The story of the Highgate Vampire is a rather odd one… full of rivalry and competitions over the attention [and money] of the press.
Highgate Cemetery [located on the beautiful North London hill site where 165,000 people are spread over 37 acres] was constructed in 1839 and it was a very fashionable burial place for Victorians. By the 1960’s Highgate Cemetery had fallen into neglect and decay – it was overgrown and dilapidated and youngsters vandalized it. Stories started circulating that the cemetery was haunted and newspapers started reporting England’s first Vampire in over a hundred years.
The main events and the media sensation took place in the early 1970s but we also a couple of earlier accounts. Two seemingly unconnected incidents occurred within weeks of one another in early 1967.
The first involved two 16-year-old convent girls from La Sainte Union Convent who were walking home at night after having visited friends in Highgate Village. Their return journey took them down Swains Lane past the cemetery. They could not believe their eyes as they passed the graveyard’s north gate at the top of the lane, for in front of them bodies appeared to be emerging from their tombs. One of these schoolgirls later suffered nightly visitations and blood loss.
The second incident, some weeks later, involved an engaged couple who were walking down the same lane. Suddenly the female shrieked as she glimpsed something hideous hovering behind the gate’s iron railings. Then her fiancé saw it also and they both stood frozen in fear as the specter held them in thrall. Its face bore an expression of basilisk horror.
Soon others sighted the same phenomenon as it hovered along the path behind the gate where gravestones are visible either side until consumed in darkness. Before long, people were talking in hushed tones about the rumored haunting in local pubs.
Some who actually witnessed the spectral figure wrote to their local newspaper to share their experience but the information was contradictory ranging from a tall man in a hat, a spectral cyclist, a woman in white, a face glaring through the bars of a gate, a figure wading into a pond, a pale gliding form, bells ringing, and voices calling. Hardly two correspondents gave the same story.
Discoveries were made of animal carcasses drained of blood. It seamed only a matter of time before a person was found in the cemetery in a pool of blood. This victim died of wounds to the throat. The police made every attempt to cover-up the vampiric nature of the death. Seán Manchester informed the public on 27 February 1970 that the cause was most probably a vampire that modern Satanists had roused him.
He believed that ‘a King Vampire of the Undead’, a medieval nobleman who had practiced black magic in medieval Wallachia, had been brought to England in a coffin in the early eighteenth century, by followers who bought a house for him in the West End and later leased the home of Sir William Ashurst (Lord Mayor of London in 1694) on the site that later became Highgate Cemetery. [Very “a la Dracula”… isn`t it?]
He said the right thing to do would be to stake the vampire’s body, and then behead and burn it, but regrettably this would nowadays be illegal. The paper headlined this: ‘Does a Wampyr walk in Highgate?’
Later, Manchester, which public profile rose significantly, claimed to have been contacted by Elizabeth Wojdyla, one of the two convent girls who sought his help because she has anemia and nightmares about an animalistic man outside her window. Manchester asserts that he cured her by creating a protective shield with such items as garlic, salt and silver crucifix. He was also contacted by a woman named Anne on behalf of her sister, pseudonymously named Luisa, who had two pin-pricks on her neck and a compulsion to visit Highgate cemetery while sleepwalking.
Manchester declared to his associates that he would hold an ‘official’ vampire hunt on Friday 13 March—such Fridays are always ominous dates in British and North American superstition (Friday the Thirteenth), and are frequently chosen for items on occult matters in the media. These were broadcast on ITV early on the evening of the 13th; within two hours a mob of ‘hunters’ from all over London and beyond swarmed over gates and walls into the locked cemetery, despite police efforts to control them.
Events turned nasty in August when the body of a young woman was found at the cemetery. It appeared that someone had treated the corpse as a vampire and had decapitated and tried to burn it. An enraged citizenry demanded that the authorities protect the bodies of loved ones from abuse. Before the month was out, the police arrested two men who claimed to be vampire hunters.
In 1971 a young girl claimed the vampire attacked her in the lane alongside the cemetery, in the early hours of the morning. She said she was hurled to the ground by a “tall black figure with a deathly white face”. Luckily for her, a passing motorist stopped to help her, and the vampire simply vanished into thin air when the car’s headlights hit it. The good Samaritan took her to the police station, where officers noted her genuinely shocked state of mind, as well as some abrasions on her arms and legs. The police combed the area but found nothing. They were, however, somewhat puzzled by the fact that both witnesses had reported the assailant’s sudden disappearance. The spot where the entity vanished was lined on both sides, by four meter high walls.
Another interesting case is that of the man who was hypnotized by something in the cemetery. He had gone into the cemetery one evening to look around, and as the light began to rapidly fade he decided to leave, but became hopelessly lost. Not being a superstitious person he walked calmly around looking for the gate when suddenly he became aware of something behind him. Swinging around he became “hypnotized with fear” at the tall dark figure of the vampire confronted him. So great was the intensity of his fear that he stood motionless for several minutes after the vampire vanished. He later recalled that it was almost as if he had been paralyzed with fear by some force.
During the next few months dead animals (mainly mutilated foxes and cats) continued to appear in Waterslow Park, and an escaped mental patient was found wandering the cemetery covered in his own blood.
Over the next few years claims to have been really busy and … believe it or not… to have found and dealt with the Highgate Vampire. Sean Manchester claimed to have found the ‘King Vampire’ in a black casket in an abandoned house in Highgate. He and his assistant dragged the casket outside and kicked in the lid. In the book which Sean Manchester wrote, he describes the occupant as having, ‘Burning, fierce eyes beneath black furrowed brows stared with hellish reflection. Yellow at the edges with blood-red centres, they were unlike any other beast of prey’.
Manchester claims that he drove a wooden stake though the ghoul’s heart, covering his ears from the fearful scream as the Highgate Vampire turned to brown slime.