This October we are going to bring you some of the most interesting #true paranormal cases we can find. You can discover more true, terrifying accounts of the paranormal right here.
Back in the early 1970’s, the case of the Highgate Vampire was repeatedly in the news. It was a scary and somewhat grisly story and I recall reading in horror and fascination everything the media printed at that time. In retrospect, the subplot of two men interested in the occult and determined to outdo each other is even more interesting.
Highgate cemetery was built in the 1830’s and was the place to be buried in society at the time. Many famous people are interred there including Karl Marx. In line with the style of the time, the graves are marked by ornate and Victorian headstones, statues and figures, and there are a good deal of family tombs built in gothic and other styles as well. After a while, the cemetery became unused and uncared for. It was overgrown and soon became a place for teenagers and down and outs to hang out complete with graffiti and vandalism. Seances were held there and so were supposedly anyhow, satanic rituals. Then, in 1970, a man called David Farrant wrote to a local newspaper the following letter;
“Some nights I walk home past the gates of Highgate Cemetery.”
“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. I saw a grey figure for a few seconds before it disappeared into the darkness. The second sighting, a week later, was also brief.
“Last week the figure appeared, only a few yards inside the gates. This time it was there long enough for me to see it much more clearly, and now I can think of no other explanation than this apparition being supernatural.
“I have no knowledge in the field and I would be interested to hear if any other readers have seen anything of this nature.”
David Farrant, Priestwood Mansions
Farrant reportedly spent a night in the cemetery where he witnessed several apparitions. Unsurprisingly perhaps, his letter produced several responses from various residents who had also seen strange things in and around the cemetery, though many were later shown to be fraudulent. Despite this, the letter attracted the interest of another man – Sean Manchester. Now up until this point, there doesn’t appear to be any talk of a vampire – simply an apparition. However, Mr. Manchester wrote claiming that the figure was that of a mediaeval Romanian nobleman buried there who had been reawakened by satanists and was, in fact, a vampire. So far as I can tell, this claim is without any substance and anyway is too similar to the plot of a famous novel about a famous vampire called Dracula to be anything but fabricated – right?
Well, this is where the story gets quite weird. Mr. Manchester and Mr. Farrant then began what can only be called a modern day feud over the vampire/apparition. Each claimed they had the power to destroy it and that they would do so. When Farrant claimed to have seen many dead foxes with no visible signs of how they died in the cemetery, Manchester agreed and embellished saying they had been drained of blood. Additionally, the overgrown state of the cemetery only made their lurid stories more believable and pretty quickly, the Highgate Vampire was news. Both were interviewed on TV and then things truly got out of hand when on the evening of Friday 13th March 1970, after the airing of the interviews, a mob of ‘vampire hunters’ descended on the cemetery searching for the vampire and even tussling with Police to gain entry to the place. They were armed with wooden stakes, crosses and garlic. Nothing was found. Manchester later claimed in his book on the subject that he and a group of friends gained access to the cemetery that night avoiding the police and mob. They went to a vault that had been earlier identified by a ‘sleepwalking girl’ but could not open it. They finally managed to descend into it from the roof on ropes and there they found several open coffins. They filled them with garlic and holy water before leaving again.
Things got stranger when several months later, the charred and headless remains of a woman’s body were found near the catacombs which Manchester believed housed the coffin of “a King Vampire of the Undead.” The police believed the body to have been used in a black magic ritual.
As you may well imagine. Things get even stranger after this. Manchester and Farrant engaged in vampire hunts in and around the cemetery each trying to outdo the other in what was fast becoming a feud (which lasts until this day). Farrant was found by police with a wooden stake and crucifix one night by the cemetery and arrested. Manchester entered during public hours returning to the vault he had found and was reportedly about to drive a stake through the heart of a body he found there when he was persuaded by a friend not to. The two were rumored to meet in a magicians duel that never happened.
In 1974, Farrant went to jail for damage and interfering with remains in the cemetery though he claimed this was done by satanists – not him! Both wrote books and interviewed about the subject and both built websites about the topic.
I visited London in the late 1970’s as an 18-year old and I still recall my girlfriend of the time who was at a college near Highgate recounting the now greatly embellished tale of the Highgate vampire. She told of people – mainly young women – living around the cemetery that grew ill, frail and weak as the vampire sucked their blood and stalked them. I hugged my beer in the warmth of the pub we were in and shivered….. it was a compelling and horrifying tale.
However, one must conclude with a tad disappointment that perhaps that is all it ever was. A tale. A modern urban legend that grew out of the rivalry of two ‘vampire hunters’ and their taste for the fame that it brought them. Are there ghosts and apparitions in the cemetery? Almost certainly. It is a large and sprawling place full of dead people and I have no doubts that it could well be haunted by some of the souls buried there. Was there really a vampire? In particular, Manchester seemed to rely on the Dracula story to embellish and build the story of the Highgate vampire – all the elements are there. It could well be argued he even placed himself centrally in the plot as van Helsing – the great vampire slayer.
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