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8 Real-Life Vampire Crimes

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This Sunday, America’s war against vampire-kind will be reignited when the sixth season of True Blood premieres on HBO. While there’s no real evidence to prove the existence of vampires (unless you count that creepy photo of Nicolas Cage), murderers and other nefarious types have been blaming their evil deeds on bloodlust for more than 400 years. Here are eight examples.

1. COUNTESS ELIZABETH BÁTHORY

An early adopter of the vampire defense was Countess Elizabeth Báthory, a member of the Hungarian royal family whose cruelty toward her female servants was said to have included drenching them in water and leaving them to freeze to death outside in the winter. But it wasn’t until 1609, following the murder of a young noblewoman which Báthory staged to look like a suicide, that she was made accountable for her crimes.

While it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction in Báthory’s case, the legend surrounding her suggests that she killed more than 650 women and bathed in their blood (which she believed to have restorative powers). Báthory and four of her servants were eventually charged with 80 counts of murder, though the countess died while under house arrest before ever being brought to trial. In the book Dracula Was a Woman, historian Raymond T. McNally claims that Báthory was in part the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s famous bloodsucker.

2. FRITZ HAARMANN

Also known as “The Vampire of Hanover,” Fritz Haarmann was one of the world’s first serial killers. And one of its most prolific. Between 1918 and 1924, he murdered at least two dozen people, many of whom he killed by biting through their necks. On December 19, 1924, Haarmann was sentenced to death by guillotine for his crimes; he was beheaded on April 15, 1925. So that scientists could study Haarmann’s brain, his head was preserved in a jar. It is kept at a medical school in Göttingen, Germany.

3. RICHARD CHASE

A lifelong fascination with blood led to a horrific, month-long murder spree that turned Richard Chase into “The Vampire of Sacramento.” Between 1977 and 1978, Chase murdered, disemboweled, and drank the blood of six people, ranging in age from 22 months to 36 years. Chase chose his victims at random, but only entered those homes where the door was open. “If the door was locked that meant you weren't welcome,” he stated in court. Chase was sentenced to death after being found guilty on all six counts of first-degree murder, but took his own life with an overdose of stockpiled antidepressants in December of 1979.

4. JAMES P. RIVA

James P. Riva was just 23 years old when he killed his wheelchair-bound grandmother in Marshfield, Massachusetts in 1980, stabbing her repeatedly and shooting her four times through the heart with bullets he had painted gold. In order to cover up the crime, he then burned down her house. When questioned, Riva claimed that he was a 700-year-old vampire who killed his grandmother in order to drink her blood. He later changed his story, saying that he had acted in self-defense; Riva believed that his grandmother was the vampire and that she was using an ice pick to drain his blood at night. In 1981, Riva was sentenced to life in prison for second-degree murder and arson.

5. RODERICK FERRELL

Role-playing crossed into real life for “Vampire Killer” Roderick Ferrell in 1996, when the teenaged leader of a Vampire Clan brought a few of his followers from Murray, Kentucky to Eustis, Florida to murder the parents of his girlfriend, Heather, so that she could be initiated into his coven. After beating Heather’s father with a crowbar, Ferrell and a friend used cigarettes to burn a “V” into his chest. Upon his arrest, Ferrell told police that they would never be able to contain him because he was an all-powerful, 500-year-old vampire named Vesago. He wasn’t. Ferrell became the country’s youngest prisoner on death row in 1998, though his sentence has since been commuted to life without parole.

6. CAIUS DOMITIUS VEIOVIS

If you’re wondering what “real-life” vampires think of Twilight, Caius Domitius Veiovis has a very firm opinion. “Pop culture inspires me to vomit hot blood,” Veiovis wrote in a letter to Massachusetts’ Berkshire Eagle newspaper in 2011. Veiovis—who is set to stand trial in early 2014 for the abduction and murder of three men in Massachusetts and was convicted of aggravated assault charges in Maine over the ritualistic drinking of a teenage girl’s blood years before—has a forked tongue, sharpened teeth, implanted horns and the numbers “666” tattooed across his forehead. “I have never seen this silly movie,” he continued, “nor have I read the books, nor would I ever—even now—waste my time with such useless drivel.” Point taken.

7. ALLAN MENZIES

Allan Menzies was obsessed with the 2002 vampire film Queen of the Damned, which he had borrowed from his best friend, Thomas McKendrick. Watching it up to three times each day, Menzies began to believe that the main character, Akasha, was real and wanted him to kill someone so that he, too, could become a vampire. “I knew I had to murder somebody,” Menzies said at his trial. He decided on McKendrick after his friend insulted Akasha, prompting Menzies to stab him 42 times, hit him with a hammer, drink his blood and consume part of his brain. Menzies died in prison of an apparent suicide just over a year after being sentenced to life.

8. JOSEPHINE SMITH

A shuttered Hooters restaurant may not be the first place you’d think of as a vampire lair, but it’s where 22-year-old Josephine Smith attacked a 69-year-old homeless man in 2011 as he slept in St. Petersburg, Florida. Smith allegedly told the man that “I am a vampire, I am going to eat you,” before she bit off pieces of his face, lips, and arm. The victim managed to escape and call police, who found Smith covered in blood at the crime scene with no recollection of the incident.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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