Friday, December 10, 2010

The Wojdyla Testimony, Pt. 1

One of the few named (and photographed) witnesses in the Highgate Vampire Case, was a young woman by the name of Elizabeth Wojdyla. I'll be discussing her testimony and its significance to the Case.

Edit note (11 January 2011): Picture from website captioned "Highgate Cemetery’s eerie north gate in Swains Lane at the time of the vampire panics of early 1970", removed by request).

Elizabeth's tale was first publicly recounted in "The Highgate Vampire", a chapter Sean Manchester contributed to Peter Underwood's The Vampire's Bedside Companion: The Amazing World of Vampires in Fact and Fiction (London: Leslie Frewin, 1975).

He claims his attention was was drawn to the Highgate case by "[t]wo seemingly unconnected incidents" which occurred in the "early months of 1967" (89). Our focus will be on the first incident, which concerned the testimony of two sixteen-year-old girls, Elizabeth Wojdyla and her friend, Barbara¹, both pupils of Le Sainte Union Convent, Highgate.

One night (no specific date is given), they were walking home from visiting friends² in Highgate Village, and passed along Swains Lane, near the Cemetery, when they were confronted with a remarkable sight:
We were not talking, just walking. And we were walking down, having just passed the north gate, when we both saw this scene of graves directly in front of us. And the graves were opening up; and the people were rising. We were not conscious of walking down the lane. We were only conscious of this graveyard scene (90).
Their immediate reactions are not recorded. Manchester's narrative skips ahead to this:
For some time afterwards, Elizabeth was troubled by a series of nightmares all with one thing in common: something evil was trying to come in through her bedroom window at night (90).
These dreams involved a "deathly white" face, resembling the faces of the corpses leaving their graves. No definitive explanation is given as to why she became the target of supernatural phenomena, causing Manchester to wonder:
Was this convent schoolgirl in possession of extra-sensory perception, or was everything imagined? If an illusion, it is interesting to remember that her friend, Barbara, experienced an identical one (90).
Indeed, Barbara gets off relatively scott-free: "She did not, however, suffer the nightmares as described by Elizabeth" (90). And with that, Barbara's role in the Case disappears and she's not mentioned again in Manchester's narrative.

Elizabeth's role in the Case resumes "during the summer of 1969" when Manchester had a "chance meeting" with her. She was "anxious" to speak with him (94). He noticed her "features had grown cadaverous and her skin was deathly pale. She appeared to be suffering from a pernicious form of anaemia" (94). Pernicious anaemia is "one of many types of the larger family of megaloblastic anemias. It is caused by loss of gastric parietal cells, and subsequent inability to absorb vitamin B12." It is also a trope associated with vampire attacks, hinting at blood loss.

A meeting was arranged for "coffee at a nearby restaurant". When they met, she mentioned that she was now working (Manchester does not list her occupation) and lived by herself in a flat "in the Highgate area" (94). Her nightmares had returned and intensified. One concerned a form entering her bedroom, with a face resembling a "wild animal with glaring eyes and sharp teeth", which she realises is a man with this expression. His "face is gaunt and grey" (95).

After noticing other strange behaviours and the awkwardness of discussing such a thing in public, he arranged to meet her in her flat, the following evening. She introduced him to her then-boyfriend, Keith Maclean (95). While she fixed him a drink, Maclean shared some of Elizabeth's background info, namely, her "Southern Polish descent", she was "brought up in a strict Catholic atmosphere" and her "father was born in Krakow and was something of a strict disciplinarian" (95).

After recounting further strange experiences, Maclean mentioned "something about marks on the side of her neck", just as Manchester was preparing to leave. They'd apparently been there for "some time" (96). She was reluctant to discuss the matter further, so Manchester left.

A few weeks later, Manchester received a phone call from Maclean, asking to see him as soon as possible. They met later that night, in which Maclean revealed that Elizabeth's appetite was fading and she was so weak, she could barely walk. He added that a doctor had proscribed iron tablets and vitamin pills, "but I think she needs the help of a different kind. She is being overcome by something" (96-7). After prompting, Maclean elaborated that "at times she appeared to be possessed by something sinister" (97).

And that begins Manchester's investigation into her condition. He concludes that she is under attack from a vampire, especially after first viewing the marks on her neck. "They were two inflamed mounds on the skin, the centre of each bearing a tiny hole" (97). A few days later, he arrives at her flat, after an urgent letter from Maclean. By now, Manchester was convinced that Elizabeth had come under attack from a vampire.

He proscribed garlic and a crucifix to seal her bedroom's door and window, a small linen bag (containing a handful of salt) hung round her neck together with a small cross, and a piece of paper with the first fourteen verses of the Gospel according to St John, to be placed under her pillow (101).

Maclean followed this and other rituals Manchester advocated - including bathing her neck wounds with holy water - and by Christmas, she was "her happy, normal self" (102). That's pretty much where her story ends in The Vampire's Bedside Companion.

But what I haven't mentioned so far, is that the book also contains pictures of her. The first is the plate adjoining page 64. It is captioned "The 'mark of the vampire': two highly inflamed swellings on the neck of Elizabeth Wojdyla, a tiny hole in the centre of each. (This picture has been darkened to enhance the marks.)" The second appears on the plate, overleaf, and says "A picture of the Polish girl, Elizabeth Wojdyla, taken in her bedroom towards the end of the 'nightly visitations'". This second picture can be viewed on the Vampire Research Society's "Highgate Vampire Picture Gallery". It is captioned, "Elizabeth, the convent schoolgirl who months later fell victim to nocturnal visitations from the vampire."

So what happened to her after all that? The trail picks up in Manchester's The Highgate Vampire: The Infernal World of the Undead Unearthed at London's Famous Highgate Cemetery and Environs (London: British Occult Society, 1985). The Elizabeth content in his 1975 chapter is largely regurgitated in the book. After destroying the Highgate Vampire, Manchester finds out about new "contagion" stemming from it. Or, as he puts it:
The Highgate Vampire, now consumed in flames, was almost certainly the instigator of the present outbreak and though destroyed, had left a legacy which carried the curse of immortality and the need to quaff warm blood. If I was to find this new undead which haunted the dark hours, I would need to discover someone who had been contaminated by the Highgate Vampire and subsequently expired (117-8).
This supposition lead him to tracking down Elizabeth. Fortunately, he was able to cross her off the list of suspects: "I managed to contact Elizabeth Wojdyla, no longer with Keith. but happily settled with someone else and living very normally" (118).

The book contains three pictures of her. The first shows her looking kinda "out of it" standing before Maclean, who is wielding a prayer book or Bible in his right hand and holding a candle in his left. It is captioned, "Following the authors instructions, Keith did everything in his power to help Elizabeth fight the vampire's influence" (29). The second pic, also on page 29, is the same one that appears in Underwood's book, but is captioned slightly differently: "The Polish girl, Elizabeth Wojdyla, in her bedroom towards the end of her nightly visitations".

The third one is nearly identical to the "fangmark" pic in Underwood's book, except the marks are much less noticeable. Black spots, not much bigger than pinpricks, opposed to the big black circles. It is captioned, "The controversial punctures 0n the neck of Elizabeth Wojdyla" (73).

The fangmark pics - and the questions they've raised - will be the crux of the second instalment of this article.

¹ Manchester does not list her surname, but it's given as Moriarty in "The Haunting of Elizabeth Wojdyla", Journal of a Vampirologist.

² Elizabeth actually says "we had just been to see a girlfriend" (90), thus the visit to "friends" recounted by Manchester (89), appears to be an error.

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