Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Identifying the Highgate Vampire


The identity of the Highgate Vampire is dealt with on pages 50-51 of the Gothic Press edition of The Highgate Vampire book.

The text speaks of "a mysterious nobleman from the Continent who arrived in the wake of the vampire epidemic which had its origins in south-east Europe."

The conjecture that he might be Eastern European is therefore most probable.

Above is a circa 1870s photograph of the Russian immigrant known variously as Mikhail Oleg Ostrog, Bertrand Ashley, Claude Clayton (Cayton), Dr Grant, Max Grief Gosslar, Ashley Nabokoff, Orloff, Count Sobieski, Max Sobiekski etc, possibly from the Kiev region of Russia, but by no means a nobleman, who settled in the East End area of London in the 1860s. His name has been put forward by some searching for the identity of the Highgate Vampire. It is rumoured without any clear evidence that Mikhail Ostrog moved to the Highgate area of London in the 1890s, but there is no mention made of him after 1904. Mikhail Ostrog was under investigation by the Russian authorites for what we would describe today as a series of vampiric murders. Mikhail Ostrog was also investigated by the fledgling Metropolitan Police service over a series of murders that bore all the hallmarks of vampiric attack in the Greater London Area. Mikhail Ostrog was introduced to the public in Donald McCormick's The Identity of Jack the Ripper (1962). From that time little was known until recent research by D S Goffee revealed a wealth of information on his criminal career. This information was published in the October 1994 issue of Ripperana, "The Search for Michael Ostrog." Phil Sugden also covers him as a suspect in The Complete History of Jack the Ripper (1995). Numerous people have drawn a comparison between the Highgate Vampire and "Jack the Ripper" in the past, which, while worthy of investigation, simply does not pan out.

Physical Description of Mikhail Oleg Ostrog:

Five foot, eleven inches in height.

Dark brown hair.

Grey eyes.

Often dressed in a "semi-clerical" suit.

Had a scar on right thumb and right shin

Had numerous flogging marks on his back.

Two large moles on right shoulder, one on the back of his neck.

Described as a Russian, Russian Pole, and a Polish Jew at various times.
The name Tamás Ország was presented as a much more likely candidate by those researching the matter in the previous century. The similarity between the surnames Ország and Ostrog is striking, but Ország originated from Hungary, not Russia, and I personally remain unconvinced that Mikhail Ostrog is a potential candidate. The identity, history and origin of the Highgate Vampire is considerably more intriguing and mysterious than a common criminal and homicidal maniac who some have tried to link to the "Ripper" murders.

The last moments, some of which were captured by a 35mm camera, reveal the same "burning, fierce eyes beneath black furrowed brows staring with hellish reflection. Yellow at the edges with blood-red centres, unlike anything imaginable. Flared nostrils connected to a thin, high-bridged nose. The mouth still set in its cruel expression with lips drawn far back as if unable to contain the sharp, white teeth." (The Highgate Vampire, pages 85, 86 & 142.)

A vampire is generally described as being exceedingly gaunt and lean with a hideous countenance and eyes wherein are glinting the red fire of perdition. When, however, he has satiated his lust for warm human blood his body becomes horribly puffed and bloated, as though he were some great leech gorged and replete to bursting. Cold as ice, or it may be fevered and burning as a hot coal, the skin is deathly pale, but the lips are very full and rich, blub and red; the teeth white and gleaming, and the canine teeth wherewith he bites deep into the neck of his prey to suck thence the vital streams which re-animate his body and invigorate all his forces appear notably sharp and pointed. Often his mouth curls back in a vulpine snarl which bares these fangs, "a gaping mouth and gleaming teeth," says Leone Allacci, and so in many districts the hare-lipped are avoided as being certainly vampires. In Bulgaria, it is thought that the vampire who returns from the tomb has only one nostril; and in certain districts of Poland he is supposed to have a sharp point at the end of his tongue, like the sting of a bee. It is said that the palms of a vampire's hands are downy with hair, and the nails are always curved and crooked, often well-nigh the length of a great bird's claw, the quicks dirty and foul with clots and gouts of black blood. His breath is unbearably fetid and rank with corruption, the stench of the charnel. Dr Henry More in his An Antidote against Atheism, III, ix, tells us that when Johannes Cuntius, an alderman of Pentsch in Silesia and a witch returned as a vampire he much tormented the Parson of the Parish. One evening, "when this Theologer was sitting with his wife and Children about him, exercising himself in Musick, according to his usual manner, a most grievous stink arose suddenly, which by degrees spread itself to every corner of the room. Here upon he commends himself and his family to God by Prayer. The smell nevertheless encreased, and became above all measure pestilently noisom, insomuch that he was forced to go up to his chamber. He and his Wife had not been in bed a quarter of an hour, but they find the same stink in the bedchamber; of which, while they are complaining one to another out steps the Spectre from the Wall, and creeping to his bedside, breathes upon him an exceeding cold breath, of so intolerable stinking and malignant a scent, as is beyond all imagination and expression. Here upon the Theologer, good soul, grew very ill, and was fain to keep his bed, his face, belly, and guts swelling as if he had been poysoned; whence he was also troubled with a difficulty of breathing, and with a putrid inflamation of his eyes, so that he could not well use them of a long time after."

The vampire is one who has led a life of more than ordinary immorality and unbridled wickedness; a man of foul, gross and selfish passions, of evil ambitions, delighting in cruelty and blood. Arthur Machen has very shrewdly pointed out that "Sorcery and sanctity are the only realities. Each is an ecstasy, a withdrawal from the common life." The spiritual world cannot be confined to the supremely good, "but the supremely wicked, necessarily, have their portion in it. The ordinary man can no more be a great sinner than he can be a great saint. Most of us are just indifferent, mixed-up creatures; we muddle through the world without realizing the meaning and the inner sense of things, and, consequently our wickedness and our goodness are alike second-rate unimportant . . . the saint endeavours to recover a gift which he has lost; the sinner tries to obtain something which was never his. In brief, he repeats the Fall . . . it is not the mere liar who is excluded by those words; it is, above all, the 'sorcerers' who use the material life, who use the failings incidental to material life as instruments to obtain their infinitely wicked ends. And let me tell you this; our higher senses are so blunted, we are so drenched with materialism, that we should probably fail to recognize real wickedness if we encountered it.)"

It has been said that a saint is a person who always chooses the better of the two courses open to him at every step. And so the man who is truly wicked is he who deliberately always chooses the worse of the two courses. Even when he does things which would be considered right he always does them for some bad reason. To identify oneself in this way with any given course requires intense concentration and an iron strength of will, and it is such persons who become vampires.

The vampire is believed to be one who has devoted himself during his life to the practice of black magic, and it is hardly to be supposed that such persons would rest undisturbed, while it is easy to believe that their malevolence had set in action forces which might prove powerful for terror and destruction even when they were in their graves. It was sometimes said, but the belief is rare, that the vampire was the offspring of a witch and the Devil.


Seán Manchester (The Highgate Vampire)

Montague Summers (The Vampire: His Kith & Kin)


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