Connecticut’s ‘vampire’ now has a face

Facial reconstructions still fascinate the general public, and the announcement of this type of work by research teams is increasingly common. It’s the turn of a man nicknamed the “Vampire of Connecticut” to come back to life… at least virtually. His DNA sequencing revealed nothing monstrous, but it did allow the research team to learn more about this man buried in such a way that he could never come out of his grave.

In the 1990s in Griswold, Connecticut, a late 18th century tombe century revealed a particular treatment of corpses. Archaeologists were surprised to discover that the occupant of the tomb had obviously been dug up to be buried again, positioning his head and limbs on his rib cage. Faced with such gestures on the part of the living, it is a theory linked to folklore that has appeared in the eyes of researchers. Indeed, at that time, the suspicion of being a night prowler was not something insignificant, and it could lead to very specific practices with the dead to ensure that they never returned.

Detecting a Vampire in 18th Century New England

The terror for villagers to find themselves in the presence of a possible vampire would have pushed them, to a certain extent, to manipulate the corpse of the latter to ensure that he never returned to harm the living. While this case may seem very strange, it gives good clues to the fears of the time in question. In such cases, some dead people could have their hearts removed post-mortem, but the man from the Connecticut grave is apparently unaffected by this practice. To spot a vampire corpse in the 18th centurye century in New England, manifestations from the corpse were expected such as exhalations, nervous reflexes or even various noises, not to mention the flow of fluids. A panel of natural and relatively mundane reactions when a body decomposes but which were interpreted as signs of life at the time…

Some initials on a coffin and an investigation

On the coffin of the individual, the researchers found no name apart from these few pieces of information: “JB-55”. Thanks to meticulous DNA sequencing work set up with forensic teams to trace the links between all the individuals in the cemetery, one individual stands out – a certain John Barber – and his story is not so vampiric. On the other hand, it provides information on the perception of certain diseases over time. In particular tuberculosis which gave a disturbing appearance to the patients with a very pale complexion, marked weakness and characteristic emaciation.

John Barber certainly didn’t appear to be stalking prey at night, rather he was a farmer with poor physical condition. His skeleton revealed a poorly treated broken collarbone and an arthritic knee. The lesions on his ribs and the period of his death seem to indicate to researchers that it was tuberculosis that carried the man away in connection with a local epidemic wave. A difficult end of life, and symptoms that can quickly frighten the living with, for example, the presence of blood when coughing. In addition, the lack of knowledge of certain aspects of tuberculosis, in particular its transmission, could have scared people who had been with the patients. The 55-year-old man has had a face since 2022 thanks to a team that worked on his bones and DNA sequencing. If this proposal for reconstruction is on certain points subjective as for the expressions, the wrinkles or the shape of the lips, it allows to put a face on the skeleton of a man unjustly accused of being a creature whereas in the end, he was only ill.

Thanks to a combination of several scientific specialties, the identification of this man has been possible over the analyzes of the last thirty years, informing us so much about the perception of certain evils in the 18e century, than about behaviors related to the dead when the population is afraid of them.


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