June 1993, one thousand people stood waiting, some nervous, some excited, by the grave of Sarah Ellen Roberts, a woman the press dubbed ‘Dracula’s Bride’.
The story goes that Sarah, born in Blackburn in 1872, was accused of murder and witchcraft and suspected of being a vampire. As punishment, on 9th June 1913, she was chained up, nailed shut inside a lead-lined coffin and left to die. With burial in England having then been refused, according to the legend, it is said that Sarah’s husband roamed the world for four years before finally finding a resting place for her in Peru.
The tale then says that after her burial the people of Pisco were horrified to learn that, before she was sealed shut in her coffin, the vampire promised to return to seek vengeance in 80 years.
As midnight stuck in Pisco on 9th June 1993, the assembled rabble was left disappointed – the Blackburn vampire failed to rise, with local witch doctors claiming victory after having doused her grave with holy water.
6. The Coventry Street Vampire (1922)
At around 6am on Sunday, 16th April 1922, a man walking along a deserted Coventry Street in London suddenly felt the presence of a man or thing grab hold of him tightly, sink its teeth into his neck, and draw blood out. The next thing he knew, he was in Charing Cross Hospital being told by bemused doctors that his neck had been punctured by something resembling a long thin spike.
Astonishingly, the same thing happened to two more unsuspecting victims later that day – both in the same spot as the first.
The police and Londoners were baffled, and no suspect was ever identified. An off-duty policeman in a pub was apparently overheard saying that the police had hired a vampire hunter. This modern-day Van Helsing supposedly tracked the monster down to Highgate Cemetery and then finished it off in the traditional way – by opening up its coffin and driving a stake through its heart.
More intriguing still was an incident that occurred around the same time in West Drayton, about 15 miles west of Coventry Street. On the night of the full moon, several local people reported seeing a huge bat with a six-foot wingspan flying around the churchyard, ducking in and out of graves and mausoleums. The police went to the scene and spotted the creature, which screamed and flew away. It is not known whether these two incidents were connected, but an old man in West Drayton remarked at the time that a vampire had been active there some 30 years before murdering a local woman by biting her neck and draining her blood.
After April 1922, nothing more was heard of either the West Drayton bat or the Coventry Street Vampire.