Growing up, I was sure that there really were monsters in the world. It’s a huge world and every culture has monsters in it somewhere. From the Chubacabre to the Boogey Man, everyone knows some campfire story they can share about the supernatural. It almost seems that we cultivate these beyond belief characters, clinging to them like hideous life preservers of sanity, for the sake that we would like to think that monstrosities are limited to furry, gibbering tooth-and-claw types. The reality is that the following six people are prime examples that monsters are usually just people. Really freaky people. People that you don’t want to know.
These people are (were) all real, and their actions were decidedly dark. If you are upset by the horrors that everyday people can commit when they go dark side, I recommend you skip this post. This is part of a two-part Halloween post, next week being less real life creepy and more supernatural creepy.
- Vlad III Tepes– Also known as Vlad the Impaler, he’s one of the most famous of horrors that ever graced the earth. He was born in a Romanian speaking portion of Hungary, Vlad III was a despot with a penchant for impaling enemies, traitors, or people suspected of treachery and possibly telemarketers. There were stories of invading Ottoman troops turning back in disgust at the sheer number of impaled victims Vlad used to place around his kingdom. It’s a little known fact that Vlad’s crusade against the Ottoman Empire was instigated by the Pope Pius in 1459, and that many of Vlad’s actions were accredited to his Christian beliefs, though I’m pretty sure that you would be hard pressed to find him wearing a WWJD bracelet any time soon. His exploits were quickly exaggerated upon by the Germans shortly after his death, and later, Bram Stoker used Vlad as his inspiration in his classic Dracula, going as far as to base Dracula’s homeland in Transylvania (a Romanian-speaking Hungarian region, now owned entirely by Romania). Vlad’s intense hatred of the Turks has actually given him fame and even statues have been erected in his name in his homeland.
- Countess Elizabeth Ba’thory- Staying within the realms of Hungary, we visit the Countess Ba’thory, a deranged aristocrat. Her issues were massive, but only got worse when she married a husband who had an affinity for torturing his servants. He would torture them within an inch of their lives, and she found quite a bit of entertainment in the concept (there wasn’t much on TV at the time). When her husband finally did pass away, she decided that torturing her victims within an inch of their lives wasn’t sufficient and immediately began to finish the job. She preyed mostly on servants and the unwashed masses so that no one would “miss” them, and it wasn’t until she turned her attention to a fellow noblewoman that the local authorities took matters seriously. She died under house arrest, and it was reported that she would often try to bite and scratch the servants who were serving her in her final days, as she was too sickly and bed ridden to do worse. It is also rumored that she bathed in the blood of her female victims to restore her youth. I doubt it worked.
- Albert Fish- A man who brought creepy to a new height, Albert Fish lived in the latter half of the 19th century into the 20th century and was most famous for child abductions and murders (unofficial reports bring the count to over 100). When he felt the need to meet young women, he would write them horrible letters expressing his intentions, which kept him from wedding, and we can all be grateful for that. Near the end of his days, Albert met a friend who had developed the taste for cannibalism during the late 1800’s in China (during the Chinese famine). This piqued Albert’s curiosity and his final victim, Grace Budd. Albert’s final act brought his actions from abduction and murder to cannibalism. Using his former method of telling the women of his fancy his most intimate (and obscene) feelings, he was finally caught and tried when he wrote to Grace’s mother, telling her of how he trapped, killed and ate her daughter. The police traced the letter and caught Albert soon thereafter. Fish could have been found insane by the courts and spent his remaining days in an asylum, but the jury wanted to make sure he was properly punished and instead offered him up for execution. Knowing that the laws are there for a reason and Albert probably should have been filed under the insanity plea, I can’t say I really blame the jury. I probably would have voted the same way.
- Geoffrey Portway– Geoffrey is a modern-day Albert Fish, and the only living member of this list. I found this story recently and it reminded me of Albert, and all I can say about this guy is that I’m grateful the authorities found him before he did anything.
- Ed Gein– The man that inspired such characters as Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), Jame Gum (The Silence of the Lambs) and Norman Bates (Psycho) was actually a disturbed Wisconsin man named Ed Gein who was largely a grave robber who experimented with human taxidermy. It wasn’t until later that he moved onto murder, taking two women before he was caught and tried. Ed’s story is much ickier than I’ve added here, but after writing just this few lines I felt like I needed a bath. Let’s just say his fascinations mirrored those of Jame Gum more than the others, though Norman Bates and he could have had many a conversation over coffee. Leatherface was just out there. I really don’t know where he came from.
- Lizzie Borden- We all know the ditty: Lizzie Borden took an ax, she gave her mother 40 whacks. When she learned what she had done, she gave her father 41.” Well, she was real, and it was closer to 29 rather than 81. The real intrigue of Lizzie Borden’s case was the fact that there was so much circumstantial evidence. Her mother had been murdered at least ninety minutes before her father, but the mother’s body wasn’t discovered until much later (and no one heard her scream), Lizzie burned the dress she had reportedly worn earlier that day. Her statement was full of contradictions and inconsistencies. On the other hand, there was not enough time during the crime period for her to commit the murders, wash the blood off, hide the weapon and change. The murder weapon never was found. A strange pale man had been seen around the neighborhood observing the Borden household for a week before the murder and was never seen again. The jury eventually found Lizzie “not guilty” and she went home to live out her days with her sister. The newspapers got involved as well (a la Trevon Martin), taking a heavy hand on their stance that the police were wrongful in their investigations, jumping to conclusions and not telling Lizzie that she had the right to remain silent (the Miranda Rights didn’t exist yet, but the fifth amendment still guaranteed this right). The Borden Household is now a bed and breakfast and is supposedly haunted. I don’t know if they sell novelty axes in the lobby or not, but I’m thinking that’s a market that could go viral.
So why, you ask, six and not ten people as is the custom? Frankly, after researching those who did make my list, it creeped me out. There are no shortage of wackos throughout the ages, from the Donner Party to the Nazi experiments, but after researching these first six, I kinda needed a shower, and had to clear out my head with some mental floss.
Tune in next week when we veer away from the inhuman acts of people to scary places and occurrences, from natural death spots to hauntings and ghost towns.