Mass grave raises ghosts of 'Dracula' village's past

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CACIULATI (Reuter) - 'This is the 105th skeleton we've found, but still no key to the mystery,' said Adrian Vartires, the Romanian prosecutor. He was kneeling by human remains at the bottom of a pit in the grounds of a castle near Bucharest. Some say it is a mass grave of secret police victims. Others believe it may be a Second World War massacre site. Even Dracula is suspected.

Mr Vartires, 39, emerged from the pit into the thin morning mist holding a skull. 'I'm sure this is a mark left by a bullet,' he said, pointing to a little hole at the back of the skull. 'But it's up to the laboratory to confirm it.' Romanian investigators have been trying since last October to solve the riddle of the grave in the village of Caciulati, 20 miles north of Bucharest.

Some skeletons, of both adults and children, bear marks indicating the victims suffered a violent death. But Mr Vartires says he cannot establish when they were buried because of lack of money for new forensic equipment.

'Some of the victims might have been buried any time between 1945 and 1955,' said one forensic laboratory bulletin. Mr Vartires said rainwater and an 'acid substance' poured over the victims before burial had complicated matters.

Amid the uncertainty, speculation mounts. Horror stories began circulating in Caciulati as villagers guessed at the identity of the bodies in the park. Some even said they might be victims of vampires. Others believed they were people executed by Russian or German soldiers during the Second World War.

'It was Dracula. He sucked the blood of his victims and buried them in the park,' said one villager when the first three skeletons, of women, were exhumed. The castle was built in 1837 by the ruling family of Prince Ghica on a site which once belonged to medieval ruler Vlad Tepes, who inspired the character of the vampire Dracula.