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Whether or not vampires really exist, that hasn’t stopped societies throughout history from accusing people of being vampires. Quite a few disturbed serial killers have earned the “vampire” label. Below is a list of some of the most infamous stories of people given this title… be it before or after death. (Check out more of Nerdist Vampire Week here!)
One of the most, if not the most, famous vampires in Serbian folklore, Sava Savanović lived in an old watermill in a remote village. Supposedly, his meal of choice was the drained blood of millers who came upon the mill. There’s no body count, and any evidence of this tale has been lost to the ravages of time.
However, the old watermill did exist and was owned by the Jagodić family. The family never repaired the mill, terrified that Sava Savanović would seek vengeance upon them if they altered it. Even the locals believe this. Unfortunately, the watermill collapsed in 2012. Now, locals fear the Sava Savanović is not only free, but looking for a new home (and his next meal).
Another story from Serbia features a separate infamous vampire. Unlike Savanović, Arnold Paole was accused of becoming a vampire only after he was already dead. Naturally, if we subscribe to the “you have to die to become a vampire” conceit, as they are literally the walking dead, this doesn’t seem quite as implausible. Arnold Paole died around 1726, during the height of vampire hysteria in Europe. Prior to Paole falling and breaking his neck, he’d told people a vampire had been after him, but that he cured himself by drinking the blood of the vampire and eating the dirt from its grave.
After his death, several people fell ill and claimed that Arnold had visited them before they too died. Investigators, upon inspecting the body and noticing hair and fingernails growing and no decomposition of the body, decreed he was indeed a vampire. So, they drove a stake through his heart, chopped off his head and burned the body, Stoker style.
This one’s not for the squeamish! Fritz Haarmann was a serial killer in the early 1900s in Germany. He was convicted of killing over 20 boys and young men (though, according to Fritz, the death toll was between 50 and 70) and was sentenced to death by beheading. He was given several names; one of which was the “Vampire of Hanover,” because he would bite into the throats of his victims as he strangled them. Disturbingly, his head was preserved and kept in a medical school until it was finally cremated in 2014.
Whether a true story or one born of the internet to drum up interest, Auguste Delagrange is still a fascinating addition. Supposedly a serial killer in Louisiana during the early 1900s, he was said to have killed over 40 people. Although his victims were dismembered, there was little blood present on site, hence the belief that he was a vampire. A Roman Catholic priest and a Voodoo priest teamed up, tracking and killing Auguste Delagrange by driving a stake through his heart. In the early 2000s, an auction on eBay claimed to have the heart of Auguste Delagrange with a plaque. Whether it’s true or not, who wouldn’t want to crow about having the heart of a real life vampire? Wait…
A Hungarian serial killer around the turn of the 20th century, Béla Kiss targeted primarily women. He would take out ads claiming to be a widower looking for marriage and would rob and kill the women who responded to the ads. He would strangle them, drain the blood from their bodies via their necks, then put their bodies in steel drums filled with methanol to preserve them. In total, Béla Kiss killed over 20 women.
His murders weren’t discovered until he was drafted to fight in World War I. A couple of years later, his landlord, figuring he must’ve died, decided to clear his possessions away to make room for a new tenant. When he looked at the collection of steel drums on the property, he discovered the bodies. Though military police tried to locate him, he was never found. The last reported sighting of Béla Kiss had him working as a janitor in New York City in the 1930s.
The only well-known woman serial killer dubbed a vampire, Elizabeth Báthory lived in Hungary in the late 1500s; it’s believed she kept hostage, tortured, and killed hundreds of women and girls. She was accused of being a vampire due to claims of her of not only committing cannibalism, but bathing in her victims’ blood. That she got away with her crimes for so long was because of her position as a noblewoman.
She likewise avoided the death sentence thanks to her rank; though, there are two slightly differing accounts regarding her sentence. Some say she was bricked into her room to live out the rest of her days. Others say she was confined to her castle. Still, she never left her home and died in 1614 at the age of 54.
Vlad the Impaler
Undoubtedly the most famous of vampire killers, Vlad III, also known Vlad Dracula, was a ruler in the 1400s in Wallachia. There is plenty of political intrigue, espionage, and betrayal in Vlad’s upbringing. But he did not stand for opposition. He was known for impaling his rivals’ armies and was later accused of drinking the blood of his enemies. Anyone found to have conspired against him or his family met a similar fate.
Vlad lost and regained his ruler position a few times, but ultimately died fighting and was supposedly dismembered. Accounts of where his body—parts—are buried vary. One supposed location was found not to have his body, but the bones of animals. This lent to the mystery and, some say, origin of Dracula of Transylvania.