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Celebrity cult of vampires can turn into real-life evil

The Observer, UK
Oct. 26, 2003
Stephen Khan
observer.guardian.co.uk

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday October 28, 2003

Blood from a slit in his victim’s throat trickled into a small cup. Allan Menzies raised the vessel to his lips. Convinced he was on the brink of immortality, the 22-year-old killer was attempting to fulfil a sick dream: to become a vampire.

Vampirism
Cult defenders Massimo Introvigne and J. Gordon Melton are vampire-enthousiasts. They are members of the The Transylvanian Society of Dracula – an association dedicated to the study of Dracula and vampires. Massimo Introvigne presides over the Italian chapter of the, and Melton heads the American chapter (which he founded).

The chilling murder of Thomas McKendrick in a small Scottish village was brutal and ritualistic. He was sacrificed to satisfy a lust for blood and an obsession with the occult. Yet his killer’s fixation with bloodsuckers is far from unusual. Vampirism is a rapidly growing youth cult and its followers are increasing in numbers.

Vampire films and magazines are thriving, while specialist shops meet the outlandish clothing requirements of those who fantasise about being Dracula. In cities throughout the UK, vampire societies meet on a weekly basis and act out scenes from their favourite movies.

Films such as Underworld, starring Kate Beckinsale as a vampire warrior, become box-office smashes, while the horror studio Hammer Films is back in production for the first time in 30 years. The next Blade film, in which Wesley Snipes battles against powerful vampires with ambitions of taking over the world, starts filming this autumn.

Meanwhile, thousands of websites have sprung up on which vampire fans can trade material and chat about matters occult.

Stirling University’s Dr Glenice Byron lectures on the UK’s only postgraduate course in Gothic imagination. She said: ‘We are moving towards another high point in vampirism. I don’t think the general public are aware of the extent to which it permeates our culture. On the internet it’s an entire culture: people write their own vampire stories as hobbies’

But for some it is not enough merely to fantasise. Menzies, from the village of Fauldhouse, near Edinburgh, claimed the character Akasha from the movie Queen of the Damned – starring the late US singer Aaliyah – had visited him and promised immortality if he murdered someone.

And on the pages of a Gothic novel Menzies wrote: ‘I have chosen to become a vampire. The blood is the life. I have drunk the blood and it shall be mine, for I have seen the horror.’

Yet the real horror awaited the mother of Thomas McKendrick. Sandra French was shopping in her local supermarket last December when Menzies – the man she thought had been her son’s lifelong friend – approached her and asked if she knew how to remove bloodstains. The chilling query only made sense three weeks later when the butchered remains of her son were discovered.

Forensic tests revealed that he had been stabbed 42 times and suffered 10 hammer blows to the head. Menzies ate part of his friend’s head, before placing the lifeless body on its side so he could perform the blood-draining ritual.

A year earlier, the remains of a Welsh pensioner, Mabel Leyshon, were found mutilated at her home on Anglesey. She had been stabbed 22 times before her heart was removed and placed in a saucepan on a silver platter next to her body. Pokers were placed at her feet in the shape of a cross. Last week the killer, Matthew Hardman, was refused right to appeal his conviction. Aged just 17, he was obsessed with vampires and drank his victim’s blood in a quest for immortality.

The Edinburgh-based forensic psychologist Ian Stephen, whom the television drama Cracker was based on, said such obsessions can be difficult to detect. ‘So many teenagers become obsessed with parts of culture like this young man. It’s very difficult for parents to pick up these changes from normal interests to something that can become quite scary.

‘The cult of vampirism is to do with power and dominance, using blood to give you energy and immortality. If someone had ridiculed him, he may have needed to compensate for this – something like vampirism may have given him what he was looking for.’

It is a cult that also appears to have consumed two young Hampshire men. They face jail, having been being found guilty last week of religiously harassing a vicar. A judge told Scott Bower, 26, and Ben Lewis, 25, they had displayed ‘outrageous and disturbing’ behaviour towards the Reverend Chris Rowberry, his wife and two children.

During a seven-day trial at Southampton Crown Court a jury was told that the trio targeted the 45-year-old vicar because he represented the Christian faith. Both men believed themselves to be vampires, drinking each other’s blood. They also made howling noises in the churchyard late at night, posted obscene material on the parish notice board, let off fireworks and made nuisance telephone calls.

Despite such chilling episodes, vampire-followers argue that their hobby is no more threatening than keeping goldfish or following a football team. ‘Any vampire fans I have met are drawn to the creature’s immortality. But most just like watching vampire films and maybe read the occasional book,’ said Arlene Russo, the editor of Bite Me magazine.

By day 32-year-old Paul McKie is a senior systems IT and finance analyst for a property firm. But by night he sheds the suit and becomes a vamp in the Glasgow Vampire Live Action Role-playing Group, a club combining pool and pints with improvisation.

He said: ‘I don’t really believe in vampires, although I know some people do. For me this is just a bit of fun and great escapism.’

For Sandra French, though, it is all too real. She cannot escape the world of horror and pain Allan Menzies plunged her into. ‘I’ll never be able to forgive or forget the horrific things I’ve heard,’ she said, describing the killer’s account of her son’s murder. ‘Why did he have to take my Thomas? Menzies has not shown any remorse. When asked if he wished he could turn back the clock, he said “No”. He’s wicked. He’s an evil man who enjoys inflicting pain and violence on other people.’

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