The Vampires of Hartington Road

The following strange story came to light during research for my book Vampires of Great Britain, but the account came a bit too late to be included in the work.

In the mid-1960s a Liverpool man in his mid-forties named Norman was knocked down and killed in a hit and run incident in Manchester. Norman had one living relative – an aunt who lived on Cantsfield Street, off Smithdown Road in Wavertree; all of Norman’s other relations, and his immediate family had died in various tragedies and it was said that Norman’s family had been cursed, but no one knew who was supposed to have cursed them or why they were damned. What is known, and this was well-documented, is that when Norman’s coffin was sent back to Liverpool to be buried in Toxteth Park Cemetery (on Smithdown Road), shrieks were heard by the driver of the mortuary van transporting the said coffin. The driver said nothing about the screams at first, probably fearing that he would be accused of hearing things, or maybe he was, like most people, scared of the unknown and the supernatural, and did not want to know how or why a coffined corpse was screaming, but then as the coffin was being taken to a chapel of repose, the pallbearers – all four of them – felt the coffin shake violently and heard what sounded like a faint scream and a gurgling sound come from within the coffin. A pathologist was contacted and when the coffin was opened he saw that the corpse of the hit and run incident was in a very peculiar state. The eyes of the corpse were wide open, the complexion of the face was a ruddy colour, instead of the usual grey pallor of death, and the lips were very red. After death, the skin usually turns green, then purple, and finally black, but on some rare occasions it remains stable and fresh for some inexplicable reason, so the pathologist bore this odd fact in mind as he examined the corpse. Within three hours of death, calcium seeps into the muscle fibres, causing the limbs to stiffen, and so begins the condition of stiffness known as rigor mortis. And yet the limbs of Norman’s corpse were very pliant and flexible, and the blood in the veins of the cadaver showed no signs of decomposition or settling. As the coroner examined the mouth of the body, there came a long fart from the corpse. Such flatulence from the dead is common; resulting from of a build-up of gas as bacteria literally eats the intestines from within and produces methane and other gases as a by-product of fermentation. But the coroner thought he also traced a faint grin on the face of Norman during the autopsy. A mortician of some experience was on hand to assist the coroner, and he could see that his professional colleague was quite unnerved by the facial expression of the corpse, which was now definitely grinning. The muscles of the face often relax in death and cause what is known as Dead Man’s Smile. The coroner seemed very eager now to conclude his examination and the corpse was soon replaced in its coffin for a straightforward funeral service attended only by the priest and the pallbearers.

But that was not the end of the matter. The burial took place in a communal grave on the western side of Toxteth Park Cemetery (which lies adjacent to Hartington Road) during a thick October fog, and of course, the communal grave had no headstone or any marker to show the place where nine other people were lying dead in a stack in the cold clay.

Three days later, on Halloween, a thick fog of a celadon hue blanketed Liverpool around 4.30pm, bringing all sorts of perils to the rush-hour traffic. By lighting-up time Toxteth Park Cemetery was a black opaque swirling mass, and some people passing this place of the dead on Smithdown Road and also Hartington Road, reported hearing strange shrieks coming from the western side of the fog-enshrouded cemetery. Around 12.40pm that night, there was a faint knocking at the door of a house on Hartington Road which brought Audrey, a 21-year-old music student from her first-floor lodgings down to her draughty hallway. Audrey thought the late-caller was a friend who often visited at unearthly hours, but when she opened the door, she got the shock of her life.

A tall man with a weird blue caste to his skin stood there. He had receding hair and deep dark eye sockets with tiny glimmering red points of light where pupils should have been. The bizarre-looking stranger wore a purple jacket and dark trousers, and this attire was stained with muck as if the man had been rolling about in mud.

The tall stranger suddenly grinned as Audrey was saying, ‘Can I help you?’ and the music student could see that the blue-skinned man had long pointed fanged teeth. Audrey immediately slammed the door in the uncanny man’s face, turned on her heels, and ran up the stairs to her lodgings. She went to her window and peeped through a gap in the curtains. The tall fanged man was now flitting away from the house and soon vanished into the shadows and fog. Audrey wanted to leave her room to go across to the lodging to a young man named Vaughan, who like, Audrey, was also a music student, but Audrey could hear Vaughan playing his cello, and didn’t want to disturb his practice. As it was getting rather late to be playing an instrument, Vaughan soon stopped playing, and left his room to go down to the communal kitchen to make some cheese on toast. Audrey decided to go down to the kitchen to tell Vaughan about the weird caller, and when she did, Vaughan thought she was joking at first with it being Halloween (then widely known as Duck-Apple Night) because this night of all nights was associated with ghosts, vampires and so on, but Audrey’s serious eyes soon conveyed the validity of her account. Nevertheless, Vaughan thought some Halloween prankster had been at work, but Audrey just knew no hoaxer was responsible. She recalled the freakish man’s burning red eyes and shuddered. Vaughan asked Audrey if she’d like some cheese and toast but she declined, and instead she sat at the little kitchen table that was spread with pink gingham cloth and enjoyed a coffee and a cigarette. Vaughan put the bread under the gas flame grille and then he went to the window, cupped his hand against the pane to block out the dreary 60 watt bulb’s light. He gazed up over the backyard wall at the moon - high in the sky and a little past its full phase - barely showing through the upper, but thinner reaches of the fog.

The door to the kitchen suddenly flew open and Audrey let out a stifled scream as Vaughan’s head twisted to face the sudden movement.

A shapeless cloud of what looked like brown smoke billowed into the room, and as Audrey and Vaughan looked on, the strange vapours began to condense, to coalesce, before the eyes of the frightened students. The distinctive form of a man, about six feet in height, formed in the cloud of brown smoke and stood in the centre of the kitchen. Audrey screamed and ran towards Vaughan and hid behind him as she shook with terror at the startling materialisation. The air in the kitchen crackled with what sounded like static electricity, and Vaughan and Audrey backed towards the kitchen door leading to the backyard. That door was locked, and neither student knew where the key was. A murky brownish figure with ho face stood there in the centre of the room with smoke twirling around it. Vaughan picked up a carving knife that had been left in the sink with some washing up, and he hurled it with some force, squarely at the menacing apparition. The knife passed through the gaseous figure, and as it did there was a flash of light and a dull thud of a sound which emanated from the ‘ghost’. The figure suddenly began to fade, but a thin mist remained, hanging in the tense air of the kitchen. Audrey and Vaughan looked at the spot where the manifestation had existed seconds ago, and then the two students vacated the kitchen, taking care not to pass through the space where the smoky being had stood; they edged around the spot, and Vaughan took Audrey up to her room and sat with her, apparently lost for words.

‘Do you think it was the man who called earlier?’ Audrey asked, and began to bite her nails. And when Vaughan didn’t reply straight away she added: ‘The man with the fangs.’

‘I think I should tell my brother about this,’ Vaughan suddenly announced, breaking out of his silent contemplation. That night, the cello player slept in an old armchair in Audrey’s room, keeping watch over her because the girl was terrified of the ghostly entity returning, but there were no further visitations from the thing that night. On the following morning around ten o’clock, the fog was still lingering when Vaughan and Audrey walked to the telephone call box on Smithdown Road, where Vaughan dialled his brother John and told him about the strange events of the previous night. John said he would call at Vaughan’s flat around 2pm, and he was true to his word, arriving about five minutes before the arranged time. Audrey was very surprised when she saw that John was a young priest. Vaughan offered his brother a sandwich, but the Catholic priest declined and asked him to describe what he and Audrey had witnessed, and after listening to Vaughan’s account, John asked Audrey to describe the man who had visited her late last night. Audrey described the visitor and his pale blue skin, the red points of light in his black skull-socket eyes, his tallness, the purple jacket he wore, and of course the fangs. Father John thought about the descriptions of the visitor, and Audrey could tell the priest was very concerned about this thing, whatever it was, because of his very expressive dark eyes.

‘I thought it was someone mucking about at first, when Audrey told me about the fangs,’ said Vaughan, ‘with it being Duck Apple Night and that.’

‘No, it’s no one mucking about Vaughan,’ said Father John softly as he glanced through the bedroom window at the Limbo of fog.

There was an unhealthy pause.

‘Well?’ Vaughan said with a lopsided grin born of nerves. ‘What the Hell is it then?’

The priest looked at his hands, and his long dark eyelashes flickered for a moment. ‘It sounds like a vampire,’ he replied, and as he said this the alarm clock in the room ceased ticking and a silence descended on the room.

Audrey gulped in this silence, and was so embarrassed because the two young men heard it quite clearly and both turned to look at her.

‘You alright Audrey?’ Father John asked, with a smile.

Audrey smirked and blushed, and said: ‘A vampire? You mean like Dracula?’

‘Nah, he’s pulling our legs,’ Vaughan said with a little hollow laugh and patted his brother’s forearm, but the priest gently shook his head.

‘I’m not pulling anyone’s legs,’ he said, coldly now. ‘These things were accepted by the early Church, and they date back to Ancient India, Babylonia and Ancient Greece.’

‘What – vampires?’ Vaughan tried to laugh, to dismiss the strange talk, seeing the fear welling in Audrey’s eyes.

‘Yes, vampires,’ Father John replied, ‘Some are made vampires and some have always been vampires, and no one is safe, even holy men.’ And the priest told a strange story which made Vaughan feel very uneasy because he vaguely remembered the incident mentioned within it. It had happened when he was around twelve, ten years ago. As he rubbed his hand and looked into the two incandescent bars of the electric fire, Father John mentioned a certain Catholic church in Liverpool, and a story he had heard about this place of worship from an elderly priest. John said that in the 1930s, two cleaners arrived at the church around half-past-four one February morning to mop the aisles and polish the altar rails. As one of the cleaners, a women in her thirties named Violet, was mopping the transept, she happened to glance over at the pulpit, and thought she saw a figure with some white about it duck down with amazing reflexes. Violet thought it was a trick of the light at that time in the morning because just enough of the lamps had been switched on in the church to provide enough illumination for the cleaners to go about their work. However, when the aisle was being mopped about twenty minutes later, Violet passed the pulpit, and once again she thought she could detect some movement high up inside the raised ornate platform. She continued to mop, and then suddenly, she literally felt the hairs on the back of her neck stand up. Ever since the cleaner was a child she had possessed the uncanny talent of feeling eyes burning into the back of her head if anyone was watching her from behind. The cleaner stopped mopping up and turned her head very slowly. She looked up into the pulpit and saw a strange and scary sight. A priest she had known when she was but a girl, was leaning over the rail of the pulpit. He was the very priest who had been present when Violet made her Holy Communion, and he had died many years before, for Violet, like most of the late priest’s congregation, had attended his funeral. The stance of the ghostly priest was rather strange. He was peeping over the pulpit rail with his arms bent, and the entity’s eyes were black and glistening. The apparition made a hissing sound, and Violet threw down her mop and ran off in a terrible state, slipping on the floor of the mopped aisle at one point. Then she heard the screams of the other cleaner, and when she looked across the benches, she saw the old priest swooping down on her colleague like some bird of prey. The other cleaner managed to escape from the church, and the two women vowed they would never clean that church again. When the church authorities heard of the strange incident, they tried to hush it up, and even paid the cleaners to say nothing of their terrifying experiences. But then strange rumours began to circulate in the parish. It was claimed that the elderly priest, whose ghost haunted the two cleaners, had told someone shortly before his death that certain shocking secrets about his life would come to light and tarnish his reputation, but the old man would not be drawn into further conversation regarding these secrets. All sorts of gossip circulated concerning these alleged secrets, and some scandal-mongering parishioners even said the old priest had dabbled in Satanism, holding Black Masses at the church in the dead of night. The elderly priest who had related this story to Father John had allegedly discovered the real truth though, and claimed that the priest who had worried about his reputation becoming besmirched after death had been nothing less than a vampire, but it was never explained just how the old priest had become one. Two experts in vampirology and demonology were dispatched from Rome to rid the church of the entity. Exorcisms and other arcane rituals were carried out in the locked church, and a curious night watchman who managed to use a ladder to look into the church through the stained-glass windows said he saw a spindly-looking figure in a long black cassock climbing walls like a spider and flying across the altar as the exorcists confronted him. Until, the thing was seized by the men, and brutally staked…

‘Enough!’ Audrey cried out, and Father John and Vaughan jumped with fright at the sudden exclamation. ‘Stop it, please!’ the girl cried.

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ the young priest apologised and reached out to comfort Audrey but she ran out of the room and went to her own room, followed by Vaughan and his brother.

‘See what you’ve done now?’ Vaughan berated his brother as the two men tried to get through the doorway of Audrey’s room at the same time. The priest apologised profusely and promised the young student he would protect her from the thing that had materialised in the kitchen last night. The priest had read a lot about vampires and knew there was a pattern to their attacks. Often, a girl of a certain age – usually a virgin – was targeted by the vampire for grooming. The blood of the virgin, and women in particular (especially women who had recently given birth), was thought to be particularly desirable to the blood and life-energy suckers, and this was probably the case with Audrey, although Father John didn’t dare tell the anxious girl this for obvious reasons. The vampire had probably been doing a little reconnaissance before the attack; it had been trying to establish whether Audrey was alone, or whether she had someone to protect her. Father John felt that the entity would attack tonight, and so he sat alone in Audrey’s room during the hours of darkness with nothing but a Holy Bible, a crucifix, and a bottle of Holy Water. Audrey, meanwhile, was sitting with Vaughan in his room playing cards as she periodically took nervous glances at the alarm clock.

At one in the morning, the vampire made a dramatic entrance into the house. This time it did not enter in a gaseous form, but a carnate, solid form. It must have lifted the cast-iron manhole cover from the pavement outside (which would require some strength) to gain access to the coal cellar of the building that the flats were housed in. It then forced the coal cellar door and emerged in the darkness of the hallway on the ground floor. Father John heard the slow measured footfalls on the stairs, and knowing that the two residents of the flats on the ground floor were old people who would now be tucked up in bed, he went outside onto the landing with a large crucifix in one hand and his personal black leather-bound copy of the Bible clutched in the other hand. The first thing he saw was the red points of light – the eyes of the vampire – as it halted at the top of the stairs. The thing uttered a string of vile swear-words as well as several blasphemous references, but the priest reached out with the hand that held the Bible and used his index finger to switch on the landing light. As the dim 60-watt bulb came on, the vampire could be seen in its grubby soil-stained attire. It reeked of some unidentifiable sweet but sickly smell, and it shielded its blood-red eyes from the meagre electric light. ‘In the name of Jesus, in the name of Yahwah, I command thee to return to your grave!’ Father John addressed the undead being.

‘F--- off! You sanctimonious self-abusing hypocrite!’ replied the vampire in a raspy voice, and it spat at the priest, ejecting some ghastly yellow and green foamed fluid with great force. The glob hit the Bible which the priest was using as a shield.

The vampire-laying prayer was recited: ‘Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him!’

‘We’ll have her!’ the vampire laughed out the words and made rude gestures at the priest, and walked slowly along the landing with his skeletal hand with yellowed fingernails shielding its face from the sight of the cross and the Holy Book.

The priest was trembling, and sweat was forming on his brow. He wondered what the thing meant when it said ‘we’ll’ have her; was there more than one vampire? He steadied himself with thoughts of how Jesus would act in this situation and continued to recite the prayer: ‘Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison. Our Father. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. From the Gate of Hell, O Lord, deliver his soul. May he rest in peace – ‘

The vampire jumped up into the air and punched the light bulb. It shattered into orange sparks and glass shards. The landing was now in semi darkness with only the feeble light shining out from Audrey’s room, where the priest had been lying in wait.

Audrey’s creams pierced the air in Vaughan’s room. The door of that room opened and Vaughan’s head appeared round it. ‘There’s something in here!’ he shouted, and then he noticed the shadowy figure standing near him on the landing, and swore in shock.

‘Get back in there!’ Father John shouted to his brother, then lunged forward and pushed the crucifix almost into the face of the revenant. It howled, and there was something animalistic the way its jaws opened and the way the mouth enlarged to reveal the elongated teeth and fangs. It fled back down the stairs, and the priest followed. Upon reaching the bottom step he could hear more screams coming from Audrey upstairs and the sounds of objects being thrown about. John switched on the light, then went after the vampire. When he reached the coal cellar, he saw it fly upwards through the disk of orange light – the manhole illuminated by a sodium lamp. The creature slammed the manhole cover down onto the hole with a clang and could be heard running off.

Father John left the cellar, and ran back up the stairs to tackle the thing in his brother’s room, but he collided with Audrey and Vaughan as they rushed blindly down the stairs to escape whatever was pursuing them. Audrey screamed and pushed the priest aside as she ran down the stairs, and Vaughan followed her closely as he urged his brother to get out of the house.

‘For Heaven’s sake don’t go out there!’ cried the priest, ‘That thing is out there!’

He then turned to see a swirling mass at the top of the stairs. It looked like a thousand black flies all assembled in the form of a human figure, and it moved forwards with a very peculiar style of walking. This was probably the thing which had materialised in the kitchen on Halloween. Vaughan and Audrey had surmised it was just another form of the vampire that had called at the house, but now it was obvious that there were two entities at large.

Instinctively, the priest threw the Bible at the insubstantial figure as it came down the stairs, and as the book passed through the eerie figure, it vanished after dissipating into tiny particles which quickly faded away.

Audrey and Vaughan witnessed the dematerialisation of the ghost, and felt a little safer when the priest joined them in the hallway.

‘What now?’ Vaughan asked his brother.

'We should sit tight until dawn if we can,’ John suggested, and he went into the parlour as Audrey and Vaughan embraced one another in the hallway. Father John was gone for some time, so Vaughan shouted into the dark parlour: ‘You alright in there?’

Father John came out of the parlour and what little colour had been in his face had now drained away. ‘Let’s go to the kitchen,’ he said in a low voice.

‘Why?’ Vaughan asked, with great suspicion, ‘Why? What’s up?’

One of the doors to the ground floor flats opened and a door-chain rattled. A pair of bloodshot eyes peered out from the gap and Audrey yelped with fright. An old man complained of all the noise, then with a shaking hand he closed the door and put the security chain back on.

Upon reaching the kitchen, John switched on the lights and went to the window. He pulled a blind down. ‘There's more than one,’ he said, despondently.

‘I gathered that,’ Vaughan told him, ‘the thing upstairs was one as well, wasn’t it? That’s the one I saw in the kitchen – ‘

‘I counted about ten of them out there,’ the priest said, and Audrey’s eyes widened. Father John would be haunted by the look of pure fear in those young eyes for many years to come.

‘What?’ Vaughan recoiled in shock at his brother’s words. ‘Ten?’

Father John nodded, then asked his brother if there was a hammer and some nails knocking about. In a daze, Vaughan opened the cupboard under the sink and grabbed the black rubber handle of a large claw hammer protruding from a box. He pulled the hammer out and searched for a while for some nails, but all he could find was a box of old rusty tacks. ‘Better than nothing I suppose,’ the priest remarked upon opening the little cardboard box. ‘Stay here,’ he said firmly, then left the kitchen with the hammer, tacks and crucifix. The priest made sure the bolt was firmly fastened on the front door, and then he tried to tack the coal cellar door shut but the tacks just weren’t long enough, so he went back into the kitchen and found some old length of unused washing line. He used the line to secure the cellar door by tying the door’s handle to the rail of the stairs. There were so many other ways the vampires could still enter the house, and if things got too hairy the priest said they’d all have to make a run for it – even though the thick fog was still covering the whole of the North West.

The three young people sat in the kitchen with a gas ring continually burning for warmth. Audrey sat holding hands with Vaughan at the table, and they all listened to the sounds of bony fingers at the window, and a host of other unnatural noises. Shadows flitted over the blind on the kitchen window, and then, around half-past two that morning, the trio heard a distinctive sound in the hallway. Audrey began to cry when she heard the noise, imagining the vampires had gained access to the building. John and Vaughan went into the hallway. Vaughan carried the hammer, and his brother was clutching a crucifix. Now they could tell the sound was coming from the front door. The vestibule door was opened - which led to the small space behind the front door – and there the brothers saw a long reddish-purple arm, almost bone, with lesions and scabs covering it. It was that narrow it had been able to slip through the letterbox and now the skeletal hand was trying to undo the bolt.

Vaughan had a look of absolute horror on his face, but then he suddenly lashed out with the hammer. He belted the upper arm so hard, it broke the humerus, and the sound of the brittle bone breaking made the priest nauseous. The thing behind the door shrieked and tried to pull its arm away. The arm below the break dangled solely by its skin, and as the priest and his brother backed away from the rattling door, the arm was withdrawn. The letterbox then opened, and a pair of eyes that can only be described as demonic, stared at the two men with intense hatred.

‘I command you to leave here in the name of Jesus Christ our saviour!’ Father John intoned.

The letterbox flap banged down, but then lifted a few seconds later, and this time a grotesque worming purple tongue was poked through the door in some warped act of mockery. The vestibule door was closed and the two men were startled by Audrey, who had left the lonely kitchen to see what was going on.

All three retreated back to the kitchen, where they sat tight until dawn came filtering through the fog, and as soon as the milkman clinked the bottles on the doorstep, Audrey announced that enough was enough and that she was going to stay with a friend and she had no intention of ever coming back to the house on Hartington Road. Vaughan began to realise how much he liked the girl by this time, and he decided he could never stand another night in the place, so he asked Audrey if she would consider moving in with him if he could find a place to live. She said she’d give it a try, and within two years she and Vaughan were married. Father John left the priesthood twenty years after this after becoming disillusioned with the attitude of the Church towards the paranormal, which he studied until his death in 2003. I mentioned this case on the radio in 2002 and had quite a few calls about strange goings-on at the house on Hartington Road, as well as a few other addresses on that road which lies next to Toxteth Park Cemetery. All of the accounts I heard lead me to believe that vampiric entities were at large in the area in the 1960s, and I think some of these beings, including the infamous “Manilu” – a vampire I have written about in many of my books, are still active. In particular, I believe one of these vampires is the etheric form of Norman, the man I mentioned at the start of this section, who was interred in the western side of Toxteth Park Cemetery in the mid-1960s. Of all the supernatural beings in the pantheon of mythology, the vampire seems the most far-fetched, and yet across the centuries – millennia even – everyday people have reported encounters with these sinister beings which defy death itself and siphon off the lifeblood and vitality of the living. At the time of writing, I and several other investigators of the paranormal are looking into an alleged case of vampirism in Hoylake, where a mother and teenaged daughter are being visited nightly by a shadowy entity which materialises in their room. This being takes on the form of a monk with a pointed hood, and often when the thing appears to the mother or daughter (always around three in the morning) it leans over them in their beds and paralyses them before sucking at their necks. After about five minutes, the entity fades away, and sometimes contracts to a gaseous dark nebula which drifts off through the windows, leaving the victim feeling drained and ill. What makes this case particularly interesting is that I recently unearthed a report – dating back to 1971 – where two teenaged girls, living within a stone’s throw of Hoylake railway station, were subjected to nightly attacks by a shadowy form which paralysed them in their beds and sucked at their necks. Around 1978, there was a similar case reported at a house on Woolton’s Quarry Street, where a woman was subjected to an assault almost every week by a shadowy man who would float down onto her bed, paralyse her, then begin to suck at her neck and breasts. An investigator of the supernatural named Paul, who has passed on many interesting findings of this nature to me over the years, looked into the case, and used an elderly medium who had been personally tested by himself. The woman said that the vampire visiting the woman had originally been a man who had been buried in Allerton Cemetery in the early 1970s, and through some biological process, he had not been clinically dead when he had been buried. He had awakened in the stifling blackness of his coffin and through sheer willpower, had somehow projected what occultists would term the astral body, out of the grave. However, as the energy of the body began to fade after a length of time, it would gravitate back to the grave, and so the buried man would go out and search for a source of energy to replenish his ‘etheric’ body so it could stay out of the rotting shell of its decaying physical body. It would seem that all bodies, even before they decay in the grave, become separated from their astral counterpart, but in this case, the man who had been prematurely buried in Allerton Cemetery had somehow convinced himself he would end up six feet under unless he kept ‘topping up’ the energy of his astral body, hence the regular attacks on various women over the years. In the end, the medium said she had contacted the restless anxiety-ridden spirit and had explained why it had nothing to worry about, but the advice was ignored, and perhaps then, the vampiric entity is still making nocturnal attacks.

This story is from Haunted Liverpool 21 - click here to learn how to download the book for the Kindle, iPad - or you can even read it on your computer (with a free Kindle app available from Amazon).