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Title: Bad blood

Source: Electronic Telegraph (www.telegraoh.co.uk), April 12th, 1997

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Electronic Telegraph

Bad blood

Teenager Rod Ferrell is a 'vampire'. So is his mother. Now Ferrell and three friends are charged with two horrific ritual murders. In backwoods Kentucky, Daniel Jeffreys investigates a childish fantasy that became horribly real

Murray is a small southern Baptist town, a semi-rural Kentucky community that was best known as the home of the national Boy Scout museum until the vampires arrived. Now two people have been killed and four of the town's teenagers are in jail charged with murder. In the Wag café, their old classmates whisper darkly of a battle between two rival clans of blood-sucking fiends. In the Hungry Bear diner, even adults like local businessman Greg Duncan say they are afraid. "There's many a person around here", he claims, "who believe the devil's work is everywhere."

The approach to Murray is made through trees and rolling fields and lakes. From any rise in the ground, water is visible. The area is called The Land Between the Lakes and had a thriving tourist industry before cheap air travel took everyone to Florida. The best views of the glistening waters can be had from a hill in Trig County, a wooded piece of National Park land about five miles out of town, but few people venture up there now. It's the site of the "Vampyre Hotel".

The "hotel" is a 20-year-old concrete structure, the shell of a six-bedroom house whose building permit expired before it was completed. It was here, 17-year-old Rod Ferrell has told police, that in October 1995 he met some unidentified adults who involved him in a human-blood-drinking ceremony. Ferrell claims they made him believe he was one of the "undead", with powers over any living being. And it was this "crossing over" to "vampiredom" which in November 1996 eventually led him and three local friends - Dana Cooper, 19, Scott Anderson, 16, and Charity Keesee, 16 - to drive to Eustis, Florida, where police allege they used a sharpened crowbar to bludgeon to death Richard and Naoma Wendorf, the parents of Ferrell's 15-year-old girlfriend Heather Wendorf.

Anderson has since told the police that the murderers drank the victims' blood. Then, leaving Anderson's car, the four stole the Wendorfs' station wagon and - along with Heather Wendorf, who has not been charged - set off for the New Orleans home of Anne Rice, the best-selling author of Interview with the Vampire. (Ferrell has seen the 1995 film version on video more than 20 times.) They made it as far as Louisiana before being picked up by the police.

With his long dark hair and shaved temples, Rod Ferrell is in many ways a typical small-town rebel. Until settling in Murray in October 1995, he had spent five years shuttling between his mother (Sandra Gibson, who lived in Murray), his father (Adrian Ferrell, who lives in Eustis) and his grandfather (Harrell Gibson, who lives in a trailer park on the outskirts of Murray). None of the adults in Ferrell's life have ever held steady jobs, and he was constantly in trouble at school in Murray. By the beginning of last year he had stopped attending school altogether, preferring to spend the days at his grandfather's trailer, reading books about vampirism and painting skulls and skeletons in vivid colours. He took to wearing a cloak and walking with a cane. He tried to change his surname to Lestat - the anti-hero of Interview With the Vampire - and said he couldn't go out in the daylight.

At first police thought Dana Cooper, being the eldest, was the killers' leader, but the other teenagers charged with Ferrell have put the blame on him. It was Ferrell, claim the police, who led last October's break-in at a local animal shelter, when one puppy was stamped to death and another had its hind legs pulled off. Scott Anderson also told police that Ferrell took him to a cemetery, made cuts in his arm, "then drank my blood". Yet Ferrell's arrest has left many questions unanswered. Law officers in Kentucky doubt that he was a cult leader. Instead they are investigating a number of adults suspected of initiating dozens of local youths, and are taking the talk of rival gangs seriously. "We have just scratched the surface of vampirism in Kentucky," says Murray sheriff Stan Scott. "There are many more involved in the valley than just Ferrell's group. Right now, I think most of them are lying low."

The vampirists may not have always been so careful. In October 1995, local police officers stopped a car with a faulty rear light on the secluded road between Murray and the neighbouring town of Mayfield. It was three days before Halloween. Inside were four people dressed in black with their faces painted white. A fifth passenger, a girl, was in normal clothes but wore a blindfold. The travellers said they were going to a fancy-dress party. The police had no reason to detain them but they checked the ID of the driver, a Mayfield man called Kile Bayton.

The Kentucky authorities thought nothing more of the incident until, a few days later, they received a call from police in Tennessee. Susan Cates, a 15-year-old matching the girl in the description of the car, had gone missing. At her home, they had discovered letters from Dean Frank, a Murray resident and friend of Bayton's, which were full of references to powers the girl could have if she "crossed over" and became a vampire. One letter described blood rituals and human sacrifices. Officers discovered Bayton's baptismal name was Andrew after reading in Frank's correspondence that "Kile" is a name taken by men who believe they have become "undead".

Susan Cates is still missing. Bayton says he had never met the girl before that October night nor seen her since. Like Dean Frank, he has been interrogated but not charged. No body has been found, nor any evidence that the missing teenager has been physically harmed. Yet some Murray teenagers gossip that she was killed in an initiation rite at the Vampyre Hotel that went wrong.

"That's what I believe," says Cindy Rice, a 17-year-old local girl, as we examine the building that now has such a dark reputation. Inside and out the walls are daubed with spray-painted messages that make an incongruous contrast to the beautiful surroundings. "Me killa", "Follow me to death" and "Please deposit dead bodies here" are just three of the ugly scrawls that share space with strange symbols.

"This is where I had my initiation last May," says Cindy, a dark-haired waif with piercing brown eyes and cut-marks on her forearms. Introduced to the cult by Charity Keesee, she was then taken up by Sandra Gibson. "There were nine of us at my initiation, including Gibson," she says. "I stripped to my waist and they painted a pentagram, upside down, between my breasts." She shudders briefly at the memory before continuing. "A tall blonde woman I'd never met before made three cuts on both my arms. They let the blood flow a little then collected it into a cup."

Cindy says she feels a little light-headed at the memory and needs to sit down. She finds a spot by the structure's entrance. Inside, the floor is littered with gaudily coloured candles which seem to jog her memory. "We had big red candles when I crossed over. They placed a drop of my blood in the flame of each one. Then they mixed the blood with water in the cup and everybody in the circle drank some."

Once that was done, Cindy says everybody made cuts in their own arms and drained some blood into a separate cup, again mixing it with water. "I was given the cup and told to drink every drop," she says. "Once I'd done that I'd 'crossed over', I had become a vampire. Then everybody began sucking at each other's wounds."

To what extent the blame for these fatal fantasies lies with Rod Ferrell's mother, Sandra Gibson, remains an open question. According to another Murray teenager called Cindy - Cindy Scott - Gibson leads one of many competing vampire cults. Last July Gibson was charged with sexual assault by Murray police. The 35-year-old woman had allegedly tried to seduce a 14-year-old boy as part of a vampire ritual. Murray police have released part of a letter from Gibson, written to the teenager. "I long to be near you, to become a vampire bride, a part of the family immortal and truly yours for ever," it reads. "You will then come for me and cross me over and I will be your bride for eternity and you my sire." But by December, Gibson was claiming no further involvement with the vampire cult - although she was still living with another man calling himself "Kile". By January, she had fled the area.

According to witness statements gathered by the Murray police, for the last couple of years Gibson has been leading young people into vampirism through a game called "Masquerader", which is loosely based on the works of Anne Rice. It's supposed to be make-believe, but Gibson encouraged Murray's teenagers to take it seriously.

Last year, Kathy Lee, a 15-year-old from Mayfield, played Masquerader with Gibson and various teenagers after meeting the older woman in the Wag cafe. Kathy claims she, like Cindy Rice, was initiated in the Vampyre Hotel. Since then she says, without a trace of irony, "I prowl on moonless nights. My character was Lynthia - that's a gangrel, a vampire who can change herself into an animal or vapour."

Part of Masquerader's rules say that a vampire who spots a rival blood-sucker must attack, anywhere or any time. Friends of Ferrell say he'd become convinced that his girlfriend's parents were vampires from another group, and that they were trying to turn Heather against him. Cindy says: "Rod's group was led by a woman from New Orleans who was a friend of Sandra Gibson's. The others follow two women from Houston, Texas. They are really vicious and I think Rod was afraid of them."

However far-fetched it sounds, police in Houston confirm that since 1994 there have been a series of "ritual biting" incidents. Marshall Varis, a Dallas psychologist, says that in the last 12 months he has treated 15 teenagers who say they are vampires. Patricia Seymour, a psychiatric counsellor, says that in the last three years she's had 50 clients from the Houston region who have emotional problems stemming from their vampire fantasies. All of them say they've met a shadowy woman who calls herself "Clyte".

Clyte has since been identified as Alice Lynne Shapiro, who is wanted for assault and fraud in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Shapiro disappeared after she and three others were arrested for torturing a 17-year-old boy during a "vampire rite" in November 1995. Clyte's alleged victim, whose identity has not been revealed, was in a coma for five days after living through four days of terror. He was sexually assaulted, a man threatened to cut out his tongue, and then he was set on fire.

According to Rod Ferrell's grandfather, Harrell Gibson, that was the kind of fate that Ferrell was trying to avoid. Gibson says he often urged the boy to abandon his obsession with vampires but Ferrell claimed he was too afraid of reprisals from remaining cult members. Charity Keesee also claimed her life was in danger. "She was a good child until this," says David Keesee, her father. "I told her to get out of the sect. She said, 'They won't let me. They'll kill me.'"

Keesee is an old-fashioned man, a religious fundamentalist who uses archaic expressions. When he fetches a pen he calls it a "writing stick", and his views on evil are Old Testament. "I believe the devil has my daughter's soul," he says. "I can't explain her behaviour any other way."

And that, says Gordon Welton, editor of The Vampire Book: Encyclopedia of the Undead, is part of the problem. "I think Kentucky, and the whole South, is more susceptible to vampirism," he says. "It's a breeding-ground for bizarre behaviour. These are bible-thumping people; kids are raised to believe in Christ and the devil. It's a scary place, almost medieval in the way some Southerners believe there are real demons in every shadow."

As the sun sets over Kentucky Lake, I stand by the Vampyre Hotel, where Rod Ferrell's fatal odyssey supposedly began. I can see shadows dancing as the wind blows through the trees. And I know what those Southerners mean.
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