A group of teenagers followed a young man dressed in black as he wove his way through the trees on a path all of them knew by heart. Eventually, they made it to a dilapidated building in the middle of the woods, it was covered in graffiti, with broken out windows. This was their lair, a place where the teens could drink one another’s blood in the firelight, under the watchful gaze of the boy in black. His name was Roderick “Rod” Ferrell. They were his Vampire Clan. He called himself Vesago, a 500-year-old vampire and after tonight, he would be a killer.
Rod Ferrell’s cult of blood drinkers, included Howard Anderson, Dana Cooper, Charity Keesee, and Heather Wendorf. The group was known in the town of Murray, Kentucky like most lost youth are, as troublemakers and outsiders. All five members had their own baggage, they found acceptance in Rod’s vampire fantasy and embraced the culture.
Heather would later recount that while she didn’t think any of them took the vampirism seriously, it was “Something to have, something special in your life you felt secret about.” While all of them adored Ferrell, it was Heather who stole his heart. She told him about how her home life was “hell” and how she felt trapped by her parents. Some reports state she told him her father hurt her and that stirred something in Ferrell. Something with roots deep in his past and his own abuse.
His mother, Sondra Gibson, brought him into the world when she was just sixteen. She’d only been married to his father for three weeks before they split and she moved back in with her parents. An emotionally damaged teenager, now suddenly a mother, doesn’t always make the best decisions. But she doted on her son, the only man in her life.
It was Sondra who first exposed Rod to her fascination with vampires. They would watch Dracula movies together and she even got him involved later with Vampire: The Mascarade, which would become a big part of his fantasy.
There are those that believe that her love went beyond what a mother should have for a child. Rod himself stated as he grew older he developed a complex relationship with his mother, a love-hate dynamic. Some reports state he confided his grandfather molested him and many suspect the abuse wasn’t just by the old man. They go on to cite letters written by Sondra, 34 at the time, to a 14-year-old boy.
”I longed to be near you, for your embrace.” Sondra wrote to the child “Yes . . . to become a vampire, a part of the family, immortal and truly yours forever. I only hope that one day you will once again return to Murray. You will then come for me and cross me over. And I will be your bride for eternity and you my sire.”
Rod would travel with the rest of the cult from Kentucky to Eustis, Florida on November 25th, 1996 to “rescue” Heather from her parents. That rescue ended with both her father, Richard Wendorf and her mother Ruth, dead. Ferrell and Anderson beat them to death with a crowbar and danced over their bodies. Rod beat in Richard’s skull over a dozen times while he slept on the couch. He then bludgeoned Ruth when she entered the living room from the kitchen.
According to Rod Ferrell, he didn’t truly know what made him kill Richard but he had no intention of killing Ruth until she surprised him and tossed scalding coffee on him. Howard Anderson tells a different story, that he had tried to calm the frenzied Ferrell before the bloodshed started. Whichever story was true, they both ended with the two boys fleeing the house, covered in blood, in the Wendorf’s car.
They picked up the girls, including Heather and drove to Baton Rouge Louisiana. They were halfway there before Jennifer Wendorf, Heather’s sister, came home to find the bodies. The investigators were then faced with one the most brutal home invasion Flordia had seen. Why? How? Both of those questions can be answered with one name, Heather Wendorf.
She had runway before to meet up with Ferrell and the others only to find out the car, their rescue ride, had broken down. So when the cult came up with the idea to steal her parent’s car, Heather struck up a deal with Rod. She would go back and unlock the home so he could steal the keys to the car but only if he would “cross her over”. An act that involved her drinking his blood. They sealed the blood pact in a graveyard. When police came and arrested them in Baton Rouge, Charity Keesee had called her mother for money and gave away their location, Heather claimed she had no idea her parents were dead.
After the teens were arrested on November 28th, the whole case went up like a sideshow attraction. Rod Ferrell would tell the press it was a rival vampire gang that had framed them for the killings. A video would be found of Rod weeping and laughing after the murders while in Louisiana. Police would release they found a letter from Heather Wendorf that she had left for her parents on the night she ran away that read “I love you both so much”. The case became so highly publicized that jury selection was twice as hard.
As the noose grew tighter around all their necks, bonds began to break. Keesee told police that Rod had arrived covered in blood the night of the murder. Anderson, his partner in the dance of death, confided to his mom and a cellmate that he had tried to stop Rod who had just “gone crazy.” Even Heather, Ferrell’s Juliet, bowed off the stage.
She had proclaimed her innocence and ignorance of the murders immediately. In letters to her sister, she placed full blame on Rod. A grand jury found Heather blameless in her parent’s slaying and she even gave a deposition to the trial team.
How did Rod plan to defend himself, now that his vampire cult members had turned against him? When the police ruled out his story of another rival vampire gang doing a frame job, he told his attorneys that he suffered from blackout spells. Could last for hours and he couldn’t remember anything that happened during. His mother came forward to cast doubt on Heather’s innocence, stating that Heather had been talking about wanting her parents dead for a long time.
To their credit, his defense attorneys tried their best. They tried to put forward that Ferrell had been high on drugs and booze the night of the killing. Also, he wasn’t in his right mind anyway, presenting a diagnosis of personality disorders and Asperger Syndrom.
The evidence, however, was just too much to contend with. Boot prints in the Wendorf’s blood was matched to Ferrell. Oh, and there was the confession. Rod Ferrell confessed after he was arrested. His lawyers had been trying to keep it out of court but when the judge ruled that the jury would be allowed to hear it, even Johnnie Cochran would have thrown in the towel. It contained such damning words as when Rod spoke about killing Ruth:
“…By that time, you know, it was pretty obvious, I had blood on me and a crowbar in my hand, I was fixing to say, yeah, I want to have coffee with you, son of a bitching smartass, but anyway then that’s when she lunged at me, cause I was actually going to let her live, but after she lunged at me I just took the bottom of the crowbar, and kept stabbing it through her skull and whenever she fell down I just continually beat her until I saw her brains falling on the floor, cause that pissed me off…”
At that point, Rod Ferrell realized that his chances of walking out of that courtroom a free man was about as high as a snowball’s chance in hell. He pled guilty and told the court that no one else was involved, that Anderson was just there and didn’t even touch the Wendorofs. At 17 he was sentenced to death, making him the youngest inmate on death row. A record he would hold until 2000, when his sentence was commuted to life in prison without the chance of parole. Upon his plea, records recount that his mother shouted: “We Live Forever!”
The judge showed little mercy on Howard Anderson, whatever his real role in the killings truly was. Anderson also pled guilty and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, without parole. The two girls admitted their guilt as well. Dana Cooper was sentenced to 17 and a half years, Charity Keesee was given 10 and a half years.
But what happened to Heather Wendorf and what was her true role in these tragic events? Was she just another victim of Vasago’s mesmerizing delusions or was she the one who pointed the loaded gun that was Rod at her parents and pulled the trigger? Since the convictions, she has changed her name and started a new life.
Dana Cooper has also come out and stated Heather had no idea of Rod’s plan. Cooper mirrors Anderson’s account of the night of the killings, that Rod had been worked up and talked about murdering Richard and Ruth before they had even left to steal the car.
The Vampire Cult Murders, as they came to be called, have fascinated the world over. Rod and his vampires become the subject of everything from films to books, such as The Embrace by Aphrodite Jones. They even inspired the Legendary Shack Shakes to write Blood On The Bluegrass, a modern-day dark folk song.
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(If you enjoyed reading about Rod Ferrell, feel free to check out other killers in my Human Monsters category.)