SLIDESHOW: Murray 'Vampire Clan' Murders Happened 20 Years Ago This Week
This week marks 20 years since Rod Ferrell, a 16-year-old Calloway County High School student, led a group of blood-drinking teens on a road trip to Lake County, Florida, where he brutally killed Richard and Ruth Wendorf, the parents of one of his friends.
The murders occurred on Monday, November 25, 1996. Three days later, the group was arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana - on Thanksgiving day - ending a crime spree that shone a light on Murray as home to the so-called “Vampire Clan”.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the events that unfolded that fall, from archives of the Murray Ledger & Times located at Murray State’s Pogue Library.
The headlines actually started to appear more than a month before the killings when Ferrell and another juvenile vandalized the Murray-Calloway County Animal Shelter on the evening of October 14, killing two puppies and letting dozens of dogs out of their kennels.
“We’re dealing with some sick individuals and I want them caught,” Sheriff Stan Scott told the Ledger & Times. “This goes way beyond a simple breaking and entering. One of these animals was stomped to death and the other had its legs either pulled or cut off. This is a case of absolute vandalism and these people need to be caught.”
By November 2, Scott told the Ledger he was ready to charge two juveniles with cruelty to animals, criminal attempt to commit burglary and criminal trespassing. This was also the first mention of a possible cult element.
“Due to the way the animals were dealt with, there was some indication that the incident was related to some kind of cult activity,” Scott told the Ledger. “These are the only two we can charge at this time, but the investigation is continuing.”
In the same article, Scott estimated that there were as many as 10 people in the group. Reporter Jim Mahanes wrote that the break-in "galvanized" the Murray community, with monetary donations and a $2,000 security system gifted to the shelter. Mahanes declined to be interviewed for this story.
The next mention of Ferrell would come on November 26 in a story with the headline, "Calloway teen sought in connection to Florida murders". It didn't identify Ferrell by name, but said that the same teen responsible for the animal shelter break-in was wanted for the Wendorf murders. The article said he was accompanied by at least two other juveniles from western Kentucky, as well as Heather Wendorf, the teenage daughter of the victims.
The other teens involved were eventually revealed as Scott Anderson, Charity Keesee and Dana Cooper. Cooper was the only non-juvenile at 19 years old.
While the group was apprehended in Baton Rouge on November 28 after Keesee made a phone call to her mother, the time before their capture was filled with rumors and speculation of their whereabouts.
On the 27th, a 16-year-old Calloway County High School student lied to police and said he was approached by either Rod or Scott that day at school and threatened. The student, perhaps inspired by the O.J. Simpson chase, said the group was driving a white Ford Bronco. While police were taking the student’s statement at his house, the power went out due to a nearby traffic accident. Sheriff Scott told the Ledger he sent in every available unit to the boy's house, thinking the power outage was the Vampire Clan's doing.
The boy’s false statement led to a high speed chase involving a white Bronco later that night in Graves County. Also that night, Ferrell’s grandfather said that he had spoken to Rod, who had told him he was in western Kentucky. Scott said he had received at least ten reports of western Kentucky sightings while the group was on the lam.
After the teens were caught and extradited to Florida, attention turned to their connections to vampirism. An Associated Press article printed in the Ledger reported that one of Heather Wendorf's friends testified that she witnessed Ferrell cut himself, hours before the murders, to let Cooper drink his blood.
Mahanes reported on December 3 that Ferrell and Anderson had been associated with a local group of roleplayers who called themselves, "VAMPS" for Victorian Age Masquerade Performance Society. The VAMPS would dress up in Victorian garb and play the roleplaying game, Vampire: The Masquerade. Calloway County High School principal Jerry Ainley held a news conference where he addressed his school's connection to the VAMPS.
“If parents would monitor what their children wore to school, there would be less problems with the children seemingly becoming associated with a particular group such as the so-called VAMPS,” Ainley said at the time. “If parents knew where and with whom their children are associating with at night and on weekends, many of the problems in today’s society, including schools, would be solved.”
Mahanes reported that the VAMPS' game ended after "several members got deeper and deeper into vampirism and began to confuse fantasy with reality." The group's leader, James Yohe, eventually conducted an interview with the Ledger on December 11 where he downplayed Ferrell's involvement with the group and said that it was mostly an improvisational exercise.
"People, no matter what, are always going to find a scapegoat and I don't want VAMPS to be that. We started out as a positive influence," Yohe said at the time.
Heather Wendorf was eventually cleared in her parents' murders. Keesee was sentened to 10 and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of principal to third-degree murder. Cooper received 17 and a half years for the same charges. Scott Anderson is serving a life sentence for being a principal to first-degree murder. And Ferrell, initially sentenced to death, is also serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.