Vampires come in many fictional forms, some of them serious, some of them silly. But what form do real vampires come in? Do vampires exist? There is a fascinating and suggestive tale from the history of New Orleans, one of America’s most haunted cities. Indeed, the gruesome story of the Carter brothers reveals something about vampires — and maybe about the Crescent City itself.
The Carter Bros.
The year was 1932. A young girl stormed down Royal Street, visibly panicked, her stride broken only by the diligent interception of a police officer. Her story sounded a bit farfetched: tied up by two brothers, along with several other victims, and held captive so the brothers could drink their blood.
The girl claimed that she was only able to escape due to her captors’ carelessness in securing her ropes. Somewhat skeptical, the police agreed to follow her back to the home on the corner of Royal and St. Ann. Once the police and the girl arrived at the home, which was owned by the Carter brothers, they were horrified to find, as the girl had described, four other victims, half-dead, tied to chairs in one of the rooms.
All victims had their wrists wrapped with bandages, moist and stained with blood. Two more bodies wrapped in blankets were tucked away in yet another room. The unmistakable suffocating odor of death permeated the apartment.
It seemed the brothers left early each morning just before daybreak and returned every evening just after dark. Immediately upon their return, they would take the bandages off each of the captive’s wrists and, using a knife, reopen their wounds until blood flowed freely from the victims’ cuts. They caught the blood in cups from which they drank until their hunger was sated. The brothers would then redress the wounds with fresh bandages. They spoke very little and gave no concern for their victims’ well-being. Rather, the kidnapped were no more than a food source headed for certain death.
Unaware that the girl had escaped, John and Wayne Carter went about their routine as usual. Only this time, the police waited for the brothers to return. They were quickly apprehended, and upon their capture, confessed almost immediately, begging to be murdered. The brothers explained to authorities that they were, in fact, vampires and would, if released, have no option but to continue to kill, as their need for drinking blood was beyond their control. It’s said the brothers were tried as serial killers, convicted and eventually executed.
Shaped by the Crescent City
How was it that the brothers, thinking themselves vampires, gifted with eternal life, could be so careless in their plans for survival? Perhaps it was the drastic changing environment in New Orleans that ultimately led to their demise.
During the early 1900s and Roaring Twenties, the city of New Orleans was bustling and booming. The busiest port in the country brought flourishing business and plenty of jobs. In fact, the city was coined “The Big Easy” because, at the time, work in New Orleans was so easy to find. A surplus of disposable income triggered a new sense of freedom with the celebration of nightclubs, new energetic music called jazz, loose women, the Storyville district, and excitement that was unmeasurable to anything the city had ever seen. It was a time of “anything goes,” footloose and fancy-free, that also created carelessness among residents and visitors to the city. No one was thinking of danger. If vampires truly had been in New Orleans at the time, it would surely have been easy to feast.
However, just a decade later came the stock market crash and with it the Great Depression. Everything changed almost overnight. People stayed at home, kept to themselves. The only wanderers were derelicts who roamed the city in search of a little easy work for something to eat. The downtrodden could often be found begging for food at the back doors of the homes of fine citizens for a little yard work. More often than not, these vagrants were granted work and a plate of food but were never invited into the home. Rather they sat with their plates on the porch steps, thankful for every morsel. The rug had been pulled out from underneath what had been a flourishing city, and lifestyles changed dramatically. New Orleans, however, known for its southern hospitality, has always found the most heartfelt way to care for its people. Dr. Peter Carl Graffagnion, a student at the time, reflects on the 1930s in his journal. He gives a lovely description of the environment in New Orleans for a youngster on a budget headed for medical school. It seems that seeking out the affordable meal in depressed New Orleans was part of the adventure:
Meanwhile, in spite of its prolonged poverty and political troubles, New Orleans in the 1930s was an interesting and enjoyable place in which to spend the student years. The living was easy. Food was cheap; a “poor-boy” sandwich (a half loaf of French bread sliced longitudinally, spread with mayonnaise, and packed with hot roast beef and fixings) cost 25 cents; a five or six course lunch at Maylie’s or Tujague’s was 50 cents; and in the lake front spots at West End near Bucktown you could eat your fill of boiled shrimp or crabs or crawfish for almost nothing and wash them down with a nickel glass of beer. The French Quarter then, even though subdued and at one of its low ebbs, was probably at its best from a student viewpoint. The droves of today’s investing tourists were nowhere to be seen; the handful of drug addicts and reefer-smokers kept to themselves and stayed hidden; there was only an occasional honky-tonk or second-rate night club along all of Bourbon Street, and you could wander around the whole Quarter in complete safety and innocence and never find trouble unless you deliberately set out to seek it
New Orleans Today
One can still find the charm in simple, delicious meals when on a budget or simply desiring a little New Orleans tradition. Complimentary red beans and rice can be found on Mondays, also known as washday, in ample supply in several historical restaurants and in many nightclubs through the city. Traditionally, women would put on a pot of red beans in the morning before they started the weekly laundry and, when the laundry was done, so were the rice and beans. Plate specials and private suppers are frequently hosted by families asking under ten dollars a plate for a healthy portion, and daily specials all throughout the city for traditional New Orleans cuisine are plentiful, even in modern-day New Orleans. For a vampire, New Orleans, when it comes to acquiring adequate nutrition, would have changed just as much as it did for mortals.
In the 1930s, for a vampire, stalking vagabonds would likely have been the most reliable source of food. If the Carter brothers and vampires existed in 1930s New Orleans, it would most likely have been the environment of the city at that time that would have led to their mistake. The time of feeding on prostitutes and carefree dock workers was long gone. It was a depressing time, so feeding on the misfortune of derelicts who had nowhere to turn but to the invitation of a vampire was their peril. It is possible that a young girl may have witnessed the capture of such a derelict and the Carter brothers had no choice but to take the youngster hostage as well. One would hope that it was a fluke that such a young victim was reportedly among the brothers’ captives, but realistically, what morals do a vampire hold?