Clinical Vampirism in John George Haigh’s Murders

R. E. Hemphill

R. E. Hemphill

Vampirism has been reported in the medical literature for more than a century. It was named after the mythical vampire in order to describe the sucking of blood or drinking blood to satisfy a craving for it. An interest in the dead has also been recorded, so that vampirism has been confused with necrophilia. In fact, the essential characteristic of the vampire was that he drank fresh blood specifically to satisfy a need, also having an abnormal interest in death and the dead. The appropriate clinical substantive for a human who displays these characteristics is “vampirist,” not vampire, which refers to a supernatural creature or a bat.

The mythical vampire was an evil spirit which, being refused entry into the “other world” because of unsuitable behaviour in life or neglect of rituals, returned to the grave as a “revenant” or “living dead” being. He re-animated his corpse and sustained it with blood sucked from the living during sleep, or by biting the neck and drinking from the wound. A victim thus attacked or a suicide victim was liable to become a vampire. Vampires lived in cemeteries and seldom left their graves except to satisfy their need for blood: the dead were their people. The vampire did not desecrate graves, violate corpses, eat human flesh or have sexual intercourse with the living. He had no real identity and was thought not to cast a shadow or reflect an image in a mirror. The characteristics of a periodic craving for blood, association with the dead and no certain identity are a triad also found in clinical vampirism.

The vampire myth is of great antiquity and appears in some form in most religions that hold a belief in a corporate existence for the spirit after death. It entered Europe from Asia Minor and moved west through Romania and Hungary. The word vampire, of Turkish or Magyar origin, was first used in English in 1734. The vampire has featured in German, French, English and American romantic and horrific literature since the late eighteenth-century, and novels, plays and films derived from Abraham Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ continue to proliferate. There is a substratum of fact to ‘Dracula’ and the associated ‘Frankenstein,’ based on historical persons.

The drinking of blood may be a feature of sadomasochism, blood rituals, fetishism, ritual revenge, psychosis, and drug intoxication. Most of the striking cases collected by Richard Freiherr von Krafft-Ebing appear not· to have been vampirists. Vampirism is not a primary symptom of any other psychotic or psychopathic disorder, and it has a “specific motive that distinguishes it from other blood-related aberrations. The condition is not likely to be discovered except in criminal cases where evidence is restricted by judicial rulings, and by chance via psychiatric examinations or surgical treatment of self-injuries. Some of our patients who carry out self- mutilation cut themselves in order to suck blood. They had an impaired sense of identity; could not recognize their faces in the mirror, and some expressed an interest in death. The mirror effect indicates a gross disturbance of personal reality and is sometimes found in schizophrenia and unreality states as well as vampirism. I Identity is the innate knowledge of individuality which becomes more certain and firm as the child develops.”

We suggest that compulsive blood-taking, uncertain identity and an abnormal interest in death, as observed in our cases and reported variously by others, are symptoms of the psychopathology of clinical vampirism. Uncertain identity is probably invariable, while an interest in death may not always be evident.

In addition to non-criminal vampirists, we have intensively studied three who had been charged with dishonesty and referred for psychiatric assessment because of self-mutilation. We have also re-examined the case of John George Haigh, “acid-bath” murderer of 1949, regarding whom there was much inconclusive controversy in psychiatric circles, and propose that he was also a vampirist. We describe these cases in detail, refer to others and discuss clinical vampirism and its implications.

John George Haigh, the “acid-bath” murderer, was executed in London on August 10th, 1949 at the age of forty. John George Haigh confessed that between September 1944 and February 1949 he had killed nine persons, incised their necks and drunk a cupful of blood from each. Six were friends whose property he then acquired by fraud, but the other three were unidentified casual strangers. The primary motive for all the murders, he said, was an irresistible urge for blood, and not gain: “there are so many other ways of making easy money, though illegitimately.” Lord Dunboyne wrote: “No other reported case traceable seems to suggest that a murderer drank the blood of the murdered as an end in itself, unassociated with any sexual perversion. A wealth of material exists, giving quite a good picture of his first twenty-five and last five years, but there is little regarding the intervening period of prison sentences and the war. The following is derived from a book on the trial of John George Haigh, edited by Lord Dunboyne,” and a biography by La Bern, the two of which complement each other.

John George Haigh was the only child of sound, middle-class parents for whom he showed genuine affection throughout life. His birth, development and health were normal; there were no congenital or blood disorders, and no family history of mental instability. Intelligent and musical, he was a schoolboy organist and chorister at Wakefield Cathedral and had a good character. However, between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four, he served three prison sentences for dishonesty and company swindles, forgery and impersonation. Thereafter, he had business interests in London and lived in the Onslow Court residential hotel. He had close, well-to-do, respectable friends who never suspected that he was a criminal; they corresponded with him even after he was convicted. He was arrested and charged with the murder of Mrs Durand Deacon a sixty-nine-year-old widow who lived in the Onslow Court Hotel, in February 1949.

Apart from crime, his adult behaviour was unremarkable both in and out of prison. From childhood, he was good-natured, fastidious and generous. He loved animals and children and disliked cruelty and violence. When his wife left him a few months after their marriage at the age of twenty-five, he had no further interest in sex. He lived well, drank moderately, did not take drugs and did not associate with criminals outside of prison. He was not impulsive and showed caution in his frauds, in contrast to the recklessness of his murders.

He enjoyed blood, and from the age of six would lick scratches and wound himself to suck it. He pictured and dreamed of people injured and bleeding after railway accidents. Although of the Plymouth Brethren, he was fascinated by Holy Communion and the Crucifixion and sometimes saw blood pouring from a large crucifix that hung over the altar in the cathedral, while the bleeding figure of Jesus Christ would appear in his dreams.

In 1944, when he was thirty-five, blood dripped into his mouth from an accidental scalp wound. That night he dreamed that his “mouth was full of blood, which revived the old taste,” and knew that he would have to obtain blood. He killed two persons that year, three in 1945, three in 1948 and Mrs Durand Deacon in February 1949. He said “before each of my killings I had a series of dreams, I saw a forest of crucifixes that changed into green trees dripping with blood […] which I drank, and once more I awakened with a desire that demanded fulfilment […] The dream cycles started early in the week and culminated on Friday.”

In anticipation of having to kill he arranged to have the use of the storeroom of a small factory in Crawley, where he installed non-corrosive metal drums, carboys of sulphuric acid, a pump, tools and protective clothing. He would club or shoot the victim in the head, plug the wound, incise the neck, draw a cupful of blood and “drink it for three to five minutes, after which I felt better.” He would put the body in the drum and pump acid over it. The process of dissolution took a few days, and he visited the workshop daily to inspect. If the body had to be dismembered, he greased the floor first, so that the blood would not sink in and he could wash it away. The “sludge” was poured down the drain and the drum, with what did not dissolve, such as plastic articles or dentures, was thrown on the rubbish heap of the factory yard.

He drove Mrs Durand Deacon to see an “invention” at his workshop, shot her and drank her blood. She weighed 200 Ib and, exhaust after getting the body into the barrel, he went to Crawley for tea. He then completed his task, dined and drove back to London. He openly sold Mrs Durand Deacon’s jewellery to a shop and sent her bloodstained coat to a cleaner, all of which was easily traced. The police found blood and other incriminating evidence at the workshop. John George Haigh confessed and voluntarily described the other eight murders, then unknown to the police. He told his last visit before his execution the “real truth” in which he “was impelled to kill by wild blood demons, the spirit inside me commanded me to kill.”

John George Haigh seemed not to realise that he might die or that the disintegrating bodies had once been alive and his friends. His only regret was that “being led by an irresistible urge, I was not given to the discovery of the distress this might cause to myself and others,” by which he meant his parents and friends. He wrote to his mother from the death cell: “My spirit will remain earthbound for a while. My mission is not yet fulfilled.” John George Haigh was unconcerned about his trial and refused to appeal against his sentence. A panel of psychiatrists found that he was not legally Insane and that he had no symptoms of mental illness; his electroencephalogram (EEG) was normal.

On the grounds that his impeccable early career, usually good character and personal fastidiousness could not be reconciled with the gruesome killings, it was suggested that John George Haigh had a multiple personality or identity. A non-violent, cautious, professional swindler is unlikely to murder for money and to do so recklessly. John George Haigh kept the same friends during his last five years, stayed in their houses and escorted their teenage daughters to entertainments. None suspected anything sinister of him. There seems no doubt that John George Haigh’s identity, and the motives and values that corresponded with it, were not constant. John George Haigh realised this when normally self-assured, he said: “No-one will ever understand me, I am really very bewildering.”

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