Crime and the Contemporary Vampire Subculture


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Contemporary Vampire Subculture
By David Keyworth
APJ Issue - December 2009 (Vol. 63, No. 4), pp.170-173.



A quick search of the internet reveals a growing number of contemporary individuals who have become obsessed with the notion that they are vampires for ‘real’.1 Whereas the vampires of traditional folklore were grotesque, re-animated corpses on the rampage, the vampires of today are ‘living’ individuals who claim to have a biological necessity to consume the blood of others, usually in small amounts from willing donors,2 and also to exhibit specific bodily dysfunctions, such as an allergy to sunlight.3 Subsequently, their unique belief system, lifestyle and social practices have fuelled the development of a contemporary Vampire Subculture that was first documented by Stephen Kaplan in ‘Vampires Are’ (1984). Accordingly, the emergent vampire community consisted of:

a) Vampire-like People, the pretenders who copy the vampires of fiction and dress in Gothic clothing, sleep in coffins and are repelled by garlic and the Cross. Often involved with role-playing games, these individuals tend to crave power and sex, have low self-esteem, and may even consume blood on occasions.

b) Blood-Fetishists whose main pre-occupation with blood is its use as a sexual fetish.

c) Psychic Vampires who supposedly feed upon the bodily energy of others by psychic means.

d) True Vampires who claim that they must drink blood every day, even if only a few ounces, and firmly believe that blood keeps them youthful and somewhat increases their lifespan. Without their regular intake of blood, they supposedly become unstable, quarrelsome and frantic and are different from normal people in regards to their genetic and metabolic make-up.4


However, these categories have increasingly tended to overlap and merge and the contemporary vampire scene itself has grown to include vampire communities of like-minded persons; ‘donors’ who willingly allow vampires to partake of their blood; diverse self-help and support groups for troubled vampires; product outlets and various ancillary services that cater for their everyday needs, such as fang-smiths who make prosthetic fangs; and a thriving underground club scene where vampires and donors can meet and indulge in blood-drinking and other acts of sadomasochism.5 In addition, a broad spectrum of mystical-orientated, occult-based groups have emerged that appeal to vampire spirituality. Whereas the more mystical-orientated groups discourage blood-drinking in favour of ‘psychic’ vampirism and promote an eclectic mixture of New Age spirituality, neo-paganism and magical techniques based upon the development of psychic abilities; the more extremist, occult-based groups promote the drinking of blood and are associated with aberrant behaviour, sinister belief-systems that encourage vampires to foster their bestial natures, and questionable practices like black magic and necromancy.6

Blood Drinking

Although blood-drinking might be considered deviant behaviour, vampirism does not appear as a recognised clinical disorder in the current ‘Diagnostic & Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-IV), the official catalogue of psychiatric syndromes used by the medical fraternity. However, Richard Noll in ‘Vampires, Werewolves & Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature’ (1992) argues that vampirism should be considered a unique clinical condition in itself (i.e. Renfield’s Syndrome). Accordingly, the clinical symptoms of Renfield’s Syndrome are:

a) A pivotal event in an individual’s life when blood-drinking begins, usually in childhood, and involves drinking his/her own blood. After puberty, blood-drinking is always associated with sexual enjoyment.

b) A progression of blood-drinking occurs, starting with auto-vampirism, next zoophagia (i.e. the consumption of animal blood) and then vampirism proper.

c) The compulsion to drink always has a strong sexual component to it.

d) Those with the syndrome are usually male.

e) Blood takes on a mystical significance and its consumption produces feelings of empowerment and well being in the individual, and

f) The defining characteristic of the syndrome is the actual drinking of blood. Necrophilia or necrophagia in itself is not symptomatic of the syndrome.7

Self-professed Vampires

Notably, the vast majority of self-professed vampires are neither evil nor dangerous,8 and are little more than confused youth in search of a tribal identity, willing to participate in a macabre form of role-play and psychodrama, the drinking of blood a necessity if they are is to be accepted into the vampire subculture.9

Criminal Behaviour/Murder

Even so, there have been disturbed individuals on the fringes of the vampire movement more than willing to indulge in criminal behaviour – even murder – to partake of blood. In 2002, for example, Welsh teenager Matthew Hardman was found guilty of the gruesome murder of an elderly woman in Llanfairpwll (Wales) whose body was discovered with multiple stab wounds,
the heart removed, blood dripping into a saucepan from cuts on her legs, and nearby utensils rearranged into a ritualistic pattern.10 Apparently, the perpetrator had been alienated as a youth, become addicted to cannabis and obsessed with the occult, and had boasted of his desire to become an immortal vampire by performing a human-sacrifice and drinking the blood.

Earlier in the same year, a young German couple, Daniel and Manuela Ruda, were charged with the ritual murder of an acquaintance, supposedly under orders from Satan.11 Manuela claimed that she had previously drunk blood in exchange for sex, slept in graveyards, avoided sunlight, sacrificed animals and learnt vampirism in underground clubs in London and Edinburgh. Their victim was hacked and battered to death on the top of a coffin and before an altar decorated with skulls and other macabre paraphernalia, a pentagram carved into the victim’s flesh and another painted on the wall in his blood. Found guilty of the deed, the couple received lengthy jail terms in a high-security psychiatric hospital. Subsequently, the couple were diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder which had manifested itself as vampirism and, at the trial, the judge maintained that the case ‘was not about Satanism but rather a crime committed by two people with severe disorders...nothing mysterious or cult-like happened here, just simple base murder’.12

In 1996, the teenage leader of the Vampire Clan of Kentucky, Rod Ferrell, and his accomplices were found guilty of the brutal double-murder of a middle-aged couple whom they thought had posed a threat to the Clan. Accordingly, the Clan had engaged in bizarre vampire-orientated rituals in the isolated ruins of an old resort, cut each other to drink human blood and sacrificed small animals for the same purpose.13 Even Ferrell’s mentor who had introduced him into the vampire lifestyle, later admitted at the trial that his protégé had become a notorious renegade and increasingly prone to aberrant behaviour who had been ostracised by the vampire community, noting that vampires are expected to show the highest admiration for life and not to harm others.14 Furthermore, the prosecutor did not think that the Clan’s role-playing vampire lifestyle itself was the cause of their criminal activity but rather that the Clan was a destructive group of dysfunctional teenagers led by a psychopathic individual.15

Australian Vampires

Australia too has had its share of vampire-related crimes. In 1989, for example, Tracy Wigginton earned the reputation of a ‘lesbian vampire killer’ after she had enticed a drunken man to his death on the banks of the Brisbane River where she cut his throat and supposedly drank his blood, her accomplices claiming that she was an evil fiend involved in diabolical witchcraft and blood-drinking who had bewitched them all with her supernatural feats of magic.16 More recently in Melbourne, self-professed vampire and male prostitute, Shane Chartres-Abbott, was himself murdered in mysterious circumstances during his trial for the alleged rape of a woman found unconscious in a hotel shower, apparently bashed and bruised with teeth marks on her thighs and part of her tongue ripped out.17

Extremist Vampires

However, the great majority of contemporary vampires and vampire organisations make it clearly known that they renounce violence and criminal activity in any form.18 Even so, more extremist vampire groups, like Coven Nachttoter, equate vampirism to Satanism and seek to build an ‘elite, occult, fascist character’ in their followers and earnestly believe that: ‘humans are as sheep to our kind...we do not hold any place for compassion, tolerance or love for sheep...they are our prey and life-force’.19 Given such sentiments, it is no surprise that criminal vampire-cults have emerged now and then that engage in ritualistic blood-letting and human sacrifice in order to gain supernatural favours. In the late 1980s, for example, a drug-peddling, blood-drinking cult based in Matamoros (Mexico), tortured, mutilated and viciously slaughtered up to 14 people in bloody ceremonies reminiscent of Afro-Caribbean voodoo, Mexican witchcraft and Satanism; their bodily remains cannibalised or made into mystical potions, before police tracked down the perpetrators and killed their charismatic, bisexual founder in a shoot-out.20

Urban Myths

At the same time, urban myths that involve lurid tales of vampire activity also abound such as the bizarre incident that occurred at Pisco, Peru, in June 1993, when over a thousand people turned up at the tomb of an English woman, Sarah Ellen Roberts, supposedly the third wife of ‘Dracula’.21 Despite his fictional status, the local press had claimed that Dracula was in fact a real personage who had visited Peru on numerous occasions. Subsequently buried alive for witchcraft and murder, Dracula’s wife had vowed to rise again on the said day but when the appointed hour came and went without incident, the police moved in to disperse the disappointed crowd, many of whom were self-styled vampire-slayers, armed with stakes and crucifixes. In addition, local witchdoctors had turned up to exorcise the tomb, anti-vampire kits sold out, local houses were festooned with garlic and pregnant women had moved away lest the vampire be reborn in their unborn child. More recently in Bogotá, Colombia, police officials reportedly fear that up to 50 groups of black-clad vampires are operating on the city’s streets at the present time and are rumoured to be responsible for the growing number of unsolved murders.22 Whereas abattoirs and blood-banks had previously provided such individuals with ample supplies of blood, vampires are said to have now resorted to hunting in gangs and randomly stopping people on the street at gunpoint, cutting them with razors and drinking their blood.

Contemporary Vampires

Contemporary vampires and their compatriots are often accused of loitering around cemeteries and vandalising graves but such acts can largely be attributed to the antics of drunken juveniles and mentally unstable individuals.23 Furthermore, the usual motive for desecrating corpses is that of necrophilia, although the act itself maybe disguised as satanism and devil-worship.24 Graffiti and vandalism may also result from teenagers engaging in ‘legend-tripping’, an act of bravado and ritual initiation that entails visiting some haunted place, marginal location or legendary site in order to act out the particular legend and undertake various activities that prove the individual’s courage and worth.25 Such activities also overlap with the popular live-action, role-play game ‘Vampire: The Masquerade’ in which participants take on a vampire persona, dress up and act out particular scenarios that may include lingering around cemeteries. Susceptible youth though may become too engrossed in their role-play character, lose track of reality and become involved in criminal activity, as occurred in the case of the ‘Vampire Clan’ mentioned previously.26

In recent years though, a broad counter-movement of concerned Christians and self-professed ‘vampire-slayers’ has emerged that actively opposes the beliefs and practices of the vampire movement and indulges in activities like the harassment and ‘outing’ of contemporary vampires, their associates and affiliations.27 Over-zealous vampire-slayers are also rumoured to be engaged in the stalking, assault and even murder of suspected vampires whom they hold responsible, amongst other things, for the thousands of missing persons reported each year.28 Certainly, there are examples of seriously disturbed individuals intent on slaying innocent bystanders whom they thought to be vampires such as the unidentified man who broke into the hotel room of an innocent stranger in Nanuet (USA), July 2002, armed with a hammer and home-made cross, its end sharpened into a stake.29 Asleep in bed, Jeffrey Todd awoke to find the intruder standing over him, poised to hammer the stake into his chest but managed to fight off his attacker and escape, despite being injured in the struggle. When the police subsequently arrested his assailant, the only justification the would-be executioner could offer was that he had ‘received instructions from a higher authority’ to do so.

In summary, the contemporary Vampire Subculture is a multi-faceted, socio-religious movement with its own distinct collective community and heterogeneous network of participants who share a similar belief system and customary lifestyle that reflects their concept of the vampire. Although the vast majority of self-professed vampires are little more than confused youth, neither evil nor dangerous, there are occasional individuals who engage in criminal acts – even murder, to satisfy their cravings for blood, and vampire-cults that perform even greater deeds of infamy and bloodshed.



1 Video Documentary; ‘Children of Dracula: Real Interviews with Real Vampires’, Written & Produced by Bret McCormick: Gemini Entertainments Group, 1995.

2 The vast majority of self-styled vampires will only drink about a tablespoonful to a small cupful of blood at a time from a willing donor, usually their partner, over a fortnight period or so.

3 For example: ‘Traits of Real Vampires’, 11/3/01 (at)

4 Kaplan, S. ‘Vampires Are’, Palm Springs: ETC Publications,1984: pp.147-153.

5 Goltz, J. ‘The Real Vampires of New York City’, Encounters, February 1998: pp.17-21.

6 Keyworth, D. ‘The Socio-Religious Beliefs and Nature of the Contemporary Vampire Subculture’, Journal of Contemporary Religion 17 (3), October 2002: pp.355-370.

7 Noll, R (ed.) ‘Vampires, Werewolves & Demons: Twentieth Century Reports in the Psychiatric Literature’, New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1992: pp.16-19.

8 Guinn, J. ‘Something in the Blood: The Underground World of Today’s Vampires’, Arlington: Summit Publishing House, 1996: p.2.

9 Ramsland, K. ‘Piercing the Darkness: Underground with Vampires in America Today’, New York: Harper Prism, 1998: pp.135-7. One survey, for example, revealed that 60% of self-proclaimed vampires were 16-29 years old while only 2% were 44+ years old.

10 ‘The Vampire Murderer whose Mind was Warped by Cannabis’, Sunday Mail 4/8/02.

11 ‘Satan Worshipping Murderers Placed in Psychiatric Care’, Weekend Australian 2/2/02 (&)‘Vampire Killers acted on Satan’s Directions’, Courier-Mail 2/2/02.

12 ‘Killing for Satan’, Fortean Times 157, 2002: pp.16-19.

13 Ramsland, 1998: pp.293-7.

14 Linedecker, C. ‘The Vampire Killers’, New York: Saint Martins, 1998: pp.261-3.
15 Linedecker, 1998: pp.268-275.

16 Despite the lurid details, Wigginton herself never publicly admitted to being a vampire or even to have drunk blood. Compare the rather sensationalist account of the case by Ron Hicks in ‘The Vampire Killer’ (Sydney: Bantam, 1992) to the more critical Deb Verhoeven in ‘Biting the Hand that Breeds’ in Moving Targets (ed. H. Birch, London: Virago, 1993).

17 ‘Vampire Prostitute Bizarre in Life and Death’, Sydney
Morning Herald 12/6/03 (at)

18 The ‘Temple of the Vampire’ in its ‘Vampire Bible’ (p.16), for example, says that “the murder or harming of any human being or other animal will result in immediate and permanent expulsion from the Temple.”

19 ‘The Book of Wamphyri and Shadows’, 4/4/02 (at) book_of_wamphyria.html

20 Monaco, R & Burt, W. ‘The Dracula Syndrome’, London: Headline, 1994: pp.5-6, 183-191.

21 ‘The Lady is a Vamp’, Fortean Times 71, 1993: p.10.

22 ‘Vampire Attacks Increase in Colombian Capital’, 29/5/02) (at)

23 Hayward, J. ‘Occult Crime: Satanic Evil or Legend Trip’, The Criminologist 22 (1), 1998: pp.21-34.

24 De Belin, L. ‘Tales from the Crypt’, The Australian Police Journal 124, June 2002: pp.124-128.

25 Ellis, B. ‘Legend Trips & Satanism: Adolescents Ostensive Traditions as Cult Activity’ (in) ‘The Satanism Scare’ (ed.) Richardson et al., New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1991: pp.279-296.

26 Linedecker, 1998: pp.72-90.

27 Thorne, T. ‘Children of the Night: Of Vampires and Vampirism’, London: Victor Gollancz, 1999: p.199. Michael Dawson on his ‘Vampires & Vampyres’ website, for example, equates vampirism to demonic possession, the coming Apocalypse, Witchcraft and Satanism while William Schnoebelen on his website proclaims that he is a ‘born-again, ex-vampire’ and that there is a worldwide Vampire/Satanic/ Catholic/Masonic conspiracy to destroy Christianity and prepare for the Antichrist.

28 For example, ‘Rumours of Hunters Killing Vampires’, 1/4/01 (at)

29 ‘Vampires on the Loose’, Fortean Times 140, 2000: p.8.

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