You may have heard of the Highgate Vampire said to have haunted Highgate Cemetery in London in the 1960s and 70s. You may also have heard of the Kirklees Vampire which was supposed to have infested Robin Hood’s grave, near Brighouse in West Yorkshire.
However, I recently stumbled upon another ‘real’ vampire case that seems to be virtually unknown: The Parisian Vampire.
The supposedly true story comes from a book called Evenings with Prince Cambaceres written by Baron Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon in 1837.[i] The book purports to be a ‘faithful record’ of conversations the Baron had with the prince of the title and with Napoléon Bonaparte himself. The remarkable story of the Paris Vampire is told by the Duke of Otranto, Joseph Fouche, the minister of police, and was widely reported in the press.[ii]
A strange phantasmagorical story
In the very early nineteenth century a mysterious man called Rafin, described as being good-looking and well-dressed, though with a fierce countenance, had taken an apartment at the Hotel Pepin on Rue Saint-Eloi. For some reason he had attracted the attention of the police, though we are not told why. In any case, the police were suspicious enough to put a watch on the hotel and follow Rafin whenever he went out.
During the day Rafin would go out and spend time with various Paris families, though his evening behaviour was much stranger. Every night at exactly 11pm police agents would follow him to the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery where they would lose track of him. Then at 4am Rafin would appear again, and the agents would follow him back to his hotel. This happened every single evening, and no matter what the agents did, Rafin would always disappear when he got to the cemetery, only to reappear a few hours later.
Eventually, it was decided to arrest Rafin on his way to the cemetery. However, when two officers attempted to detain him, Rafin flattened them with blows that felt like they came from an iron bar. Rafin was surrounded and searched but had nothing incriminating on him and was released. Although police officers tailed him, he once again disappeared on entering the cemetery.
He was stopped on his way back from the cemetery some time later and the officers were overpowered by a foul odour that emanated from every part of his body.
Assassin and Monster
The people that Rafin visited during the day did not fare well. A young woman who worked as a milliner had been healthy until Rafin started paying her visits, when she became pale and ill. The same thing happened to a stout widow who soon became pale and emaciated after Rafin’s attentions.
And then a young man turned up at the hotel and asked for Rafin. When informed that Rafin was out, the young man sat and waited for his return. After an hour or so, Rafin entered the hotel, at which point the young man leapt on him, grabbing his collar and calling him an assassin and a monster.
As they wrestled, the young man drew out a knife and stabbed Rafin in the right side. Rafin moaned and stopped moving. The young man fled before the police arrived, leaving his knife sticking out of Rafin’s side.
The surgeon arrived and pronounced Rafin dead. When they undressed him, however, it was seen that instead of the single wound he had six bleeding wounds on his throat, his side, his abdomen and on his thigh. The witnesses were unanimous that Rafin had only been stabbed once, after which the knife was left in the wound. The other bleeding wounds were made by different blades from the one that was stuck in his side.
Rafin’s apartment was searched but no clue was found apart from a passport that said he was from Strasbourg.
The young man who had stabbed Rafin was eventually traced. The youth said that Rafin had been his rival for the attentions of a young lady, who soon after meeting Rafin had started to sicken and suffer from nightmares. She had told her sister that every night a hideous creature would come to suck her blood, and that the creature bore some similarity to Rafin.
The young woman died, and believing Rafin was responsible, the young man had set out to confront him, leading to the fight that killed his rival.
Back from the Grave
Rafin’s corpse was kept in a ground floor room in the Hotel Pepin to be buried the next day, though when the time came for the internment, the body was gone. Body snatchers were suspected, but despite a police investigation, no trace was found.
However, six weeks later, to the horror of the staff, Rafin turned up at the hotel demanding the key to his apartment so he could collect his clothes. The police were sent for and Rafin was caught once again.
According to Rafin, some medical students had stolen his body for dissection and were just about to cut him open when he stirred. The medical students revived Rafin, and he in turn promised not to betray them as they had saved his life.
Fouche, the Minister of Police, however, did not believe Rafin’s story and ordered him to be arrested and tightly bound in a cell. Fouche visited Rafin with the object of drawing his blood with a surgical lancet to see what would happen. When Rafin realised this was Fouche’s plan, he struggled violently and furiously.
Fouche stabbed Rafin and drew a little blood, and as soon as the first drop appeared, all six of his wounds also opened and began gushing blood. The bleeding could not be stopped and Rafin died, the whole spectacle supposedly watched by eleven horrified witnesses.
‘I cannot admit the reality of vampires, yet it is certain that I have witnessed the facts I had stated,’ said Fouche.
Rafin’s head, hands and feet were chopped off and the remains were tightly wrapped in cloth and placed in an iron coffin and buried. One year later, Fouche ordered the body to be exhumed and thankfully Rafin’s remains were still there, albeit badly decomposed.
Of course, some sceptics considered that the story about the vampire was made up in order to cover up a suspicious death in police custody…
The tale of the Paris Vampire is told as if true, and the chief of police Fouche was a historical figure. Pere-Lachaise Cemetery where Rafin disappeared each night is also real, the resting place of Oscar Wilde, Marcel Proust, Frederic Chopin and Jim Morrison, to name but a few. The author of the book that contains the story, Baron Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon, was one of France’s best-selling authors of the 1830s and produced huge number of works, many of which were what we might call faked non-fiction – biographies filled with invented salacious episodes. He also wrote fiction, including an early example of vampire fiction about an avenging female bloodsucker called The Virgin Vampire (1824).[iii]
At the time the story of Rafin was written (it’s not very clear when the action was supposed to have happened, though it must be early nineteenth century) it seems much of the popular folklore surrounding vampires had yet to solidify. After all, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) was the best part of a century away. Rafin has no pointy teeth, is not bothered by daylight (nor, as far as we can tell, garlic or crosses) and doesn’t change into a bat. Furthermore, his weakness seems to be unique – once his blood is drawn, all the serious wounds from his long existence simultaneously open and he bleeds out.
There are some similarities to Lamothe-Langon’s anti-heroine of his novel The Virgin Vampire. In this story, Aniska is a Hungarian vampire bunny boiler who exacts a terrible revenge on the French soldier who ghosted her. Like Rafin, Aniska’s previous wounds refuse to heal and she too has no fangs and can move around in the daytime. We are not told how Rafin fed off the blood of his victims, but we shouldn’t assume he sank his teeth into their necks and sucked away as Dracula did. Aniska operated in an unusual way. Here’s the section from the Virgin Vampire where Aniska attacks her former lover’s child:
She places her fetid mouth on the pure mouth of the child, and seems to drink long draughts of blood, which she aspires from the unfortunate creatures lungs.[iv]
As with Rafin’s victims, there are no tell-tale tooth marks.
It is clear that the dubious tale of the Parisian Vampire owes some debt to Dr Polidori’s pioneering gothic vampire story The Vampyre, published in 1819 and written in the company of Lord Byron, Percy Shelley and Mary Shelley – at the same time she came up with the idea for Frankenstein. Polidori’s vampire even has a rather similar name to Rafin – Ruthven and there are some plot similarities, though Polidori’s downbeat ending is in sharp contrast to that of the Paris Vampire.
It’s most likely the story of the Paris Vampire was a complete fabrication inserted by the mischievous Baron into his pseudo history for some fun.
Stay tuned for more Vampires That Time Forgot, coming soon…
[i] Baron Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon, Evenings with Prince Cambaceres (1837)
[ii] ‘The Parisian Vampire’, Londonderry Standard, 15 March 1837, p.6
[iii] https://sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/de_lamothe-langon_etienne-leon; Baron Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon, The Virgin Vampire (Black Coat Press, 1824) Trans Brian Stableford
[iv] Baron Étienne-Léon de Lamothe-Langon, The Virgin Vampire (Black Coat Press, 1824) Trans Brian Stableford, p.34