Friday, April 6, 2012

Caught in the headlights

One notable aspect of the Highgate Vampire case is what I call the 'caught in headlights' trope. Several variants are related by David Farrant and Sean Manchester. They all share the same characteristics: a person is walking past the cemetery at night, they are attacked by a supernatural force, but 'saved' by the the headlights of an oncoming vehicle.

The earliest version I'm familiar with, appeared in the Hampstead & Highgate Express, 15 October 1971:
Mr. Farrant said that last March a girl waslking past the cemetery in Swains Lane was knocked to the ground by a tall, shadowy figure which then disappeared as a car arrived. The road was lined by 12-foot high walls at that point.
The girl reported the attack to police, who could find no trace of her attacker. She had abrasions on her arms and knees but no other marks.1
In 1975, he expanded the account in an article for New Witchcraft:
A young girl who was walking past the cemetery in the early hours of the morning was suddenly thrown to the ground with tremendous force by "a tall dark figure" which had appeared behind her from nowhere. Luckily at that moment a car came along, and the girl was taken to Highgate Police Station suffering from shock and abrasions to her legs and elbows. The police immediately made a complete search of the area (the road is bordered by 12ft high walls) but were unable to find any trace of her attacker. The figure had "vanished" in the glare of the headlights.2
In 2005, her vocation was revealed as nurse. The account is expanded, further still, on the Friends of David Farrant:
Reports were coming into the Society that a young nurse had been 'attacked' by the 'vampire' in Swains Lane which runs alongside the cemetery. Eventually, the girl's identity was discovered and I arranged a meeting with her. Although reluctant to discuss the matter at first, I assured her anonymity and she gave the following account:
She was returning home in the early hours walking down Swain's Lane. As she passed the cemetery, a little way further on, she was suddenly 'thrown to the ground' with tremendous force by a 'tall black figure' with a 'deathly white face'. At that moment, a car stopped to help her and the figure 'vanished' in the glare of the headlights. She was taken to Highgate Police Station in a state of severe shock suffering abrasions to her knees and elbows. The police immediately made a thorough search of the area but could find no trace of her attacker. More mysterious still was the fact that where the figure had vanished, the cemetery was lined by 15 foot high walls.
However, in 1973, Manchester published a similar account of his own. 'Jacqui Frances, a pretty 22- year-old blonde'—who I've previously mentioned—had been visiting friends in Highgate Village and was making her way 'down the lane past the graveyard', i.e. Swains Lane. She passed the cemetery gate, turned, and saw a 'tall figure of a man with a deathly-white face' staring at her 'from within the cemetery'. She began walking faster, only to notice that the figure had seemingly materialised from the gate and started following her a few yards behind.3

As it closed in, she noted it stood about 7 feet tall and was 'darkly clad'. It also seemed to be hypnotising her. 'Had it not been for the roar of a sports car tearing down the lane, I might have entered a hypnotic trance there and then.'4 As with Farrant's account, the spectre disappeared with the car's headlights—except, in this case, it reappeared once the car was gone. When Francis ran to get away, she inadvertently dropped a 'large silver crucifix' she wore. The last 'sign' of the spectre was a hissing sound—atypical of vampire movies—and 'a glimpse of him as he faded in the darkness of the graveyard's 12 foot high brick wall.'5

No date for this attack is mentioned, but we can pinpoint it to 1970, as it is mentioned in conjunction with media coverage given to the case that same year. Strangely, Manchester didn't include Francis' account in his contribution to Peter Underwood's 1975 vampire anthology. Instead, the victim appears to have undergone a sex-change:
In first week of February 1970, a twenty-four-year-old man was knocked to the ground and attacked by something which "seemed to glide" from the cemetery. He was much too shaken to write to the press, but it, nevertheless came to my attention via someone he confided in. The description of a "tall figure which swooped" down upon him with the countenance of a "wild animal" was somehow not altogether unfamiliar.6
He, too, was 'saved' by the headlights of an oncoming car.

On the surface, it seems Manchester's borrowed Farrant's account for his own and changed a few details. But Manchester's saved from this conclusion by the disclosure of another similar account. Last year, Farrant mentioned the following on The supernatural world forums:
The BPOS into the frequently witnessed seen in and around Highgate Cemetery had in fact been in progress since early 1969. During the course of this, many local people were interviewed that year, and indeed, I published some of these accounts in my first book on that case in 1991. During 1969, the figure repoprted [sic] at Highgate Cemetery was that of a ghost - albeit a fairly malevolent one. The local newspaper (the Ham & High) had taken a serious interest in all the local 'ghost reports', maybe helped by the fact that a similar 'tall dark figure' had been reported locally just a few years earlier. That was said to haunt the Flash [sic] public house and Ye Olde Gatehouse pub. I told that newspaper at that time, that these reports might well be connected.

Then in January a Ham & High reporter contacted me to say they'd received a Press Release to the effect that a lone student (I was only told his name was 'Richard') had been 'attacked' one night by a spectre as he was passing the gates of Highgate Cemetery. The newspaper automatically contacted myself assuming it had come from my Society, but it had not. You surely don't need three guesses to know who was really responsible! This report was never published to my knowledge, although the person responsible for it was to acknowledge this occurrence about a year later on BBC television. This begs the question, of course, as to how hw [sic] could have known about the Ham&High notification if this had never been published?
He elaborated on the Richard account on his Facebook forum, The Highgate Vampire Society:
I know of 3 incidents back from the early 1970’s of people being ‘attacked’ in – or just outside – Highgate Cemetery. The first one occurred in January 1970 and I know about this because a reporter from the local Ham & High newspaper telephoned to ask if my Society knew anything about this. In fact, we didn’t but I was given basic details by this reporter who told me that he was a young student called Richard who attended the North London Polytechnic (as it then was). He had been knocked to the ground quite violently (in Swains Lane just outside the cemetery) by a ‘tall dark figure” which then just promptly disappeared.
The 'person responsible', i.e. Manchester's appearance 'on BBC television' is our lead. Farrant is clearly referring to the 15 October 1970 episode of 24 hours. Here's what Manchester said on the matter: 'As far as we know, it has only physically attacked one male person who had passed by the gate.'

In making a making a correlation between Manchester's comment with the Richard account, Farrant acknowledges that the Richard account actually pre-dates his own with the 'young girl'/'nurse'. Therefore, what I said about the possibility of Manchester borrowing from Farrant's account, now applies to Farrant, instead. We're left with two possibilities. 

Either one of them 'borrowed' the other's account and added their own embellishments, or two separate people encountered an entity—or entities—along Swains Lane, which they were saved from, in nearly identical circumstances. What do you think happened?

I'd like to thank Redmond McWilliams for his assistance in writing this blog entry. Cheers, mate!

1. 'Nude exorcists sought vampire', Hampstead & Highgate Express, 15 October 1971, p. 3.  

2. D Farrant, 'Invoking the vampire', New Witchcraft, vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 33–4.  

3. S Manchester, 'The world of the vampire', Witchcraft, vol. 2, no. 8, 1973, pp. 53–4.  

4. ibid., p. 54.  

5. ibid.  

6. 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, pp. 105–6.

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