Friday, 31 October 2014

The Ghost of Highgate Past

Born in January 1946, David Farrant came to prominence in February 1970 when he wrote a letter to his local newspaper claiming to have had three sightings of a ghostly apparition as he passed by the gates of London's Highgate Cemetery.

Yet, he told Andrew Gough (Arcadia, 12 December 2009); "For a start, my letter to the Ham and High in 1970 badly misquoted myself (not deliberately I concede). I did not say that I had seen the figure (ghost) ‘on three occassions’: I was describing a figure that I said ‘had been seen on at least three occasions’. This is true – it had. But on these occasions, the witnesses were other people whom I had witnessed by this time."

Is it really plausible that Farrant's letter was so monstrously altered by the editor of a highly respectable newspaper to mean something quite different to what he had actually written? Is it likely that Farrant would not have insisted on having such a tampered version corrected in the following week's issue if this had really happened? There is no record of him having asked for any such correction. There is no record of an amendment appearing even though his contact with that newspaper remained extant for the next few weeks. There are records of Farrant sticking with his personal "three sightings" account until October of that year at which point it suddenly reduced to "two sightings." Decades later it became just "one sighting."

This is what David Farrant actually wrote in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 6 February 1970:

"On three occasions I have seen what appeared to be a ghost-like figure inside the gates at the top of Swains Lane. The first occasion was on Christmas Eve. The second sighting, a week later, was also brief. Last week, the figure appeared, only a few yards inside the gate. This time it was there long enough for me to see it much more clearly."

The next month Farrant stated to Today interviewer Sandra Harris on British television: "The last time I actually saw its face." Does this not suggest there was a time previous to the one he is referring to in that interview? Then there is the BBC's 24 Hours interview transmitted on 15 October 1970. Laurence Picethly’s interview with Farrant for BBC television was sandwiched between footage of the President of the British Occult Society that had been filmed at the society’s north London headquarters and on location at Highgate Cemetery. The man representing the British Occult Society was obviously not Farrant even though the latter would fraudulently adopt that title two years later. In fact, the British Occult Society had distanced itself from everything Farrant was doing as far back as March 1970. The interview Farrant gave in late 1970 is important, however, because there are no editors for him to blame for allegedly "altering" what he alleged. In the 1970 24 Hours programme the words are heard from his own mouth and there is no escaping them.

Laurence Picethly: “On August the seventeenth, Allan [known locally as ‘Allan’ - his correct name being ‘David’] Farrant decided to pay a midnight visit to the cemetery to combat the vampire once and for all. At the cemetery, Farrant was forced to enter by the back wall [footage shows Farrant entering via the rear of the cemetery], as he still does today. He armed himself with a cross and stake, and crouched between the tombstones, waiting. But that night police, on the prowl for vandals, discovered him. He was charged with being in an enclosed space for an unlawful purpose, but later the Clerkenwell magistrate acquitted him. Now, in spite of attempts by the cemetery owners to bar him, Farrant and his friends [no friends were discovered by the police or subsequently identified by Farrant] still maintain a regular vigil around the catacombs in hope of sighting either the vampire or a meeting of Satanists.”

David Farrant: “We have been keeping watch in the cemetery for … [pauses] … since my court case ended, and we still found signs of their ceremonies.”

Laurence Picethly: “Have you ever seen this vampire?”

David Farrant: “I have seen it, yes. I saw it last February, and saw it on two occasions.”

Laurence Picethly: “What was it like?”

David Farrant: “It took the form of a tall, grey figure, and it … [pauses] …seemed to glide off the path without making any noise.”

Farrant's interview ends at this point. It is reproduced above in its entirety. He was acquitted of the charge that had led to his arrest, it being that he was found in an enclosed area for an unlawful purpose. Highgate Cemetery is obviously not “an enclosed area” and that is all he was charged with in August 1970. The BBC report then returned to the President of the British Occult Society who had strongly advised against the behaviour which led to Farrant's arrest on an earlier television programme transmitted on 13 March 1970.

Three things are of significance in that BBC television interview from October 1970. The reconstructed footage of what Farrant was doing on the night of 17 August 1970 clearly shows him hunting a vampire with a rosary around his neck, a large cross in one hand and a sharpened wooden stake in the other hand. There is no ambiguity about what led to his arrest in this report where he is featured reconstructing what he was doing at the time of his arrest around midnight in Highgate Cemetery. The image above is taken from the 24 Hours programme as Farrant went through the motions of the actions which led to his arrest. The second thing of significance is that when Laurence Picethly asked whether Farrant had ever seen the vampire, Farrant did not attempt to correct the person interviewing him by saying it was something other than a vampire. Nor did he say that he did not believe in vampires, or that what he witnessed was not a vampire. Indeed, this section of the 24 Hours programme was titled Vampires. The third thing of significance is that when asked if he had seen the vampire Farrant responded: “I have seen it, yes. I saw it last February, and saw it on two occasions.” He clearly stated that he had two sightings of the vampire in early 1970, but in the interview he gave Andrew Gough he states that he had only one sighting and that this was in December 1969, not February 1970 as stated by him in his BBC television appearance some four decades prior.

Having seen Farrant's letter when it was published in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, Seán Manchester agreed to meet this correspondent at Highgate Cemetery so that Farrant could point out the spot where he allegedly sighted the supernatural phenomenon mentioned in his published letter. Seán Manchester was not impressed by Farrant, a scruffy individual who harped on about potential media coverage of the alleged "ghost" he claimed to have seen. Seán Manchester took the opportunity to warn against antics such as Farrant was considering when he was interviewed on Thames Television's Today programme, 13 March 1970, saying that the investigation of the phenomenon should be left to those who knew what they were doing. In his published letter of 6 February 1970, Farrant proclaimed: "I have no knowledge in this field and I would be interested if any other readers have seen anything of this nature."

Seán Manchester demonstrated on the television programme how such manifestations were traditionally despatched according to folklore and historical cases, many of which involved the clergy. Five months later, ignoring the public warning issued by him that individuals should not take matters into their own hands in this way, Farrant was arrested at midnight in Highgate Cemetery by police who found in his possession a Christian cross and wooden stake. Farrant was alone and claimed to be in pursuit of the legendary vampire said to haunt Highgate Cemetery. Although he originally pleaded guilty, he later changed his plea to one of not guilty after being held on remand at Brixton Prison for the remainder of that month. Charged with being in an enclosed area for an unlawful purpose, he was eventually acquitted and released as Highgate Cemetery does not qualify as being an "enclosed area." The Daily Express, 19 August 1970, reported that Farrant told the police (as read out in court from his statement): "My intention was to search out the supernatural being and destroy it by plunging the stake [found in his possession when arrested by police on the night in question] in its heart. "He later reconstructed what he was doing on the night of his arrest for BBC television's 24 Hours. While inside prison, Farrant had written to Seán Manchester to request support from the British Occult Society to which Farrant owed no connection. He was visited while on remand and told that the Society could not countenance his behaviour. Soon afterwards, Farrant began to falsely associate himself with the BOS, which immediately led to rebuttals appearing in various newspapers. It was only a matter of time before David Farrant began to fraudulently describe himself as the "president of the British Occult Society."

Readers letters to the Hampstead & Highgate Express in early 1970 included reports of a ghost wearing a top hat that had been seen in Swains Lane and just inside the gates at Highgate Cemetery. With the benefit of hindsight we now know that some of these letters bore the names and addresses of friends and acquaintances of Farrant. Phoney letters were sent to the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 13 February 1970, using the names and addresses of Farrant's friends Audrey Connely and Kenneth Frewin. Farrant wrote those letters in order to give his hoax some credibility. He used the names and addresses of friends with their consent. He used his close friend Nava Grunberg's address in Hampstead Lane, but her name was changed to a pseudonym. He also used Nava Grunberg, now adopting the nom de plume "Nava Arieli," when she used an address in Rosslyn Hill, Hampstead, belonging to a friend of hers. Residents and passers-by might have witnessed Farrant in his familiar black mackintosh pretending to be a ghost. It has since been confirmed that he wore an old grey topper and ghostly make-up to convince local people that the cemetery was haunted. Then Farrant heard tales of the legendary vampire in pubs he frequented and decided to board what he perceived to be a publicity bandwagon. The rest is history. The vampire sightings and experiences by others were genuine enough. Farrant was not. His part in the saga was utterly fraudulent. He pretended to be a "vampire hunter" for the next few months before turning his attention to malefic pseudo-occultism which guaranteed a far bigger return in the publicity stakes. This quickly led to criminal convictions which included indecency in Monken Hadley churchyard under the Ecclesiastic Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. Victoria Jervis was also found guilty. Her revelations under oath when called as a witness during Farrant's Old Bailey trials two years later are damning, to say the least. This is what she said:

"I have tried to put most of what happened out of my mind. The false letters I wrote to a local paper were to stimulate publicity for the accused. I saw him almost every weekend in the second half of 1972 and I went to Spain with him for a fortnight at the end of June that same year. I was arrested with him in Monken Hadley Churchyard. That incident upset me very much. Afterwards, my doctor prescribed tranquillisers for me."

Facing David Farrant in court to address him, Victoria Jervis added:

"You have photographed me a number of times in your flat with no clothes on. One photograph was published in 1972 with a false caption claiming I was a member of your Society, which I never was."

On another occasion, she recalled, how she had written pseudonymously to a local newspaper at Farrant's request "to stimulate publicity for the accused."

Back in 1972 during the indecency case, "Mr P J Bucknell, prosecuting, said Mr Farrant had painted circles on the ground, lit with candles, and had told reporters and possibly the police of what he was doing. 'This appears to be a sordid attempt to obtain publicity,' he said." (Hampstead & Highgate Express, 24 November 1972).

Speaking at the April 1996 Fortean Times Convention, Maureen Speller commented: "The programme came up with ‘His investigations had far reaching and disturbing consequences’ which I said meant he’d been arrested a lot. Strangely enough, this is more or less what he said. God, I felt old being the only member of [my] group who could remember this nutter being arrested every few weeks.” 

“The wife of self-styled occult priest David Farrant told yesterday of giggles in the graveyard when the pubs had closed. ‘We would go in, frighten ourselves to death and come out again,’ she told an Old Bailey jury. Attractive Mary Farrant — she is separated from her husband and lives in Southampton — said they had often gone to London’s Highgate Cemetery with friends ‘for a bit of a laugh.’ But they never caused any damage. ‘It was just a silly sort of thing that you do after the pubs shut,’ she said. Mrs Farrant added that her husband’s friends who joined in the late night jaunts were not involved in witchcraft or the occult. She had been called as a defence witness by her 28-year-old husband. They have not lived together for three years.” (The Sun, 21 June 1974).

“All he talked about was his witchcraft. He was very vain.” (Julia Batsford, an ex-girlfriend quoted in the Daily Mail, 26 June 1974).

"Au pair Martine de Sacy has exposed the fantasy world of David Farrant, self-styled high priest of British witchcraft, for whom she posed nude in front of a tomb. Farrant was convicted last week by a jury who heard stories of Satanic rites, vampires and death-worship with girls dancing in a cemetery. Afterwards, 23-year-old Martine said: 'He was a failure as a lover. In fact, I think his trouble was that he was seeking compensation for this. He was always after publicity and he felt that having all these girls around helped. I'm sure the night he took me to the cemetery had less to do with occultism than his craving to be the centre of something.' ... While Martine told her story in Paris, customers at Farrant's local — the Prince of Wales in Highgate, London — chuckled over the man they called 'Birdman.' One regular said: 'He used to come in with a parrot on his shoulder. One night he came in with photos of Martine in the nude. We pinched one, and when she next came in, we told her he was selling them at 5p a time. She went through the ceiling.' ... Farrant called his estranged wife Mary, in his defence. She said: 'We would go in the cemetery with my husband's friends when the pubs had closed. We would frighten ourselves to death and come out again. It was just a silly sort of thing that you do after the pubs close. Nobody was involved in witchcraft or the occult'." (News of the World, 30 June 1974).

“I cannot believe for one moment that he is a serious student of the occult. In fact I believe him to be evil and entirely to be deplored.” (Dennis Wheatley, Daily Express, 26 June 1974).

“I think he’s crazy.” (Canon John Pearce Higgins, Daily Express, 26 June 1974).

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Forty-four Years On ...

CHAT #44 (30 October 2014, pages 48-49)

Over 44 years since the case went public and still they get it wrong!

Seán Manchester's comment on Natasha Wynarczyk's article:

"I really cannot understand why Chat magazine has to mention me when it gets so much wrong. Natasha Wynarczyk did not contact me and certainly did not quote accurately from my book The Highgate Vampire (which, of course, she does not mention), assumIng, that is, she has ever read it in the first place, which I seriously doubt. Unfortunately, wrong attributions and unnecessary inaccuracies permeate the article from start to finish.

"There is a picture of a crucifix and stake which are part of a vast collection of vampirological accoutrements held by me (the Stock Photo archive would have identified this fact, but Chat magazine did not for some mysterious reason) which was published alongside and across an image of David Farrant who is captioned 'vampire expert' when he is nothing of the sort and, moreover, does not claim any expertise in that subject.

"I am accused of 'decrying' Farrant's 'expertise' which is palpable nonsense. What 'expertise,' one might wonder? Farrant once claimed to be a witch and is nowadays closer to an atheist/agnostic. I am a traditionalist and have always held strong Christian beliefs. As we each subscribe to entirely different belief systems, his modus operandi and mine are entirely different. He does not believe in the existence of vampires, something he makes very clear on his website and in interviews he has given down the years. Yet he is apparently a 'vampire expert.'

"Dates and descriptions of alleged incidents and facts are all over the place in Natasha Wynarczyk's sensationalist article, rendering it no more than entertainment for Hallowe'en, albeit misinforming readers of what really occurred, and little else. I would very much rather future reference to me be omitted, but we know that is just not going to happen. It would be a little difficult in view of the fact that I am the person who led the investigation into the case and finally exorcised the vampiric entity just over forty years ago (not mentioned, of course, in Wynarczyk's article). The bottom line is that I steer clear of publicity, whereas the other fellow does not. Thus Chat is content to cobble together whatever they can lay their hands on without a care for the facts, resulting in the travesty we end up with in Natasha Wynarczyk's article."

Encountering the Undead at Highgate

In his book The Highgate Vampire, Seán Manchester states that the vampiric source of the Highgate infestation first showed up shortly after the infamous vampire plague of the early 1700's, the same era as Arnold Paole and Peter Plogojowitz. He further states that an Eastern European nobleman rented Ashurst House in the early 18th century. This all seems to make sense, and it suggests that Tamás Orszag of Hungary is the most likely candidate for the identity of the Highgate Vampire.

A composite of the Highgate Vampire's appearance can be gleaned from various statements in the Vampire Research Society's archive and, of course, on public record in Seán Manchester's The Highgate Vampire (published by Gothic Press).*

Accounts provided by witnesses in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 13 February 1970 & 20 February 1970, describe "a most unusual form [that] just seemed to glide across the path ... a pale figure ...""Many tales are told about a tall man who walks across Swains Lane and just disappears through a wall into the cemetery ..."" ... a 'form' moving behind some gravestones ... the thing made no sound and seemed to disappear into nowhere ..." *

Jacqueline Beckwith, a teenager living in North Hill, awoke one night with something icy cold clutching her hand which soon went numb. The next morning revealed "deep tears in the flesh where she had forced [her hand] free." *

A ghost hunter by the name of Thomas told of "a dark shape [which] moved across the path directly in front of us." On an earlier occasion he had started to walk home with his fiancee down the lane running alongside and eventually between Highgate Cemetery. "Something was standing behind the iron railings of the gate ... upon its face was an expression of basilisk horror." *

Once again, "the thing behind the gate appeared to dissolve into the shadows of the night." *

Only when discovered in the putrid chamber of its tomb at Highgate Cemetery in August 1970 do we start to gain an idea of the full extent of the Highgate Vampire's horrific countenance. At its extirpation in the grounds of the neo-gothic derelict mansion in early 1974 the appearance is one of a heavy form, gorged and stinking with blood with eyes glazed and staring horribly, glinting with the red fire of perdition. This great leech possessed sallow, parchment-like skin beneath which a faint bluish tinge could be discerned; the colour of a three-day old corpse. It had black hair and eyebrows that were especially heavy and joined across the bridge of an aquiline nose. The mouth betrayed thin, cruel lips which drew back, almost in a snarl, to reveal sharp teeth where lodged congealed gouts of discolouring blood, the offal of the previous night's feast. Some witnesses describe a tall figure with a hideous countenance. All remark upon the eyes which burned like hot coals in a face so frightening it paralysed them in their tracks. There was also the unbearably fetid stench that accompanied this presence, rank with corruption and the stench of the charnel, which indicated an undead rather than an apparition. The last moments, some of which were captured by a 35mm camera, reveal the same"burning, fierce eyes beneath black furrowed brows staring with hellish reflection. Yellow at the edges with blood-red centres, unlike anything imaginable. Flared nostrils connected to a thin, high-bridged nose. The mouth still set in its cruel expression with lips drawn far back as if unable to contain the sharp, white teeth." *

“A pyre was built in the centre of the large garden … We looked, but saw none of its awful contents before everything was consumed. At last it was hidden from our view ― its dark pestilence swallowed in the bright flames which leaped skyward while all beneath crackled and hissed. Several hours later all that remained was a great scorch-mark on the ground … We stood staring at the charred spot, not daring to believe it was finally over. I took a handful of grey dust from the blackened earth and scattered it to the four winds.” *

* (The Highgate Vampire, pages 49, 54, 65, 66, 67, 68, 85, 86 & 142, 144, 145, Gothic Press edition)

Does a Wampyr Walk in Highgate Today?

The demonic presence in corporeal form (at first known locally and eventually worldwide as the Highgate Vampire) was successfully exorcised in early 1974. While accepting there have been anomalous sightings of apparition-like phenomena down the decades for generations - certainly as far back as Victorian times - none of these in recent years are remotely similar to sightings of what became known as the Highgate Vampire four and a half decades ago. Unfortunately, all the recent claims to a ghostly presence wafting about in the vicinity of the graveyard stem either directly or indirectly from a hoaxer who contacts his local newspapers regularly to such an end when not winding up naïve, local paranormal groups in the area comprising people not even born when events occurred in the 1960s and turn of the 1970s, who are clearly in awe of anything which might connect tangentially to the original case.

The Vampire Research Society has stated that it would not dismiss the possibility of other manifestations elsewhere having a demonic/vampiric source, but no convincing evidence of the same phenomenon as before returning to Highgate Cemetery or indeed any of its environs has been provided by anyone.

The answer, therefore, to the question as to whether a wampyr still walks in Highgate is a resounding no.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Blood and Obfuscation

The night of 13 March 1970 witnessed scenes of utter pandemonium as people gathered in large numbers along the steep lane running alongside London’s Highgate Cemetery. At 6.00 pm a television programme had confirmed that a vampire contagion was evident in the graveyard, and that a vampire hunt was imminent. The crowds multiplied in hopeful anticipation of locating the resting-place of the undead entity. Police were present to control those arriving, but it was an almost impossible task. By 10.00 pm an assortment of independent amateur vampire hunters had joined the onlookers. Principal among the freelance brigade was a schoolteacher, fortuitously named Alan Blood, whom Matthew Bunson, as recorded in his The Vampire Encyclopedia (1993), deemed to be an important player in the unravelling case. Bunson, an American who had no contact with Blood, or indeed anyone else contemporaneous to the events at Highgate in the 1970s, relied on yet another American, Jeanne Keyes Youngson of the New York Count Dracula Fan Club aka Vampire Empire who, in turn, depended on second-hand reports amounting to personal speculation from people who were not present and played no part in the investigation.

Youngson’s influence on Bunson initiated the error in his and thereby subsequent accounts. The primary source, however, is the London Evening News, 14 March 1970, front page report “Mr Blood Hunts Cemetery Vampire.” The brief quotes attributed to Blood in this sensationalist report are notably rebutted by Blood himself in a longer interview given to the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 20 March 1970. This latter interview, reproduced in Seán Manchester’s account about the case, has been totally ignored by commentators such as Bunson who seem to have scant regard for the facts in public archives.

An authentic account of Alan Blood’s part, such as it was, in the affair is given in Seán Manchester’s The Highgate Vampire (pages 77-79) from which the following is revealed: “By 10.00pm [on the night of 13 March 1970] the hundreds of onlookers were to include several freelance vampire hunters, including a history teacher, Alan Blood, who had journeyed from Billericay to seek out the undead being.” Blood had seen a report on television some hours earlier that evening and immediately set off for Highgate. On his arrival in Highgate Village, he entered the Prince of Wales pub on the High Street, where he remained until joining the crowd outside the north gate. However, Seán Manchester, featured earlier on the Today programme as the principal investigator, was nowhere to be seen because he was already inside the cemetery with his research team.

Blood eventually left the pub and joined a steadily growing crowd of several hundred people in Swains Lane. It was while in Swains Lane that Blood, wearing a Russian-style hat with his beard, was noticed by an Evening News photographer and a reporter. They spoke to Blood, and also to a 27-year-old Hampstead resident, Anthony Robinson, who had ventured to the cemetery gate “after hearing of the torchlight hunt.” Robinson is alleged to have told the reporter: “I walked past the place and heard a high-pitched noise, then I saw something grey moving slowly across the road. It terrified me. First time I couldn’t make it out, it looked eerie. I’ve never believed in anything like this, but now I’m sure there is something evil lurking in Highgate.” Yet it was Blood, who saw and did nothing, whose photograph was to appear on the front page of next day’s Evening News. He is described at the head of the report as “a vampire expert named Mr Blood who journeyed forty miles to investigate the legend of an ‘undead Satan-like being’ said to lurk in the area.” Alan Blood had not claimed to be a “vampire expert,” and would readily confirm in a more soberly conducted interview with the Hampstead & Highgate Express, that he was “by no means an expert on vampires.”

None of which would stop American author Matthew Bunson publishing some twenty-three years later: “The focus of the media attention turned to … Allan [sic] Blood, vampire expert who led the search. [He was] convinced that a vampire was sleeping in one of the vaults and were determined to find it and kill it. … As is typical of such incidents, stories based on rumour and on unconfirmed sightings soon spread, and the tabloids and newspapers ran exploitative reports. No vampire was ever publicly discovered.” (The Vampire Encyclopedia, page 121).

Apart from his reference to press exploitation, not a single statement in Bunson’s entry for the Highgate Vampire case is accurate. The focus of the media did not turn to Alan Blood. After 13 March 1970, he completely disappeared off the scene. Blood never stated that he was “determined to find and kill” the vampire. Seán Manchester would add in The Vampire Hunter’s Handbook (pages 66-67): “Interestingly, Jeanne Youngson’s name crops up in Bunson’s acknowledgements as having assisted with this book [The Vampire Encyclopedia]. Why does that come as no surprise? Peter Hough follows in Bunson’s errant footsteps in Supernatural Britain (1995) and repeats the misinformation … whilst ignoring the actual investigation. When contacted through their respective publishers, neither deigned to reply. Their publishers also refused to answer any correspondence on the matter.” This refusal to address significant error placed on record is a matter of concern.

Bunson and Hough are followed by the journalist Tom Slemen whose latter-day paperback Strange But True (1998) claimed that “Alan Blood organized a mass vampire hunt that would take place on Friday 13 March, 1970. Mr Blood was interviewed on television. … The schoolteacher’s plan was to wait until dawn, when the first rays of the rising sun would force the vampire to return to his subterranean den in the catacombs, then he would kill the Satanic creature in the time-honoured tradition; by driving a wooden stake through its heart. … In an orgy of desecration [the crowd] had exhumed the remains of a woman from a tomb, stolen lead from coffins, and defaced sepulchres with mindless graffiti.”

None of which is true. Blood did not “organize a mass vampire hunt.” Indeed, Blood organised nothing. He was an interested onlooker. It was not the “schoolteacher’s plan to wait until dawn.” There was no “orgy of desecration” etc. No damage whatsoever occurred on the night of 13 March 1970. What Slemen is probably alluding to is an entirely different incident that took place five months later, as recorded on the front page of the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 7 August 1970, where the discovery of the headless body of a female and signs of a satanic ceremony were made by two fifteen-year-old schoolgirls as they walked through the graveyard on a sunny August afternoon. Police viewed it to be the work of Satanists and investigated it as such. Some weeks later a man was arrested prowling around the graveyard at night.

These misleading accounts by Bunson, Hough and Slemen contaminated some others that have found their way onto the internet. Sadly, some sites are simply too lazy to do anything more than copy extant error from elsewhere with scant regard for accuracy. Others have an entirely different agenda, which is to distort what really happened. Bunson’s claim that no vampire was found is patently untrue, as originally recorded in Peter Underwood’s The Vampire’s Bedside Companion (Frewin Books, 1975) and The Highgate Vampire (British Occult Society, 1985; Gothic Press, 1991).

Author and exorcist, Seán Manchester, president of the VRS.

The tomb of the Highgate Vampire was located by the Vampire Research Society in 1970, as revealed by Seán Manchester in the 24 Hours programme, a  BBC television film documentary, transmitted on 15 October 1970, and later confirmed in Peter Underwood's anthology The Vampire's Bedside Companion (1975) and Exorcism! (1990), plus J Gordon Melton's The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead (1994), and Seán Manchester's The Highgate Vampire (1975, 1976, 1985, 1991). Three years and three months after the BBC 24 Hours television documentary, the Highgate Vampire itself was properly exorcised by Seán Manchester with an assistant named “Arthur.” Several 35mm photographs, some of which are reproduced in The Highgate Vampire book, were taken of the vampire in its final moments of dissolution. These pictures were later transmitted and discussed on various television programmes in the UK.

These are the known and recorded facts about the then 25-year-old schoolteacher Alan Blood who, on 13 March 1970 travelled from Billericay to Highgate in London, having seen a report on television earlier that evening, to satisfy his curiosity. He was not a vampirologist, nor did he ever claim to be. He was one of hundreds who had turned up to see what was happening. After talking to the press he was not heard of again in this or any related context. Yet his name, perhaps understandably given the subject matter and the overwhelming interest it generated, entered a legend all of its own.

The full story of the case can be read in Seán Manchester’s bestselling book, a reliable account by a first-hand witness, participant and investigative researcher with expertise in both vampirology and exorcism. For ordering information, click on the book’s cover:

The Last Mass Vampire Hunt in England

The night of Friday 13 March 1970 witnessed in England the largest vampire hunt of the twentieth century by members of the public. It bordered on hysteria and led to local police having their leave cancelled to contain it. Just how many were involved would be difficult to estimate, but certainly hundreds. In the preceding weeks, the Hampstead & Highgate Express (a local newspaper) told of unearthly goings-on at Highgate Cemetery. Its February 27th issue ran the headline "Does A Wampyr Walk in Highgate?" The front-page headline of the following fateful week's edition told of the matter being discussed on television that very evening by Seán Manchester who recounts the event in his bestselling book The Highgate Vampire.

"... attempts to shoot the interview by the north gate were abandoned and the actual filming took place outside the main gate further down Swains Lane. Some independent witnessed, including several children who had seen a ghostly manifestation, were also interviewed for the programme. One person said: ' Yes, I did feel it was evil because the last time I actually saw its face and it looked like it had been dead for a long time.' Another witness commented: 'It seemed to float along the ground.' One of those interviewed who claimed to have seen the vampire was a certain David Farrant, a pathetic figure whose infatuation with the Highgate haunting was to earn him an undeserved notoriety and send him on a helter-skelter into the abyss of the dark occult. The programme was transmitted at 6.00pm on Friday 13 March 1970: the eve of the proposed vampire hunt. Eamonn Andrews introduced the viewing audience to a report on the Highgate Vampire. Within two hours Highgate was the scene of utter pandemonium as crowds of onlookers flocked to Swains Lane. The number multiplied as the evening progressed. Police on foot and in cars were unable to control the swarming mass of those who had arrived to witness the discovery of a modern-day vampire infestation in their midst. And its eradication! While chaos and frenzy continued to erupt in Swains Lane, a group of hand-picked researchers led by myself, constituting the official vampire hunt, made their way to the catacombs in the inky darkness of the cemetery." ― Seán Manchester (The Highgate Vampire, pages 76-77). 

What followed would confirm the investigating hunters' worst fears.

With even worse nightmares to unravel ...

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate?

"On Friday, 27 February 1970, the front page headline of the Hampstead and Highgate Express asked does a vampire walk in Highgate? There would be no going back. The die had been cast." (Seán Manchester, The Highgate Vampire, Gothic Press, p. 70)

The banner headline "Does a wampyr walk in Highgate?" appeared across the front page of Hampstead and Highgate's most prestigious newspaper in February 1970. The editor himself had written the piece after meeting privately with the president of the British Occult Society and founder of the then fledgling Vampire Research Society. He allowed himself to get slightly carried away by introducing the journalistic embellishment "King Vampire of the Undead" - a term that Seán Manchester did not employ, as stated by him on page 72 of The Vampire Hunter's Handbook, but what else did the editor get wrong that day? Apparently more than you might imagine!

After warning that a vampire might be active in Highgate Cemetery, the article goes on to correctly describe Seán Manchester as a photographer (he had run his own photographic studio throughout the previous decade) and the president of the British Occult Society (a position he held from 21 June 1967 to 8 August 1988 when the BOS was dissolved). He is then quoted accurately enough before reference is made to a King Vampire of the Undead which is not attributed to him in actual quotes but attributed nonetheless.

A very important residence in Highgate somehow manages to transform into a different house in London's West End. For house "in the West End" one should actually substitute Ashurst House, which once stood at the western end of the site now occupied by Highgate Cemetery, as would have been explained by Seán Manchester who told the editor at the time that Ashurst House was sold and leased to a succession of tenants of whom one was a mysterious gentleman from the Continent who arrived in the wake of the vampire epidemic that had its origins in south-east Europe. This is not quite the same as what was reported and, of course, does not have anything like the same sensationalist impact as "King Vampire from Wallachia" which Draculesque adornment the newspaper clearly preferred.

There then follows reference to a group of Satanists attempting to"resurrect the King Vampire." This time the reference to a King Vampire is included in quotes even though the term was not uttered.

Next we are misinformed that the British Occult Society had "no formal membership" but instead corresponded with "50 to 100 interested people." Completely untrue. The BOS had a formal membership of over three hundred people with at least one hundred actively involved in ongoing research and investigation.

Then we learn that the British Occult Society "believes in countering magic by magic" when all that was said is that the supernatural will not submit to scientific methods to measure and prove its existence.

The newspaper correctly states that some BOS members had "spent nights in Highgate Cemetery" which was obviously for the purpose of observing the strange nocturnal goings-on in the place as had been reported by people in the previous decade and was still being reported up to the time of the article.

Readers are then offered in quotes "the traditional and approved manner" by which folk must rid themselves of this hideous pestilence without it being properly clarified that this is how clergy dealt with the problem in centuries past and was not on the agenda as far as the British Occult Society/Vampire Research Society was concerned with regard to Highgate Cemetery.

That Montague Summers' books bore some influence on Seán Manchester's understanding of vampirism is mentioned in tandem with the suggestion that Bram Stoker's novel is based on fact. That Stoker was influenced by genuine cases and read about real vampires before writing Dracula is not in doubt, but the clumsy journalism of the Hampstead and Highgate Express clouds what is trying to be conveyed by the man they are interviewing in the pursuit (presumably) of economising on words for the sake of space.

Finally, we come to a quote attributed to "one of Britain's busiest exorcists, the Rev John Neil-Smith" (they couldn't even get his name right - it was actually Christopher Neil-Smith) by attributing to him the following: "I believe the whole idea of vampires is probably a novelistic embellishment." He said nothing of the sort.

The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith (1920-1995) was an Anglican priest, originally from Hampstead, most celebrated for his practice of exorcism and his paranormal interests.[1] Like Seán Manchester, whom he knew, Reverend Neil-Smith believed that evil is an external reality and should be treated as such rather than as an abstract concept.

A vicar at St Saviour's Anglican Church at Eton Road in Hampstead, London, he performed more than three thousand exorcisms in Britain since 1949. In 1972, the Bishop of London authorised him to exorcise demons according to his own judgement.[2] Two years earlier, he was misquoted in the Hampstead and Highgate Express, 27 February 1970, saying that vampires are "probably a novelistic embellishment," but, as Seán Manchester subsequently pointed out, Reverend Neil-Smith claimed to have actually exorcised vampires, as confirmed in a book written by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall which records:

"Yet not far from Highgate Cemetery lives a man who takes reports of vampirism seriously. The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith is a leading British exorcist and writer on exorcism. He can cite several examples of people who have come to him for help in connection with vampirism. 'The one that particularly strikes me is that of a woman who showed me the marks on her wrists which appeared at night, where blood had definitely been taken. And there was no apparent reason why this should have occurred. They were marks like those of an animal. Something like scratching.' He denies this might have been done by the woman herself. She came to him when she felt her blood was being sucked away, and after he performed an exorcism the marks disappeared. Another person who came from South America 'had a similar phenomenon, as if an animal had sucked away his blood and attacked him at night.' Again, the Reverend Neil-Smith could find no obvious explanation. There is a third case of a man who, after his brother died, had the strange feeling that his lifeblood was being slowly sucked away from him. 'There seems to be evidence this was so,' says Neil-Smith. 'He was a perfectly normal person before, but after the brother's death he felt his life was being sucked away from him as if the spirit of his brother was feeding on him. When the exorcism was performed he felt a release and new life, as if new blood ran in his veins.' Neil-Smith rules out the possibility of a simple psychological explanation for this, such as a feeling of guilt by the survivor toward his brother. 'There was no disharmony between them. In fact he wasn't clear for some time that it (the vampire) was his brother.' The clergyman describes a vampire as 'half animal, half human,' and firmly refutes the suggestion that such things are all in the mind. 'I think that's a very naive interpretation,' he says. 'All the evidence points to the contrary'." [6]

The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith, contrary to editor Gerald Isaaman's false attribution of 27 February 1970 in a local Hampstead newspaper, concluded that there really are such a things as vampires.


1. a b Beeson, Trevor (2006). "The Reverend Christopher Neil-Smith". Priests And Prelates: The Daily Telegraph Clerical Obituaries. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0826481000.

2. Sands, Kathleen R. Demon possession in Elizabethan England. Praeger Publishers. "At around the same time, Father Christopher Neil-Smith, an Anglican priest, received a standing license from the Bishop of London authorizing him to exorcise freely according to his own judgment." 

3. Neil-Smith, Christopher. Praying for daylight: God through modern eyes. P. Smith.

4. Cramer, Marc. The devil within. W.H. Allen. "with the noted exorcist, the Rev. Christopher Neil-Smith, author of an anecdotal book entitled The Exorcist and the Possessed."

5. Spence, Lewis. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology.Kessinger Publishing.

6. Mysterious Monsters (Aldus Books, 1978) by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall. 

Ghostly Walks in Highgate

(click on images immediately above to view the  BBC television programme)

Sunday, 5 October 2014


A few words about the famous portrait of Lusia and the subject herself ...

This oil on canvas portrait of Lusia appears, complete with its frame, on page 186 of the second edition of The Highgate Vampire. In the same book, its author recalls how "I sketched her face from a variety of angles. Seventeen years later I would finish the oil painting from memory." 

“Among the many people who contacted me,” he recounts in the first complete account of the story first published in 1985, “was the sister of a beautiful twenty-two-year-old woman, whom I shall call Lusia.” A photographic model, and, later, various actresses portrayed Lusia in representational depictions of the eerie events that occurred in and around Highgate almost half a century ago. Below is the real Lusia and below her is the model, a close friend of the author, who was the first to portray Lusia on film.

This is Lusia whom the author was drawn to from the first moment he set eyes on her.

And this is the 1960s' photographic model who sometimes accompanied the author to various events, helping him with photography, as well as appearing in pictures herself. Unsurprisingly, she occasionally found herself entangled in incidents he was investigating or participating in. Her name is Jacqueline. It has been falsely claimed by the man convicted of black magic crimes at Highgate Cemetery in the 1970s (for which he was sentenced to a prison term of four years and eight months) that Jacqueline and Lusia are one and the same. Not so. Unfortunately, this malicious falsehood identifying an innocent third party has been exploited by one or two internet trolls who are obviously not troubled that their sole source is a man with a criminal record who has waged a hate campaign against the author of The Highgate Vampire from the moment he became aware of him in 1970. 

Final mention of the mysterious Lusia should be left with the man who knew the girl in the portrait  ...

"My initial discovery of her was one of sheer delight tinged with a terrible sadness which grew stronger until it finally eclipsed her. It would be within the sombre tones of an apt piece of music that she became enshrouded. I wrote: 'Her cascading flaxen tresses caught the dull illumination of the moonlight in their pale reflection. Somewhere, in the background, I could hear the dying pulses of Strauss’ solemn orchestral work, Metamorphosen. It haunts me to this day.' Lusia was touched by what lies beyond earthly confines, and became part of the nightmare of hideous visions and visitations associated with Highgate Cemetery at that time. I glimpsed an indistinct figure toward the end, a figure swathed in a white cerement, her face the colour of marble save for her mouth, which seemed full and wanton. This was not the Lusia I had first known. It was something else. A shade of something that had been sucked dry of life. She nevertheless lives in the hearts of those who knew her and hopefully on the canvas from all those years ago. Her portrait in oils has been immortalised by a history in which she played a significant part. My style altered even during the years I added paint to canvas when creating this portrait and is today significantly removed from that period."