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From the crypt, the greatest Halloween story ever told. And it was true

The cemetery in Marotinu de Sus, Romania, where Toma Petre was alleged to have risen from the dead to haunt his family. Family members were able to slay him again, but then the police got involved.
The cemetery in Marotinu de Sus, Romania, where Toma Petre was alleged to have risen from the dead to haunt his family. Family members were able to slay him again, but then the police got involved. Tribune News Service

McClatchy’s Matthew Schofield visited Romania in 2004 when the country was up in arms about a recent vampire slaying. His account remains one of McClatchy’s most enduring online stories, repeated here for your Halloween pleasure.

MAROTINU DE SUS, Romania Before Toma Petre’s relatives pulled his body from the grave, ripped out his heart, burned it to ashes, mixed it with water and drank it, he hadn’t been in the news much.

That’s often the way here with vampires. Quiet lives, active deaths.

Villagers here aren’t up in arms about the undead — they’re pretty common — but they are outraged that the police are involved in a simple vampire slaying. After all, vampire slaying is an accepted, though hidden, bit of national heritage, even if illegal.

“What did we do?” pleaded Flora Marinescu, Petre’s sister and the wife of the man accused of re-killing him. “If they’re right, he was already dead. If we’re right, we killed a vampire and saved three lives. . . . Is that so wrong?”

Yes, according to the Romanian State Police. Its view, expressed by Constantin Ghindeano, the chief agent for the region, is that vampires aren’t real, and dead bodies in graves aren’t to be dug out and killed again, even by relatives. He doesn’t really have much more to say on this case, other than noting that Petre had been removed from his grave, his heart had been cut out and it was presumed to have been consumed by his relatives.

Ghindeano added that police were expanding the investigation, which began in mid-January, to include the after-deaths of others in area.

“The investigation is ongoing, and we expect to file charges later,” he said, referring to possible charges of disturbing the peace of the dead, which could carry a three-year jail term. “We are determining whether this was an isolated case or whether there is a pattern in the village.”

Romania has been filled with news of the vampire-slaying investigation, and villagers admit there’s a pattern, but they argue that that’s the reason these matters shouldn’t make it to court. There’s too much of it going on, and too few complain about the practice.

Vampire slaying is a custom that’s been passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, for generations beyond memory, not just in this tiny village of 300 huts astride a dirt cart path about 100 miles southwest of Bucharest, but in scores of villages throughout southern Romania.

Little has changed since the days that Turkish invaders rolled through 500 years ago, seeking the mineral riches of Transylvania just to the north.

By day, the people are Roman Catholics. At night, they fear the strigoi, or vampires.

On a recent afternoon, the village’s single store, which also serves as its lone bar, was filled with men drinking hard, as they explained the vampire facts to a stranger.

Most had at least one vampire in their family histories, and many were related to vampire victims. Most had learned to kill a vampire while still children.

Theirs is not a Hollywood tale, and they laugh at Hollywood conventions: that vampires can be warded off by crosses or cloves of garlic, or that they can’t be seen in mirrors. Utter nonsense.

Vampires were once Catholics, were they not? And if a vampire can be seen, the mirror can see him.

And why would you wear garlic around your neck? Are you adding taste?

No, vampires are humans who have died, commonly babies before baptism or people unfortunate enough to have black cats jump over their coffins.

Vampires occur everywhere, but in busy cities no one notices, the men said.

Matthew Schofield: 202-383-6066, @mattschodcnews

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