IN the windswept lowlands of Romania the villagers of Marotinul de Sus know better than to skirt the cemetery after nightfall. After all, one of the wooden crosses shifting in the wind may lie over the grave of a bloodthirsty vampire.
“For centuries we have had to protect ourselves against these creatures by finding the graves of the undead and risking our lives by ripping out their hearts,” said 68-year-old Tita Musca, a local farmer.
The village of the vampire slayers has become the focus of a police investigation that has highlighted not only local fears of the undead but a startling willingness to act on them.
The saga began when Petre Toma, 76, was buried at new year. His nephew’s family fell ill with an unexplained sickness and a few days later a witness claimed to have seen Toma leaving their house before sunrise as a flock of crows flew portentously overhead.
“He sucked the life from us so that he could live,” said Mirela Marinescu. “We were all dying, my husband and my child, and we all saw him come to us in the same dream.”
Armed with hammers and chisels and fortified with home-made schnapps, four men led by Gheorghe Marinescu, the supposed vampire’s brother-in-law, set out for the cemetery.
“When we lifted the coffin lid his arms were not on his chest as we had left them but at his sides,” said Marinescu. “His head was turned to the side and his lips were stained with dried blood.”
After the corpse’s chest had been opened with a wooden stake the heart was removed. “It was full of fresh blood,” said Marinescu. “His body relaxed and we heard him sigh.”
The heart was burnt over the embers of a fire and the ashes stirred into a bottle of water from the village well to make a potion. The vampire’s “victims” recovered after drinking it but Toma’s daughter called the police.
Investigators soon discovered evidence of up to 20 vampire slayings in the past few years. At the regional police station the commissioner, Gheorghe Sandu, said: “I’d like to be able to say this village is unique, but unfortunately I can’t because I know just how strong belief in vampires is here.”