Cindy is a paranormal enthusiast and author of over twenty books on the subject of true supernatural phenomena.
An Unexpected Transformation
On September 15, 1928, the Connecticut-based publication the New Britain Herald ran a story that grabbed the attention of its readers and the scientific community alike. It involved a young boy in Baltimore, Maryland whose behavior was so abhorrent that some came to consider him the closest thing to a vampire that they had ever encountered.
Seven-year-old Bernard Walassic had been a boy no different from any other until 1926 when he was stricken with diphtheria, a bacterial infection marked by labored breathing, difficulty swallowing, high fever, and ulcerations of the skin. What's more, the toxins that the potentially fatal condition sends coursing through the bloodstream can result in paralysis, nerve damage, and in extreme cases, heart failure.
After spending several weeks in the hospital, a seemingly recovered Bernard was discharged. Although his physician had given him a clean bill of health, his mother sensed that something wasn't right. She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but her instincts told her that the son she knew and loved had been replaced by something decidedly sinister.
Not long after settling back in, the boy began acting out in ways he never had before. On one occasion, when his mother gave him money to buy penny candy, he came home instead with a pocketful of firecrackers that he lit and tossed into the oven. His horrified parents disciplined him for the dangerous stunt, which only served to feed his desire to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior.
In the ensuing weeks, he would come up missing time and again, only to be found lying in the middle of the street on the trolley tracks. Witnesses claimed that they had observed him laughing maniacally as the vehicles approached. From where they stood, it appeared that he was daring the drivers to hit him. When asked what had possessed him to behave so foolishly, he had stated matter-of-factly that he enjoyed the rush.
Before his illness had taken hold, Bernard had been a happy child who had shown no outward signs of being a malcontent. For whatever reason, following his bout with diphtheria, running away had become his favorite pastime. In one particularly unsettling incident, he disappeared and was later found wandering around in a daze some twelve miles from home.
Another of his newfound behavioral changes was an uncontrollable need to destroy everything he could get his hands on. When he wasn't breaking objects belonging to his family, he was vandalizing the property of others.
As concerning as these actions were, they were nothing compared to what was to come. At the age of seven, Bernard's compulsion to wreak havoc took a terrifying turn that would make him a pariah among his peers, and for good reason.
The boy's frightening transformation came to light one afternoon when a five-year-old playmate named Sidney Eppel came running home with a horrible wound to his face. The story he told his mother would prove to be the beginning of a nightmare for the neighborhood children.
According to the youngster, he had been outside minding his own business when Bernard had walked up to him and, without saying a single word, had grabbed him by the face with both hands and taken a bite out of his forehead.
A brief struggle had ensued, during which Sidney had managed to break free and make a mad dash for his front door. Even though his mother could clearly see the nasty gash above his right eye, common sense had led her to doubt his outlandish story. Rather than accepting his version of events, she chose to believe that his injury was the result of rough play. Writing the episode off as a case of "boys will be boys," she cleaned him up and put the matter to rest.
While the ordeal had been traumatic for little Sidney Eppel, it had the opposite effect on his alleged assailant. Strangely invigorated by the experience, Bernard could hardly wait to do it again. His next target would be another neighborhood boy, six-year-old Edward Welsh.
In a repeat of the previous incident, the unsuspecting child had been set upon as he was playing in his yard one sunny afternoon. The frenzied attack would leave him with injuries to his face that were nearly identical to those suffered by young Mr. Eppel.
Within days, Bernard struck again. This time, his victim was a three-year-old tot named Melvin Sachs. Following this equally violent assault, parents knew that the days of turning a blind eye to what was happening were over. After a neighborhood meeting, they decided that something had to be done about the boy who was preying upon their children.
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What to Do About Bernard?
When worried parents began comparing notes, they were shocked to discover that the number of attacks were far greater than they had first thought. As they delved further into the phenomena, one family after another started coming forward to say that their kids had come home with marks on their faces, hands and legs that they claimed had been left there by Bernard's teeth.
Upon being confronted with the complaints against their son, the boy's long-suffering parents had little to say in his defense. They knew better than anyone that something was wrong with Bernard, they just didn't know how to go about putting him right. When they asked him why he had done such terrible things to his friends, their once gentle son had offered the chilling response: "I like to see the blood flow."
The Walassics searched far and wide for someone who could help their clearly disturbed child. After reaching out to the Family Welfare Society of Baltimore, they were informed that the best course of action would be to have him committed to a mental health facility indefinitely.
As it happened, this wasn't the first time they had heard this suggestion. Long before he started taking out his aggression on his weaker playmates, Bernard's parents had consulted a physician who recommended that he be institutionalized. Since it was early days, they had balked at the notion. Now, in light of the upsetting new developments, they began to rethink their position.
In a last-ditch effort to keep him at home, they made arrangements for their son to be evaluated by a child psychiatrist who practiced at the highly esteemed Johns Hopkins University. After performing an exhaustive examination, Dr. Leslie B. Hohmans informed the boy's parents that he was "emotionally unstable" and, if left to his own devices, would only get worse over time.
He explained that their child had admitted that he enjoyed causing pain to others, which was a huge red flag at any age. The biting, rather than being a symptom of blood lust, was merely a means to an end. The doctor was convinced that it was his victims' fear that fed Bernard, not their blood.
As the consultation was coming to a close, Dr. Hohman made sure to drive home the point that the boy's only hope for a normal future lay in round-the-clock inpatient treatment that needed to begin sooner than later. His parents, who were prepared to do anything to get their son back, reluctantly agreed.
When word of his extraordinary malady spread, Bernard became a darling of the psychiatric community. His case was so unique in the annals of medicine that scientific researchers from all over the state began requesting access to his files. It wouldn't be long before the public too would start to take notice of the "Vampire Boy" who had been living in their midst.
While doctors pondered the nature of Bernard's affliction, his mother offered up her own theory, which involved trauma she had experienced while he was still in utero. It seemed that when she was five months pregnant, a stray dog had attacked her in the street. Although the physical damage had been minimal, the incident had left emotional scars that were slow to heal.
Not long after the run-in with the vicious canine, she had witnessed the aftermath of an automobile accident in which her next-door neighbors had suffered horrific injuries. She feared that the images of the grisly scene that remained fresh in her mind had also somehow imprinted on the still-developing fetus.
Dr. Hohman was quick to squelch this unfounded bit of speculation, assuring her that there was no connection between her son's mental health issues and the incidents she described. In his expert opinion, the events—though significant to her—had no bearing on her son's psyche, then or now.
Contrary to his stance, research has subsequently shown that a sudden spike in the stress hormone levels of an expectant mother can indeed alter the growth patterns of a fetus' developing brain.
After months of intensive therapy, Bernard was released into his family's care. He would continue to receive outpatient treatment for several years until his mental health team determined that he was aging out of his psychosis. From that point on, in a risky roll of the medical dice, his future was left up to chance.
His mother would later say that his outbursts were few and far between in the years to come. Still, other children gave him a wide berth since there was no way of knowing when he would snap. As a result, Bernard was forced to isolate himself from kids his own age. While not ideal, it was the only way to ensure their safety.
A Rare Condition
What became of the boy who is said to have suffered from a condition known as "Vampire Syndrome" is unclear. Given that his story faded from public view, it can be assumed that he went on to live an uneventful life. Apparently, an ill-behaved child who had taken pleasure in biting chunks out of his friends is only newsworthy for so long before people begin to lose interest.
While no public records could be found pertaining to Bernard Walassic, which could be the result of his having changed his name in an effort to distance himself from his past, a death notice for Baltimore resident Sidney Eppel is easily attainable online. Born in 1923, his age and locale match those of the first known victim. If they are indeed one and the same, he lived a long life, passing away in 2011 of natural causes at the age of eighty-eight.
"Vampire Syndrome," as it turns out, is more common than one might think. With that said, it is unusual for the condition to manifest before puberty. An adult example was Richard Trenton Chase who slaughtered six people, including a young boy, during a murderous spree that began in December 1977 and ended in January 1978.
When questioned following his arrest, thirty-year-old Chase had asserted that he had been driven to kill by an insatiable thirst for blood. His medical records showed that he had been committed to psychiatric facilities in the past for feeding on animals in an attempt to quell the hunger that gnawed away at him morning, noon and night. Realizing that his fate was sealed, he would take his own life while awaiting trial rather than standing before a judge and jury.
If luck was on his side, a combination of medical care and time stopped Bernard Walassic from going down a similar path. How his bout with diphtheria led to a complete change in the boy's personality—presuming that it did—has never been adequately explained. Perhaps the scorching fever that often accompanies the disease rewired his brain, turning the mild-mannered child into an unholy terror who, at least for a time, struck fear in the heart of any youngster unfortunate enough to cross his path.
- New Britain Herald Archives (Page 11)
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.