Back from the dead
Jan 12 2008 by Peter Elson, Liverpool Daily Post
Have there been vampires on Merseyside? Peter Elson says fangs for the memory
THE image of the vampire is inescapably linked with Transylvania and eastern Europe, in spite of Bram Stoker’s seminal novel bringing Dracula to Whitby.
But the fanged one – or his near cousins – have made an impact much closer to home. Is Lodge Lane in Liverpool close enough?
Or what about Bootle boasting its own Van Helsing-style vampire hunter who travels armed with a hawthorn stake “just in case”?
Liverpool’s own ghost-tracker, Tom Slemen, is taking out time from his “normal” supernatural sleuthing to explore the vampiric paranormal.
The haunting image of the bloodsucking beast who appears as a pale and aloof aristocrat was powerfully revived in the late 1950s with Christopher Lee as the Count in the Hammer Horror films.
The presence of such a monster occurs worldwide, in cultures as far apart as China, Nigeria and Native American tribal folklore, says Tom, who has spent years researching his new book, Vampires.
“Often the beast can change form, like transmogrifying into a bat. These aspects of the vampire myths were woven together by Bram Stoker. Brought up on Hammer Horror films and the earlier Hollywood incarnations by Bela Lugosi, pictured here, I was fascinated by the subject,” says Tom.
“I pursued research and found old reports such as an 18th century vampire epidemic in Austria and Moldavia. The Oxford English Dictionary’s first recording of the word ‘vampir’ is 1734, of Serbian origin. But I never believed I would find stories about vampires not far from where I grew up.”
Widely reported in the press in 1983, a 27-year-old Toxteth mother of two, Maureen Burns, was awakened by the sensation of an intruder biting into her neck and drawing off blood.
Mrs Burns was confronted by the “vampire” assailant at 2am at her home in Greenleaf Street, off Lodge Lane. She passed out after the “foreign-looking” intruder sucked the blood from her neck.
Her neighbour, George Jones, heard her screams and saw her attacker fleeing from the bedroom by dropping over a 20ft wall. This was the third attack of its kind in the Lodge Lane area.
“Then I discovered a controversial figure, a self-styled vampire hunter from Bootle, now in his 70s, who investigated these stories,” says Tom.
“He told me that in 1983, one single mother felt so strongly that she was being watched by an evil presence from a neighbouring flat that she went to Wavertree police station.
“When they entered the flat they found the walls painted black and adorned with pentagrams.
“There was a coffin in the middle of the floor and next to it a milk bottle with clotted blood in the bottom and a book called The Lord of the Gales also filled with unintelligible symbols. The woman was so spooked she immediately moved away.”
BOOTLE’S Van Helsing claimed that he later entered the flat, discovered a tunnel leading from its basement and confronted a sinister character already known as Manilu in the area’s urban myth.
“Reports of Manilu date to the 1940s, but it resurfaced when women on an Earle Road estate woke to find blood on their pillows,” says Tom.
“When doctors examined one woman, they found that blood from a neck wound wouldn’t clot.
But in fact the stories go back to 1894, when a child and several women in the Sefton Park area awoke to find strange wounds on their necks,” says Tom.
“Emma Furnival, who ran a bakery at 13 Lodge Lane, was visited by a sinister, tall man, with staring eyes and an eastern European accent, who remarked on the beauty of her neck.
“She ran into a back room and locked herself in. When the man was later seen lurking at Toxteth Cemetery, he was chased by police but escaped.”
Most spine-chilling is the story of Sarah Ellen Roberts, laid to rest in Pisco, Peru, in 1913, as the British church authorities refused her burial on consecrated ground.
While living in Southport, she bit the neck of a child and sucked the blood.
Her husband, John Roberts, a wealthy merchant, witnessed her pouring blood over ice cream before eating it.
After her death and the furore over her burial, Roberts took his wife’s body to Peru, where her coffin was buried wrapped in chains.
However, hysteria erupted in 1993 when cracks appeared on her tomb’s headstone.
“This was probably due to earth tremors, but the locals interpreted it as Sarah Roberts coming up for air!” says Tom.
“Long ago, William of Newburgh reported ‘revenants’, people rising from the dead,” Tom continues
“These were probably people in catatonic states, who were buried alive while in comas, due to medical misdiagnosis.
“In Liverpool during 1866, workmen clearing out the former St Peter’s Churchyard, in Church Street, exhumed coffins where the occupants had dug their fingernails into the lids.
“Presumably they’d come round and were utterly desperate to release themselves.
“One woman had bitten into her shoulder, probably from panic-stricken madness and there were blood stains on her shroud.
“But you can understand how these dreadful accidents get translated into myth by the superstitious believing ‘they must be vampires’.”
VAMPIRES, by Tom Slemen, Bluecoat Press, £6.99