At the top of the steep, overgrown trail is a captivating view of Kentucky Lake, but the image is marred by a concrete skeleton of a building they call the ”Vampire Hotel.”
No one seems to know who built this structure in the Land Between the Lakes. Now, though, the ruins are a magnet for cultists who use its seclusion after dark to hold rituals.
The Vampire Hotel is not for the timid. Hidden in the woods, littered with beer cans and the remains of charred piles of wood, the ruin looks like a bunker.
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Most chilling are spray-painted messages of hate:
”Me Killa,” ”Please Deposit Dead Bodies Here,” and ”Follow Me to Death”
Is it just teenage foolishness? Maybe.
Or did these twisted beliefs play some part in last week’s bludgeoning deaths of a Lake County couple in their rural Eustis home?
As police in three states sort the roles of five teens they’re holding in connection with the slayings, one thing is becoming clear:
The line between fact and fantasy has faded for some of the slaying suspects who hung out at the Vampire Hotel. They began living in a different existence – a world peopled with humans who think they’re immortal and who have their own set of rules.
Former Lake County resident Roderick Ferrell, 16, frequented the graffiti-covered haunt.
He and his buddies would light candles for secret rituals including sexual torture, Ferrell’s mother, Sondra Gibson, told The Orlando Sentinel. Gibson said she dabbled in vampirism but backed out because it got too scary.
Rod, though, kept on – to the point of obsession.
He took ”Vesago” as a vampire identity and always dressed in black.
If Ferrell was living in a dark netherworld – and most of his friends said he was deadly serious about being a vampire – he may be getting a fresh perspective.
He and the others are behind bars in Baton Rouge, La., awaiting extradition to Lake County on murder charges. Deputies don’t know whether vampirism had anything to do with the killings, and they don’t have a motive.
The teens were captured late Thursday, four days after assailants beat Richard and Ruth Wendorf to death and left in their blue Ford Explorer. The bodies were discovered by the couple’s elder daughter, Jennifer, 17.
Among those arrested was the Wendorfs’ 15-year-old daughter, Heather, who goes by the vampire name of ”Zoey” and is a former girlfriend of Ferrell’s.
His mother said Ferrell became intrigued by vampires when he lived in Eustis. The role-playing was fun. He lived on the edge of a nonstop thrill.
When he moved to Kentucky, the fun turned serious.
He hooked up with other ”vampires” who hid their twisted secret from their parents. The adults involved were also discreet.
Then last month, the web of deceit began to unravel. Wild tales about vampires began flying through rural western Kentucky.
The stories began in October after someone broke into the animal shelter in Murray, beat 40 dogs and tortured two to death.
Authorities suspected something weird: The dog killers left evidence two mutilated pups were used in a ritual.
Ferrell and another youth were charged.
Four weeks later, police nationwide were searching for Ferrell and three other western Kentucky teens in the double killing 800 miles away in Florida.
And Saturday, the strangeness continued to unfold in Louisiana, where deputies used a chainsaw to cut into a tree they said was evidence in the case, and one of the suspects shouted at the news media.
Officials said late Saturday they had recovered a ”significant amount of evidence” from the Wendorfs’ truck, and they plan to release information today. They said the evidence clearly links the teens to the slayings.
Divers from the Baton Rouge Police Department found a short-barrelled shotgun investigators think the teens stole from a house on their way from the Wendorfs’ home to Louisiana.
One of the suspects, Howard Scott Anderson, 16, of Mayfield, Ky., led them to the Mississippi River bridge on Interstate 10, where they found the gun underneath an old abandoned dock.
Saturday afternoon, they were searching a second spot on the river, between the bridge and a riverboat gambling ship, for the murder weapon, which they descibed as an ”iron object.”
They cut a 2-foot section of the tree, on which they said the teens had carved something. They wouldn’t say what, but they found identification belonging to one of the suspects near it.
Late Friday, the teens were taken in handcuffs to be booked as fugitives from justice. As they were brought out, handcuffed behind their backs, the girls looked down and held hands.
Reporters asked Ferrell whether he had anything to say.
”Yeah,” he replied. ”God bless America.”
Heather Wendorf, her head down and her hair pulled back in a ponytail, looked skittish, frightened and confused.
The teens told investigators they went to Tallahassee, then New Orleans. They were short on cash and food, so they slept by the side of the road in the truck.
Deputies hold first-degree murder warrants for Heather Wendorf, Ferrell, Anderson and another Murray teen, Dana L. Cooper. The warrant for Ferrell’s pregnant girlfriend, Sarah ”Shea” Remington, 16, of Murray, also known as Charity Lynn Keesee, charges her with being an accessory.
Extradition proceedings are due to begin Monday, and the teens could be back in Lake County by Tuesday, a week after they fled.
Rod Ferrell is partial to black.
He wore black pants, black shirts, a black trenchcoat, black combat boots. His dyed black hair flowed to the middle of his back. He painted his fingernails black. The windows of his room were covered with black curtains.
But his mother said he wasn’t the sinister teen authorities in Kentucky painted him as.
Ferrell is said to be the ringleader of the group in custody. But his mother said Heather wanted her parents dead and speculated the Wendorfs had already been killed when her son arrived there.
And though Ferrell was charged in the dog mutilation deaths, his mother said he was asleep at home when they occurred.
The teen is a budding artist and poet – a quiet individualist who refused to conform to Murray’s ”Bible-thumping” traditions, said Gibson’s boyfriend, tattoo artist Kile Newman.
Even though some folks might disapprove of his art subjects – skulls and the like – Newman said Ferrell’s works are good enough to be turned into tattoos.
”They considered him a freak,” Newman said. ”Every kid wants to be different. He’s got a good heart.”
Gibson and Newman said the police and school officials had it in for Ferrell because of the way he looked. Officials suspended him near the beginning of the school year for cursing a teacher, his mother said. Since then, he slept during the day and visited his girlfriend, Remington, at night. Newman said more discreet vampires are not hassled.
”If you wear a suit and tie and you do it in your living room or basement, hey, no problem,” Newman said.
He chalked up Ferrell’s interest in vampires to youthful experimentation, saying, ”Kids go through phases.”
Others painted a darker picture of Ferrell, who lived in Eustis for about two years before moving back to Kentucky last December.
”He admitted to me that he was going to kill some people and move to Florida,” said Jason Jones, 19, who lived in the apartment across the hall in Murray.
Jones, who has a wife and year-old baby, didn’t put much stock in such talk.
”I didn’t ever take a lot of what he said as believable,” he said.
But Jones said he saw Ferrell making homemade bombs a couple of weeks ago. He didn’t know what Ferrell did with them.
Jones said Ferrell tried to get him into the vampire scene. While he was initially intrigued, he said he backed away.
Self-described former vampire Matt Goodman, 17, said Ferrell ”believed that if you kill an animal, you’ll collect their energy and gain animal intelligence and hunting ability.”
Gibson said if her son is involved in the slayings, it’s the fault of a 19-year-old vampire who calls himself ”the prince of the city.”
Her father, Harrell Gibson, a former Lake County resident who now lives in a trailer in Murray, said Rod told him recently he couldn’t leave the vampire cult even if he wanted.
”A month ago I said, ‘Rod, I believe it’s time to get out of it,’ ” Harrell Gibson recalled. He said his grandson told him, ”They won’t let me. They’ll kill me.”
Harrell Gibson, who helped raise Ferrell, broke down in tears when talking about his grandson.
”He’s a good boy,” sobbed the 67-year-old retiree, adding he hopes Ferrell receives ”justice or mercy.”
One reason the Kentucky teens ended up in Florida may have been that Ferrell was playing matchmaker.
Friends said that Ferrell wanted Heather Wendorf to become Scott Anderson’s ”dark mate.”
”Scott asked us a while back, ‘How would you feel if I came back from Florida with a wife and baby?’ ” said Howard Anderson, 42, Scott Anderson’s father.
They chalked it up to loose talk. After all, their son was growing up. Or seemed to be.
Within the past couple of months, he had taken a job at McDonald’s in Mayfield, opened a checking account and gotten his drivers license.
He also got a 1987 Buick Skyhawk. Actually, it wasn’t his exclusively. His father had traded an ’82 Chevy truck straight up for the turbocharged Buick, and it was to be the family car.
Still, it was clear the ”nice hot-looking little car” would be mostly Scott Anderson’s, as long as he could keep up the insurance payements.
Howard Anderson, who said his family is ”poor folk,” wanted to do something nice for his oldest son. He has three other boys, ages 15, 14 and 7.
”Tell me that child wasn’t trying to be responsible,” said his father, who described himself as an alcoholic who is disabled and can’t work.
The family couldn’t believe it when it heard Scott Anderson was wanted for murder. The Skyhawk had been found about six hours after the killings, abandoned near the Central Florida Zoo in Sanford, its plates switched with the Wendorfs’ Explorer.
”Scotty had to be under the influence of something,” Howard Anderson said.
Chimed in 7-year-old Nicholas: ”Rod talked him into it.”
Howard and his wife, Martha, said they had no idea their son considered himself a vampire. A search of his bedroom last week turned up a pornographic magazine but no tell-tale signs of vampirism, his dad said.
However, Sam Anderson, 14, told the Sentinel he accompanied his oldest brother and Ferrell to a cemetery south of Murray three weeks ago where they talked of sacrificing people.
”Rod took a razor and made three cuts on his arm, and a girl named Cindy sucked his blood,” Sam Anderson said. ”They were going to try to get me to cut my arm. I said ‘Uh-uh, that’s stupid.’ ”
Police in Louisiana said all the teens had what appeared to be self-inflicted cuts on their arms.
David Keesee of Murray, Remington’s father, didn’t want to talk about his daughter or her interest in vampires. He told The Paducah Sun only that Sarah wouldn’t have gone to Florida if she had known of plans to kill someone.
Relatives of Cooper could not be reached. Jason Jones, Ferrell’s neighbor, described her as a ”quiet girl who sat in a corner.”
All the talk of vampires doesn’t make western Kentucky any weirder than anyplace else, agreed several men talking over events at the courthouse in Murray.
”Same thing goes on here just like anywhere else – just not as much of it,” said Harold Turner, 54.
But one thing could be different, now that some of the ”vampires” are in custody.
”I think this particular incident may have awakened some of them to the reality of life,” said Stan Scott, sheriff of Calloway County.