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In 1924, the British occult researcher and author Ralph Shirley wrote that vampirism was perhaps more commonplace than was “commonly supposed”. It was to “lunatic asylums”, he claimed, that suspected vampires were “consigned”, thus limiting the public’s awareness of what he considered to be an active and “modern” threat. 1
Several years later, in 1949, such a case of vampirism did indeed reach the public ear in the UK, when a man named John George Haigh confessed to not only murdering nine people, but of being sustained by their blood.
When asked about his motivations for committing such terrible acts, he described a dream to his prison psychiatrist.
“I saw before me a forest of crucifixes which gradually turned into trees. At first, there appeared to be dew or rain, dripping from the branches, but as I approached I realized it was blood.”
As Haigh stepped closer in the dream, the “whole forest” supposedly “began to writhe and the trees, dark and erect, to ooze blood.” Haigh watched on as “a man went from each tree catching the blood.”
“When the cup was full, he approached me. ‘Drink,’ he said, but I was unable to move. The dream vanished. But I still felt faint and stretched out with all my strength towards the cup.”
When tried, the court found Haigh guilty of having murdered six people. Far from pleading his innocence, he adamantly stated that there had in fact been nine victims.
His thirst, he claimed, was unable to be sated. Haunted by the hands holding out the cup, which he had first seen in his dream, he was consumed by a “terrible thirst”. The thirst, he stated, was “unknown to any other modern man” and had “never left” him, despite his increasing number of victims.
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Haigh claimed to have been dominated by dreams of blood as a young boy, with them returning to him in 1944 after a car accident. His sanguine nights turned into bloody days as he convinced his victims to come to a secluded area where he would kill them and then drink their blood before placing them into a container of sulphuric acid. Once the body turned to sludge, it was easier to dispose of the remains. 2
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Naturally, with the remains being so dissolved and thus unable to be fully examined, the court at the time had to rely upon Haigh’s testimony regarding the truthfulness of his vampiric ritual.
It is for this very reason that the validity of his account has been put into question. Whilst it is certain that Haigh took the lives of many, some have suggested that he invented having drank human blood in order to be declared insane and spared capital punishment. During the trial, he even drank his own urine to help his case. However, he had been in prison before and was known to be a career fraudster. As such, many believed, and still believe, that his heinous crimes were encouraged more by a financial, rather than an occult, reason. He was known to have sold his victims’ belongings, with the timings of his crimes matching his own financial troughs. However, he stubbornly refuted this assessment of his crimes, even admitting to more acts of vampirism than the court was able to prove.
Why would someone claim such horrors if they were not indeed consumed by an insatiable thirst?
For many researchers, including the author Basil Copper, the answer is clear. Haigh was indeed a bloodthirsty fiend. Writing in the early 1970s, he declared that, after having sifted through masses of statements made at the time, there was no doubt in his mind that Haigh was “a malformed human being; a vampiric predator whose thirst for blood was slaked on at least six occasions post-mortem.” 3
- The Vampire in Europe, by Summers Montague (1929)
- Written in Blood: A Cultural History of the British Vampire, by Paul Adams (2014)
- The Vampire: In Legend, Fact and Art, by Basil Copper (1973)
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