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The Source:

Otto Steiner:
"Vampirleichen - Vampirprozesse in Preussen" [1959]

The Case:

Somewhere in West-Prussia the wife of a forester called Gehrke died and was buried. Soon after her death the husband and children got seriously ill, and everyone in the village believed that the dead woman was a Nachzehrer who wanted to drag her husband and children into the grave.

The brother of Gehrke had an emergency meeting with some of his friends and they decided to open up the grave and put some things like line-seed into it, apparently meant as some kind of apotropaic. However, when they had opened the coffin they found that the corpse had red cheeks. So they figured that perhaps it would be better to decapitate the corpse. A spade was used. I will spare you the gory details. They put the head under the arm of the dead woman and closed the grave again.

It is hard to keep things like this a secret. In a small village happenings of such importance will be told, discussed and retold again. Sooner or later the authorities learn about them. So Gehrke's brother was arrested and had to go to court. He was given a jail sentence. He then succesfully appealed to a higher court that decided that the verdict was not valid. Although they should have left the grave and the dead woman alone, it seemed clear that they had acted in self-defence.

The Date:

According to Steiner the events appear to have taken place some time around 1870.

The Place:

Sadly no place is mentioned. The case is said to have taken place in West-Prussia, which almost certainly means that it is now Polish territory.

Personal Comments:

I am pretty sure that I have seen the Gehrke case mentioned elsewhere. Summers ? Barber ? So it does not seem impossible that we can still find the location and the exact date. Steiner's version of the case is much longer. He does not give us a date or location, but he makes a long and rather technical analysis of the legal grounds on which Gehrke was arrested, sentenced and released. Which should perhaps be interesting to the lawyers of any potential vampiroclasts out there.

Possible Follow-Up:

Never believe me. Don't take my word for it. Always go to the sources to get the real and complete story. First find and read the case as presented by Oberstaatsanwalt Otto Steiner. We are told that the case got quite a bit of media coverage at the time so you can try to find old Prussian magazines and newspapers that have information about the case. Now what are you waiting for ?

© 2009 by Rob Brautigam - NL - Last changed 22 December 2009

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