In 1818 in the Scioto Valley of southwestern Ohio, there one hot summer day occurred a murder trial that involved an angry bitter old mountain man named Crile Williams.
Crile had suspected his brother Clayborne was stealing his horses and on a damp foggy morning Crile was hunting rabbits in the woods near his cabin when he noticed a man moving about suspiciously near his land. Suspecting it to be his brother Crile fired a shot, hitting the man square in the head. Upon walking over Crile realized that the man was dead and furthermore that it was not his brother, but a neighbor, Louis. Crile turned and ran.
Other neighbors found the body and realized immediately the man had been murdered. As Crile was known as a very angry man who drank with the devil and sometimes kicked dogs around, he was suspected. Boot prints found near the body were said to have been the same as Crile’s and the bullet extracted from the murdered man’s skull was said to have come from Crile’s rifle. Rumor spread across the region that Crile was the murderer, though when questioned he adamantly denied his involvement. Several months passed without any arrests and locals decided to hold a trial of their own to find the murderer.
There was a tale in this area that said when a murderer touched the corpse of the man he murdered it would bleed. On a sweltering July day, Louis’s body was removed from the grave and placed in a courthouse. All of the men were required to come up one by one and touch the corpse. Folks were convinced that when Crile touched it black blood would spout from the bullet hole and blood worms would emerge. As expected, one by one the townspeople laid their hands on the corpse and nothing happened. Then it was Crile’s turn.
“Crile Williams stepped past the other men,” describes Michael Jay Katz in his book Buckeye Legends: folktales and lore from Ohio. “He walked slowly, as slow as pond water. When he got to the table, he examined the body all over. He looked at it from head to toe. He put out a hand and he touched the shoulder, just like the other men had touched it. Then he turned, and again, as slow as molasses in January, he passed out of the room and into the glaring sun in the street outside…Nothing happened—nothing whatsoever.”
Some thought the body had been too long in the grave for the test to work, others speculated Crile had bewitched it; some figured maybe Crile wasn’t guilty after all. The story may be farfetched but it does have some precedent. In Eastern Europe, during the 18th century, it was also believed that a bleeding corpse could yield certain clues, in this case, the presence of vampirism. One of the earliest and most well-documented cases occurred in Serbia in the 1700s. A man named Peter Plogojowitz lived in the village of Kisilova and died in 1725. Within eight days of his death, nine other people perished, all dying from strange ailments that killed them within 24 hours. On their death-beds, the victims claimed to have been choked by Peter during the night. His wife said he came to her one night, looking for his shoes. Frightened, she moved to another village. Peter later came back to his house demanding food from his son and when his son refused, Peter brutally murdered him. Villagers decided to dig up Peter’s body and examine it for signs of vampirism, such as the absence of decomposition and freshly growing hair, beard, and nails.
As a local priest looked on, the villagers viewed the exhumed body. Astonishingly, it was indeed undecomposed, fresh hair and a beard were growing, there was new skin and nail growth and blood could be seen in the mouth. The distressed villagers drove a stake through Peter’s heart, which caused a great amount of fresh blood to flow from the ears and mouth. The body was burned but it wouldn’t be the last case of vampirism in the region. Years later, a woman named Sava Savanović who lived in an old watermill is said to have killed several millers and drank their blood.