Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Vampire Hunt at Highgate Cemetery

It began like most days when the cold winter won't go away. The bitterness of former weeks not only intensified as the unseasonal snow refused to melt away, but somehow seemed to be growing worse.

Today is the forty-eighth anniversary of a Friday the 13th that would go down in the annals of history as the largest vampire hunt of the twentieth century. How did it arise? What led up to it happening?

Gerald Isaaman, editor of the Hampstead & Highgate Express in those far off distant days, recently recounted his meeting with Seán Manchester in February 1970: "Manchester arrived at the office wearing a black cloak lined with scarlet silk and carrying a cane." Isaaman forgot to mention the top hat and tails that were included with the opera cloak and cane. There was also an accompanying young lady, also not mentioned, who was equally formally-attired. It was late in the afternoon and Seán Manchester had no idea how long the interview that had been requested of him would take. 

He and his lady friend were dressed ready to go on to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, from the Hampstead offices of the Hampstead & Highgate Express. He frequently attended the opera in those days and continued to do so whilst in London, always preferring the correct dress code. 

The elderly and now ex-editor reminisced in Jauary 2009:

"The story of the Highgate Vampire [in a recently published book about London's folklore] is attributed to 1970 reports in the Ham & High, where I was then the editor. It recalled the fantastic events of a few months that year and the following one, which culminated in a TV programme inviting people to decide for themselves what was going on. That resulted in three hundred people, allegedly armed with home-made stakes and Christian crosses, storming the cemetery that night to kill the demon vampire lurking among the decaying tombs."

In fact, there was considerably more than three hundred people on the hunt that night for Highgate's vampire. They were there because of a broadcast earlier that evening which brought the case to a much wider audience. There was no announcement by the team officially investigating the mysterious happenings at the cemetery that they would be embarking upon a vampire hunt that night even though that was the case. The official hunt had been planned in private for some time.

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). 

Seán Manchester appeared on the Today programme (Thames Television) at 6.00pm on Friday 13 March 1970:

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 6.00pm 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 10.00pm 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.

Alan Blood in Swains Lane on 13 March 1970. 

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 Vampire Research Society.

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:

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