Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The man who feared Vampires- Jan 1973

As befits a former Navy man Frederick Hails ran a tight ship. As the Coroner for North Staffs from the 1960s to 80s  he was known for asking awkward, probing questions especially in the cases of death arising from working in the pottery or mining industry. On one occasion he was so interested in conditions underground that he arranged a visit down a local mine to see for himself. He was involved in a number of groundbreaking cases including the first inquest into a death caused by the contraceptive pill. He was the first Coroner to call for the introduction of childproof drug containers. Later his investigation into a death revealed that a chemical was responsible for giving workers stomach cancer- the chemical was speedily withdrawn from usage. He was not averse from using technology in his cases and he introduced a tape recorder to take down evidence.

 But it was a bizarre case that he heard on the 8th January 1973 that must be regarded as such by this experienced public servant to ever to have come across. The matter concerned the discovery of a body some weeks before in a bed sit in 2 the Villas off London Road in Stoke. The corpse was that of Demetrious Myiciura a 56-year-old pottery worker who was found dead in his small dimly lit bedroom. The scene surrounding the corpse that was met by Police Constable John Pye will have probably stayed with him his entire career. Around the body on the floor was laid out sheets of newspaper. A bag of salt was wrapped around the dead man’s neck and another was placed between his legs. The man had mixed salt with his urine and put it in various containers around the room. There were a number of crucifixes hanging from the wall.  On the window ledge was a bowl containing a mix of human excrement and garlic. In the mouth of Myiciura was what appeared to be a pickled onion on which he had apparently choked to death. At the inquest the pathologist reported that Myiciura had choked to death on the onion. Frederick Hails thought this unusual, but commented that it was not unknown for people "to bolt their food and die." Meanwhile the young policeman could not forgotten what he had seen. He had gone to Hanley Library and read books on vampires and vampirism. His suspicions were confirmed; the salt and garlic are traditional vampire repellents, and the mixture on Myiciura's window ledge was intended to attract vampires who would then be poisoned by the garlic. When told of this, the coroner ordered a re-examination of the pickled onion. It was found to be a clove of garlic. As a final desperate measure to ward off the vampires, Myiciura had slept with a clove of garlic in his mouth, and the garlic had choked him to death. Fear and dread killed him: the vampires did get him in the end.

There is renewed interest in vampires as this year is the 100th anniversary of the death of the creator of the modern vampire myth Bram Stoker whose 1897 novel Dracula did a great deal to ignite the modern day interest in the cult. A film set in 1972 staring Johnny Depp as the Count is being released. Of course the fear of vampires lies deep in the psyche of Central and Eastern Europe especially in rural areas. The Coroners report in the Sentinel in early January 1973 states that Myiciura was a farmer before the Second World War from the Southern Polish town of Mysienice. It should be also worth noting that as he was born in 1917 he would have seen a great deal of blood shed. In his early years the Poles were engaged in a conflict with Soviet Russia. The war led to atrocities on both sides and in 1939 both the Nazis and the Soviets invaded the country. Poland's population losses during World War II were proportionately by far the greatest of any nation participating in the war. Of its 35 million people before the war, Poland lost 6.5 million. An estimated 664,000 were battlefield deaths (this figure exceeds combined losses of the United States and Great Britain in the Second World War), and the remainder, or 90 percent, were civilians of all ages. His hometown saw the massacre of its Jewish population in 1942. It is not surprising that his mind harboured dark thoughts of mayhem and loss of blood that led to his squalid death in a bed sit in Stoke.