The victims were Richard and Naoma Wendorf, a middle-aged couple from Eustis in Florida, about 15 minutes from Orlando's Disney World. One of the accused murderers is the Wendorfs' 14-year-old daughter Heather. Her alleged accomplices are Dana Cooper, 19, Scott Anderson, 16, Charity Keese, 16, and Roderick Ferrell, 16. Ferrell used to be Heather Wendorf's boyfriend.
Apart from Heather, they all come from Murray, 260 miles away, a small town in western Kentucky in a land of run-down shopping malls and bowling alleys. The homes are small and poorly maintained but it's a deeply religious community which has been shocked by details of how Heather's parents died.
"The Wendorfs were bludgeoned to pulp with a metal bar," says Sheriff Stan Scott, who was called to the house after Heather's 17-year-old sister Jennifer found the bodies in the family's dining room. "This was not a quick killing. The wounds were inflicted by at least three different individuals."
Scott says there was no evidence of satanic rituals at the Wendorfs' pretty bungalow but, he says, that does not mean that none took place. "These five individuals are part of a group that's about 30-strong. They have been under investigation for about two months."
Investigations began after Rod Ferrell allegedly broke into a dog rescue shelter and attacked more than 50 animals. Two were killed and one was later put to sleep because its hind legs had been ripped off. The legs were never found. When he was questioned Ferrell had small cuts all over his arms which he admitted were the result of vampire rituals. He told police he belonged to a group called "The Vampire Clan".
Ferrell is also the link between Kentucky and Florida. In 1995 he went to high school in Heather's home town; it was there that the couple met and he introduced her to vampire worship. "She was a real nice girl but deep down you could tell she had emotional problems," says Joe Barrett, a 15-year-old friend of Wendorf's. "When she started hanging out with Ferrell she changed. She started dyeing her hair purple or red and she wore all these long black clothes. She went around telling her friends she had `crossed over' and become a vampire."
Jeremy Hueber dated Heather for two months last year and confirms that she had become strange. "She enjoyed and got pleasure from drinking her blood and other people's blood," he says. "It grossed me out but she told me last month you could have the best sex only after a blood drink."
Whilst Rod Ferrell may have drawn Heather Wendorf into the vampire's circle of murder he is not described as the clan's ringleader. That honour goes to 19-year-old Dana Cooper. It was she who first took Ferrell to Murray's Vampire Hotel, a concrete skeleton of a building on a hill above the town with a view over the area's beautiful lakes.
Locals say the Vampire Hotel is not for the timid. Hidden in the woods, littered with beer cans and the remains of charred wood, the ruin looks like a bunker. "It's a chilling place," says Murray Sheriff Don Kelly. "The kids have sprayed all these symbols on the wall. We see lights up there some nights but by the time we get there they've always gone." The hotel is decorated with messages like "Me Killa" and "Follow Me to Death". There's also blood-red graffiti around the name "Kile Man". "Kile" is the word vampires used to describe somebody who has crossed over to become one of the undead.
According to Sandra Gibson, Ferrell's mother, Cooper took her son to the hotel to drink and practice secret rituals. They would light candles and practice sexual torture. Gibson knows all this because often she was there. The 35-year-old woman was recently charged with solicitation to commit rape in connection with her participation. Police say she wrote to a 14-year-old friend of her son offering sex and hinting she was involved in vampire type-activity. "I longed to be near you, to become a Vampire, a part of the family immortal and truly yours forever," the letter reads. "You will then come to for me and cross over with me and I will be your bride for eternity and you my sire."
Gibson says she has quit the vampire cult now because she became scared, although she still lives with a tattoo artist who has changed his first name to Kile. Gibson claims her son could not have been involved in the murders. She claims Cooper had already killed the Wendorfs when Ferrell arrived because "that's what Heather wanted".
The fear in Murray is fed by the fact that the town is a deeply religious community. The small churches that dot the largely rural landscape preach a version of Christianity that acknowledges the devil as a real and powerful force. "Evil is a reality," says Matthew Edgar at the Murray Baptist Mission. "There are demons in the world and Lord Jesus Christ is our only saviour from them. I am praying for the souls of these young people."
The events in Murray have sparked a wider concern about vampire worship, especially among American teenagers. Ever since the publication of the Anne Rice blockbuster Interview with a Vampire police and FBI officials have reported a growing upward trend in vampire incidents. These accelerated after Tom Cruise made blood-sucking look so glamorous in the movie of Rice's book. In Murray, that movie has been one of the most popular rentals among local youths and Ferrell once had to pay a $30 overdue charge for keeping the film more than two weeks. Ferrell had been trying to change his name to Lestat, the central figure in Interview with the Vampire.
The Internet has also played its part in spreading information about the cults, causing grave concern at the FBI's sex crime bureau in Washington, DC. They have investigated the Vampire Home Page on the World Wide Web for links to paedophilia gangs and they are investigating six killings nationwide that have apparent links to vampirism.
A cruise around the Internet will throw up 16 web sites devoted to vampire practices including addresses for the Vampire Journal and the Dead of Night, two vampire newspapers which give details on the correct way to suck blood. The Vampire Information Exchange gives details on how to contact other vampires and it has also been the subject of FBI inquiries. According to Murray police, Ferrell and Cooper both cruised these sites using computers at the local library.
There's a way that the terrified residents of Murray can keep safe, at least until the police get to the bottom of the Wendorf murders. The Vampire Research Council in New York, which collects statistics on vampires, say there has been a surge in blood-drinking incidents over the last five years. The council also issues an identikit of the average vampire. If he's male he should be around 26, five feet 10 inches tall, with very dark brown eyes and black hair. Females have the same hair and eyes but look about 23. Both are thin. The average male vampire weighs 11 stone, the average female 8. If you visit Kentucky any time soon it might be wise not to talk with anybody who answers these descriptionsn