Saturday, January 21, 2012

The prevalence of secret recordings

Smoking guns are hard to come by in this case. One must duck and weave through a wave of paltry excuses, revisionism and flat-out stonewalling. That, of course, doesn't stop the claims a-rollin' on in, though.

But one of the more explosive claims, something that could hammer a nail into the coffin—and reputation—of one of the 'vampire''s leading proponents, burying the case once and for all, is also one of the most elusive pieces of 'evidence'.

Oddly enough, it originated from one of the deepest, darkest recesses of the web: the MySpace page of an undead Hungarian scholar.1 His entry discusses a dinner held at Sean Manchester's place, notable for the presence of David Farrant's former friend, Tony 'Hutchinson' Hill. 'It was in the winter of 1969/70 that Farrant suggested to Hill they attempt to hoax a ghost story to see what the public reaction might be,' so claims Arminius Vámbéry.

CBS Miami
Vámbéry goes on to assert that 'Farrant could not afford to allow Hill to come forward if he wanted to retain any semblance of credibility because, more than anyone else, Hill knows that Farrant is a fake.' While none of the content of his blog entry contains any direct quotes—nor does its author disclose his attendence, suggesting he's relying on the story 'secondhand'—it also alleges Hill 'still possesses secretly recorded tapes of their forty-year-old conversations to prove it. On these tapes, Farrant can be heard conspiring to hoax a ghost story using acquaintances' addresses to send fraudulent letters to local newspapers, and by dressing up as a "ghost" and wearing make-up for photographs.'

There's certainly a precedent for the letters and Ghost Dave is backed by photographic evidence, do the tapes actually exist? Unfortunately, the credibility of Vámbéry's claims is undermined by saying, 'It was not long before Seán Manchester was advising caution where Farrant's claims were concerned, and by the end of that year he had publicly dissociated himself from Farrant on a television programme (BBC's 24 Hours, 15 October 1970) and in both the national and local press.' Considering the 'access' he has to Manchester's personal life—or so his photos of the dinner would suggest—you'd expect him to know that Manchester and Farrant's association continued long after this time.

But where Vámbéry stumbles, the Friends of Bishop Seán Manchester pick up the slack, by regurgitating his entry for their blog. In another entry, 'Mug shot', the the allegation of Farrant and Hill's hoaxing a ghost story, rears its head again. It also makes an appearance in Vampire Research Society member, Vampirologist's blog, under 'The ghost writers', but adds further detail: 'Hill was in on the hoax and can be heard colluding with Farrant in conversations secretly recorded in December 1969, January and February 1970.'

Farrant is certainly aware of these claims: I showed them to him and asked him to comment. For the record, he said, 'The content of this document is untrue, and apparently concocted because of a disclosure I made on an American Radio broadcast recently to the effect that the above named ‘Tony Hill’ together with his ‘side-kick’ and close friend one Mr. Sean Manchester, had hoaxed their version of the infamous Highgate Vampire in the year of 1969 by making a home-made 8mm cine film (this film was in colour but had no sound) about its (The Highgate ‘Vampire) alleged activities. This film showed Mr. Manchester himself disguised as a ‘vampire’ and Mr. Tony Hill assisted in its original production.'

That is an unlikely claim, due to the timing of the postings. I would suggest, along these lines, that the 'secret recordings' were a 'comeback' to Farrant's publication, The Seangate tapes, which feature alleged transcripts of incriminating phone conversations between Farrant and Manchester. These, too, were 'secret recordings'. As far as I know, Manchester—a man keen to invoke DMCAs, as Brendan Kilmartin, owner of The supernatural world forums will also attest—has not pursued legal against against Farrant for their publication.

But, on the other hand, Farrant, who took the Daily Express to court over allegedly defamatory comments2, has not made any such injunctions, either, despite repeated insinuations that Friends of Bishop Seán Manchester, Arminius Vámbéry and Vampirologist are actually Sean Manchester in disguise.

Seeing as The Seangate tapes have remained in circulation, relatively unhindered, I think it's time Friends of Bishop Seán Manchester, Arminius Vámbéry and Vampirologist—and Hill, too, presuming he actually made such allegations—put their money where their mouth is and produce the tapes. Otherwise, they should retract their statements.

1. The real Arminius died on 15 September 1913. See:

2. ‘Occult man appeals for help after libel cases’, Daily Express, 16 February 1980, p. 4 and ‘Witch left with £20,000 libel bill’, The Guardian, 16 February 1980, p. 3.

An interesting find

Courtesy of Carl T. Ford
Until recently, I thought Sean Manchester's earliest written account of the Highgate Vampire was 'The haunting of Hell House' and his contribution to Peter Underwood's The vampire's bedside companion (both 1975).

That is, until a serendipitous eBay search for 'Highgate vampire' by Redmond McWilliams turned up a startling find: Witchcraft, vol. 2, no. 8 (1973). 'THIS IS ONE OF THE MORE COLLECTIBLE ISSUES AND EXTREMELY HARD TO COME BY,' reads its description, 'AS IT FEATURES AN ARTICLE ON VAMPIRES, INCLUDING THE HIGHGATE VAMPIRE AND THE OCCULT BY SEAN MANCHESTER INCLUDING A BEARDED SEAN MANCHESTER'. The issue's on sale for £75.

Witchcraft (1971–1974) was New Witchcraft's antecedent—the latter published 'The haunting of Hell House'; David Farrant's 'Invoking the vampire' appeared in the same issue. As Tom Brinkmann notes in his not-safe-for-work-or-children article, magazines like Witchcraft were basically 'adult slicks', that 'picked up the satanic/devilish theme' popular at the time.

The content of Manchester and Farrant's articles were later subsumed by their respective self-published material, The Highgate vampire (1985; 1991) and Beyond the Highgate vampire (1991; 1992; 1997), respectively. Both expose the subsequent revisions to their accounts, effectively illustrating the importance of collating contemporaneous material on this case is.

But this find—and I can tell ya, it's a doozy—is now the earliest-known account of the Highgate case by Manchester. I've sourced a copy of the article: it's called 'The world of the vampire' and appears on pages 52–55. The alleged 22-year-old vampire victim, 'Lusia'—as she's addressed and captioned in Manchester's post-1973 accounts—is revealed to be Jacqui Frances, 'a pretty 22-year-old blonde'.1 Readers will immediately recognise 'Jacqui' as Jacqueline Cooper, who's mentioned several times in Don Ecker's report (pdf).

Ecker's report backs Farrant's allegation 'that Manchester had a romantic interest in her and she was named in Manchester’s divorcing his then wife', Marie Manchester, by including their divorce certificate, which refers to 'Jacqueline Frances (Cited as Jacqueline Francis) Manchester (Formerly Cooper)'. Was Manchester making cryptic references to this relationship when he dubbed her 'Model and girlfriend who had a very sultry look — and green eyes'? After all, you wouldn't know it was Jacqui, unless you're familiar with her other pictures.

This makes Manchester's dispassionate reference to 'A photographic model, and, much later, actresses, portrayed Lusia in representations of her in depictions of the mysterious events which came to be known collectively as the case of the Highgate Vampire', somewhat laughable—and, perhaps, very telling.

After all, Jacqui's appearance in Manchester's 1975 and 1985 accounts wasn't prefaced with her 'role': she's captioned 'Lusia' over and over again. Indeed, one of the 'Lusia' photos—in which her 'sultry' eyes are offset by an Iron Cross adorning her décolletage—has been recycled from the 1973 article. What's distinctive about the article, however, is there's little legroom for the retrofitted 'model' claim in Manchester's online account.

Not only is the aforementioned picture captioned with her actual name, but the text describes Jacqui as someone who'd 'come face to face with the Highgate Vampire.'2 However, her subsequent tale shares more in common with the dark-figure-scared-by-oncoming-headlights motif found in several anonymous accounts related by Manchester and Farrant, rather than her 'somnambulating' along Swains Lane, feelings of suffocation at night and pinpricks in her neck, latterly described.3

Thanks to this find, we now have six primary Manchester narratives to wade through:
  1. 'The world of the vampire', Witchcraft, vol. 2, no. 8, 1973, pp. 52–5.
  2. 'The haunting of Hell House', New Witchcraft, vol. 1, no. 4, 1975, pp. 51–5.
  3. 'The Highgate vampire', in P Underwood (ed.), The vampire’s bedside companion: the amazing world of vampires in fact and fiction, Leslie Frewin, London, 1975, pp. 81–121.
  4. The vampire exhumed, an unpublished typescript, 1980.4
  5. The Highgate vampire: the infernal world of the undead unearthed at London’s famous Highgate Cemetery and environs, British Occult Society, London, 1985.
  6. The Highgate vampire: the infernal world of the undead unearthed at London’s Highgate Cemetery and environs, rev. edn, Gothic Press, London, 1991.
Many 'alterations' are sure to turn up on closer examination. Famed horror writer, Ramsey Campbell, found many between the 1985 and 1991 editions, alone. I've noticed quite a few, myself.

What concerns me, though, is that if this article was found by fluke, who know what other narratives Manchester has floating about. As if there wasn't enough material to sift through.

1. S Manchester, 'The world of the vampire', Witchcraft, vol. 2, no. 8, 1973, p. 53. 

2. ibid. See also, caption accompanying picture on same page: 'Jacqui Frances came face to face with the Highgate Vampire.'

3. S Manchester, 'The Highgate vampire', in P Underwood (ed.), The vampire’s bedside companion: the amazing world of vampires in fact and fiction, Leslie Frewin, London, 1975, p. 107. 

4. MV Riccardo, Vampires unearthed: the complete multi-media vampire and Dracula bibliography, The unexplained, the mysterious, and the supernatural: series of topical bibliographic guides to anomalies, vol. 2, Garland reference library of social science, vol. 177, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York, 1983, p. 96.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Victorian sources—another lead?

Redmond McWillams recently posted an interesting article by Andrew Gough on our forum, The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society. What fascinated me about it, was its allusions to Victorian era sources concerning supernatural activity at Highgate Cemetery.

Readers may be familiar with the lengths I've gone to try and validate reports of sightings from this era, with only uncited claims and speculations to go on. For instance, I queried David Farrant on the following statements he made in 1975:
Some interesting facts came to light. Firstly, it became apparent that stories of an apparition in Highgate cemetery had by no means begun with the then current sightings. Indeed, similar tales dated from the Victorian Era and interestingly enough more of them had "vampiristic" connections. One of the common tales of that time told of a "tall man dressed in black" who used to disappear mysteriously through the cemetery wall.1
That Bram Stoker was influenced by the Highgate Vampire when he wrote "Dracula" . . . is almost certain. In his book – written with typical Victorian authority – he makes direct reference to Highgate Cemetery (or at least, an area in the vicinity of Highgate Cemetery) as being the last resting place of one of Count Dracula's disciples.2
These statements are not 'out of date', either, as they're echoed in his recent writings. But rather than provide sources for these claims, I was repeatedly stonewalled. A reading of J.A. Brooks' coverage of the case, also turned up bupkiss. 

At the very least, I can establish that the second statement is inherently flawed. The resting place of the Count's 'disciple'—Lucy Westenra—was not formally identified as Highgate Cemetery in the novel, despite common presumption. Indeed, keeping in tune with Stoker's work as a novel—not historical treatise—it's likely her burial place was also fictional

As no writings prior 1970 equated Westenra's resting place with the cemetery—at least, none I'm aware of—it's also likely the association was made because of the Highgate Vampire case's Draculesque elements, not the other way round.

I digress. Let's get back to Gough's article. What fascinates me about it, is that not only does it allude to Victorian era sightings in the vicinity of the cemetery, but also features a Stoker connection:
The mother of Bram Stoker, author of the horror classic, Dracula, lived nearby and often recounted the legend of a tall, dark, supernatural-looking figure that roamed the area before the cemetery was created. 
The Bram Stoker Estate
A missing link! I knew Stoker's mum, Charlotte Stoker (1818–1901), told her son horror stories, but ghost sightings near the cemetery? That was news to me! 

Yesterday, I sent Gough a message, via Facebook, asking him what his source was. But soon after that, alarm bells started going off. I started thinking, did Stoker's mum even live in that area? I thought she remained in Ireland all her life. Indeed, Stoker, himself, didn't move to London till 1878. She didn't go with him. 

The cemetery, itself, opened in 1839—39 years before his move. If Gough was right, Charlotte, herself, must've had a secondhand source.

I decided to contact The Bram Stoker Estate: 'Good morning, I have a question concerning Charlotte Stoker. Did she remain in Ireland all her life?'

To my surprise, I was answered by foremost Dracula scholar, Elizabeth Miller: 'No. She moved to Italy in 1872 with her husband and 2 daughters. She returned to Dublin in 1886 (by this time her husband had died). She died in Dublin in 1901.'

After alluding to Gough's claim that she lived in the area of Highgate, Miller noted the speculative nature of such things, 'Of course, between 1886 and 1901, she "may" have visited Bram in London, and "maybe" he took her for a walk around Highgate, and "maybe" he explained to her that this was where Lucy was interred.... ad nauseam.' However, Gough's account is pretty clear: she lived there.

I then quoted the passage in question from Gough's article. Her response? 'Balderdash! Double poppycock! Utter garbage! Unmitigated claptrap!'

Miller's word on the subject was pretty substantiate in itself, but the Estate took my query on Charlotte's residency seriously enough to provide an official answer:
Very good question. We know Charlotte Stoker was a great influence on young Abraham Jr; not only did she tend to him while he was bedridden as a child, but it is speculated that her eloquent yet dark storytelling certainly had an influence on the future author of Dracula.

In the years after Bram left home, the Stoker family- composed then of Abraham Sr, Charlotte and their daughters Matilda and Margaret- moved about Europe. They lived in France, Switzerland and Italy, where Abraham Sr died in 1876. Several years later Charlotte returned to Dublin where she lived until her death in 1901.

Strong willed and with a keen intellect, Charlotte Stoker was more than a wife and mother. Through her life she was a staunch advocate for the rights of the disabled. Among her many works, in 1863 she published this paper on the need for state-funded education of the deaf and dumb. Charlotte Stoker's achievements may have been overshadowed by her son's but they certainly should not be overlooked.
So, there we have it. She never lived there, ergo, she didn't hear such stories during her supposed residency. But if that's the case, where'd Gough pull his account from? The ball's in his court on that one, but, at least we can debunk that element of the story.

1. D Farrant, 'Invoking the vampire', New Witchcraft, vol. 1, no. 4, 1975, p. 34.  
2. ibid.


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