Evil in the Blood
Romania is a beautiful country. Far more picturesque and bucolic than I would have thought. Then again, I’m not sure I gave it any thought, ever. My interest in Romania was purely Dracula related to perhaps a little Vlad & Elsibet thrown in. The idea that there was more to the country and its history was not lost on me, it just did not occupy much of my time.
Romania, Transylvania, in particular, was never a place I thought I would put my feet in, never mind spend 2 weeks exploring. I’m not sure I considered it a real place, to be honest. Instead, it was like Narnia or Oz, a place of magical creatures that one slipped into through the intercession of beings of far greater ethereal nature that one’s self. The door to such a land could not be approached by a mundane vehicle like a car or a plane. Instead, one must trip over the mythical lamp post, ride in the bar car of the orient express or bang one’s head on the cellar door. I was wrong. It merely took 28 hours of travel, including a 6-hour layover in Charles De Gaul Airport in Paris and 45 minutes drive through the maze of the old part of Bucharest.
My first night was exciting simply because I was as far east in the world as I had ever been. I was well and truly past the vacation spots of my friends and family and in “wait- really> you went there” territory. I am not above taking a little pride in pushing my boundaries. I had yet to see anything in the country. We had landed in darkness and rain with the last vestiges of a pink and fire sunset slipping below the blanket of the night sky. My excitement was palpable, and I pointed out, mostly to myself, the western businesses I recognized. We were in airport territory, which meant big box stores and car dealerships, though on a small scale when compared to Elizabeth NJ.
Our driver warned us that he would likely require a few attempts at finding our hotel. Its placement in the maze-like streets of the ancient old town hides it well. “The street has no signs, so you have to look for familiar sights,” he said as he reversed, having found something he recognized.
The Epoch Hotel is a new hotel that feels old. It occupies a small rise on a dead-end street, and the approach is luxurious but reasonable. When you enter the lobby, it is not unique. IN fact, one feels that it is intentionally not unique. The design call back to an earlier era, and one can imagine passionate heads bent towards each other in earnest dialogue while the best brandy is poured. The wood is dark and pristine, yet the seats are broad, comfortable, and more contemporary than one would expect. This is a modern “take” on a bygone era of luxury. It is hard not to appreciate it.
The night would not be uneventful, but would instead make me more excited to start our explorations the next day.
Despite its association in the western part of the world, Romanians do not love the idea of Dracula. In fact, they see to despise it, and they go to great lengths to assure visitors that there are no vampires in Romania. They cannot stand Dracula. Vlad the Impaler? Well..him they love.
Romania is a place of contradictions- hope and suspicion, faith and doubt, even the. The Countryside is fraught with it…rolling hills and the Carpathians in the distance are often stocked with large communist apartment blocks as if they dropped from the heavens.
Ghosts? They laugh at you. Spirits? Such silliness….and yet..ask one why they wear red? Or why they spit when a certain number appears…superstition they say..superstition and a strong belief that there are negative forces that can and will impact them if they are not vigilant. Yes, go to the doctor if you get sick, but try to remember, did someone, perhaps a red-headed someone look too hard at you today before you started coughing? Did you cut someone off in the grocery line, talk too loud on the bus….any of these things might provoke the evil eye, and if that was what was tickling your throat well, then your doctor’s visit was useless?
Better to be prepared and fight off the possible curse by wearing red. Perhaps a bracelet?
No..no…they do not believe in ghosts so much..but Strigoi? Well..maybe there was something to that after all.
Is evil personal? Does it walk on two legs? Is it capable of knowing you, being recognized by you? Is evil with a capital or lower case?
There is an old testament evil and a new testament evil…in one the ‘Evil’ is absolute, it walks and talks and has its own purpose, and you enter into the equation on its terms. The new testament is a movement of Evil, bad behavior, and unkind things and erosion of moral standards. But it is soft and individual. You enter into the equation either as the purveyor of the Evil or the random victim of it.
Neither are sexy per se. Does Evil, the dark mark, the relentless cruelty for the sake of itself, without cause, without explanation (he was abused as a child, her mother drank, etc.) but instead because that is the nature, that is the persona- does that exist? Can a demon, or inadequate blood or a generational curse indeed exist? And if it does, have we created the perfect world in which it can go undetected?
Romania was a for 40 some odd years a communist paradise. You’ll perhaps hear the air quotes around that phrase. After WWII, Romania was given a choice to become communist or not. The “Not” was not a real option, and Romanians became sudden comrades, removed from their farms, taken from their ancestral properties, their monarchy disbanded, and their world completely changed in one fell swoop under the ever-watchful eye of the communist party. Their lives and history forever changed.
In 1989 it all changed again with the Christmas Revolution when Communist DIctator Nicolae Ceaucescu (and his wife) were dragged from the massive Government Palace they lived in a summarily shot in the head for crimes against the people. The revolution was televised as they say, and the window through which he spoke his last public words is still visible and memorable to those alive at the time.
His death is a footnote here. So is much of his life. They are mile markers on the road. Their impact is unknowable and likely very faint, except in passing.
Since 1989 Romania has struggled with its identity. Today you will often hear those under 30 long for a monarchy, wish for a noble King to step in and resolve the morass of corruption that Communism and then Capitalism and Democracy has wrought. Communism was no workers paradise, and Democracy is a lie since the people who run the Government are the same communist who ran it 30 years ago. Instead, they long for the time their grandparents remember- when the King sat upon a throne placed there by God, kept there by the will of the people.
Perhaps it fantasy, perhaps it is real, but the feeling is undoubtedly vibrant today. Their knowledge of the rest of the world is only growing now, and their judgments are often swift and cutting when it comes to other Democracies. Religion, where it is practiced, is dominant for having been outlawed.
The people are complicated. Their history is dark and twisting, and they have been at a crossroads of the West to East and Mediterranean. The food is even involved, and the language closest to Italian sounds utterly different depending on where you are. Complicated. And very interesting.
As I wrote earlier, no one acknowledges the existence of ghosts. They are not frivolous like that, not given to such folly. However, they are also not fools, and they do believe in Strigoi- corrupt entities that can take over either the living or the dead. They can wreak havoc in one’s life, possess the right person, make a wrong person evil, raise the dead to torment the living, murder even.
But no ghost stories.
It may seem silly to hear that…like splitting hairs- but for the people of Romania it is not. It is an essential distinction between the cavalier and entertaining ghost stories of the West and the real horrors that the supernatural may provide. Remember, this is the land of Vlad the Impaler, a man remembered for his cruelty by the outside world and revered for his commitment to his country by Romanians. The coin has two sides.
In the spring and summer of 2019, a series of horrible crimes were committed. The story was unfolding in front of the public eyes. Two young women were abducted, seemingly randomly as they hitchhiked home. Part of Romania is further along than others when it comes to transport, and while hitchhiking is not a preferred method of travel, it is not as unusual as it is in the West these days. In some places, it is the only means available to people without cars. In April of 2019, an 18-year old woman named Luiza Melencu disappeared on her way home. Her family reported her missing. The police suggested that she may have run off with a lover or a friend. The family persisted and searched for her, but received little help in locating her. In the ensuing 3 months, they received 2 phone calls stating that she had moved to Switzerland and was living happily there. The calls were anonymous, and her family did not believe that Luiza was living in Switzerland. However, there was little they could do. IN July of 2019, another teenager, Alexandra Macesanum, 15, disappeared. She managed to contact the police emergency line (in Romania is it 112) THREE Times to ask for help and to describe her kidnapper and assailant. Despite giving clues to her location and desperately screaming for help (her last words ‘he is coming he is coming’ were shut off as the line was disconnected), the police did not reach her for 19 hours. The first two phone calls were not acted on as they were believed to be pranks. After the desperation of the 3rd call, her location was discovered quickly, but the police decided to wait for a search warrant.
As it turns out, such a warrant was not required, and the delay of 12 hours was fatal for Alexandra. By the time the police located the spot she had called from, she had been raped, dismembered, and set on fire. A search of the location also found evidence that Luiza had been present as well as her jewelry. The man who owned the horror hovel was named George Dinca, and he was no criminal mastermind. A mechanic by trade, Dinca lived in a ramshackle junkyard of a property. Broken glass and part of engines and machinery were strewn about the property. The police searched the woods and lakes of the area for additional victims, but so far have found none.
Dinca is 65 years old. He was married with 4 children, although his family did not live with him, not apparently communicate with him.
The crimes of Dinca are horrifying. The outrage felt by the people is profound. The police are now suspect because it took 19 hours to get to that young girl. 19 hours in which she most certainly was raped, abused and finally killed. 19 hours in which she no doubt struggled to save her life. Dinca is a monster, but the police were simply foolish and lazy and unresponsive and, to some, cow-towing to local thugs rather than doing their jobs.
The people want change, and they want to understand what happened. Protests and angry marches ensued, cries to believe victims when they called for help, demands for officials to step down were made and heard.
But there were whispers too. This was not the first time Romania the young women of Romania had been stalked by a bloodthirsty monster.
It was long said though little believed that violence was a crime of capitalism. The worker’s paradise of Communism prevented such ailments. Men and women were fulfilled and happy because all of their needs were met, and they were part of a community of equals. That was the schpiel, at least. In reality, Communism hid many serial killers, and the West does not have a corner on the killer market.
In 1971-72 Bucharest was held hostage by a vicious killer. They dubbed “The Vampire of Bucharest.” This was not a nod to Vlad or Dracula, but rather a description of the killer’s modus operandi. In addition to beating, raping, beating, clawing, stapping, axing, and generally just tearing his victims apart, the Vampire of Bucharest was also known to puncture his victims’ skin and drink her blood. He was a cannibal and necrophiliac as well.
His name was Ion Ramaru, and he was 23 years old in 1970. His childhood was one of casual domestic violence and hyper-sexualized adolescence. He was an outcast because he was carrying on a sexual relationship with the underage daughter of one of his teachers. In 1970 the age of consent was 14 years of age. He was forced to repeat the 9th grade, and yet, despite these things was always given perfect grades for behavior in school.
After High School, he was admitted to University to Study Veterinarian Medicine. Even though this was a competitive field of study, Ramaru was reported to be borderline literate. His classmates described him as withdrawn and prone to rages when angry. His libido was discussed and feared by both the men and women of his class. A roommate recalled an evening when he had a girlfriend over. Ramaru was so distracted and focused on her that he stalked through the house all night, making strange noises and making the entire house uncomfortable. The young woman never returned.
Was he mad? He certainly seemed to have emotional and mental issues. He was known to cut himself. He was repeating his classes again; perhaps the pressure of the university was beyond him. Perhaps something else was going on. Isolated as people were afraid of him, violent toward himself, not sleeping often, uncontrollable libido…these all seem like ingredients a recipe for disaster.
In early 1970 Bucharest tasted the poison of Ramaru had been cooking up. Choosing nights when the rain was heavy and the winds were high when the elements were against people being outside, the women of Bucharest were attacked. He chose waitresses and women who worked in bars. Waiting until after midnight, he struck with breathtaking violence, sometimes using a hammer, sometimes an ax. Always striking with profound strength, never hesitating, yet never fully hiding either. It was as if he was overcome once he found a victim.
In April of 1970, he killed his first victim. He was interrupted before he was able to rape the corpse. His second victim followed in May, her life spared by the unexpected arrival of a truck driver, but not before she had been hit in the head with a hammer in front of her home, dragged to the local cemetery, thrown roughly against the fence and raped repeatedly.
These stories go on, and honestly, they get worse. His actions became more random as he became bolder. He no longer waited for unusual weather, no longer limited himself to women leaving restaurants. Finally, he was caught because he dropped a doctor’s note of diagnosis of suspected epilepsy next to a victim he murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion. His name was obscured by the blood smeared on the note and the rain that fell upon his victim as she died int he street. In her hand, she clutched her killer’s hair.
All that was visible on the note was the diagnosis and hospital from which the doctor had made it. It would be 2 more months, and several more victims before Ramaru was caught. After this killing, he unraveled further and became more and more frenzied, attacking some women in twos.
The authorities interviewed all of the men that had received a diagnosis at the hospital in the past year. By May of 1971, 83 students had been interviewed, with only 15 remaining to be spoken to (or to receive a diagnosis from). Finally, the police reached Ramaru’s room for an interview, and once there discovered his belongings, which included a bag that contained a small ax and a knife. The search of his room was conducted in his absence. When he returned, he was immediately taken into custody.
Mihaela Ursu was found clutching her killer’s hair. She had died on May 4Th. Ramaru was interrupted by a passerby and was prevented from raping her, which lead to a second victim that night. That bit of hair helped identify him as her killer. However, it was his teeth marks left on several victims that confirmed his guilt beyond any doubt.
In the end, he murdered 4 women and beat and raped at least 10 others. Those who survived barely did so. The description of what he did to his victims is so grotesque as to beggar belief. He bit off parts of their bodies and consumed them while they lived. He had sex with their dying and dead bodies. There are things I will not say here.
Some called him a Werewolf because of the ferocity and rage of his killings. Others called him The Vampire of Bucharest because of his penchant to stalk his victims and drink their blood. After his death, there was even a psychologist who suggested he actually suffered from Lycanthropy.
Yet as strange and as inhumane as his actions are, there is still more to this story.
When he was arrested, he remained silent for weeks until the police decided to put an officer in his cell dressed as a fellow prisoner to win his confidence. This worked to a certain degree as he did begin to talk and did give clues that he had killed and assaulted the known victims. The police were investigating his entire life, including his family- his father in particular. There is some evidence that the father was aware of his son’s actions and even followed them with certain avarice. The police were never able to fully prove this. Still, they managed to piece together details that showed the father, Florea, had visited some of the crime sites before his son was arrested. As Ramaru had committed robberies as well, the police were able to discover that Florea had taken the money from these robberies for his own use.
They were not a perfect family, it seemed.
Despite the nature of his crimes and his attempts to appear insane, Ramaru was judged to be fit to stand trial and legally sane. It was as a sane man that he was tried and quickly convicted and, as one might expect in Romania 1971- rapidly executed. He was convicted in October 1971 and removed from the courtroom, placed in a van and driven to the place of execution. He fought and screamed for his life. Those who were responsible for the execution said that he displayed incredible strength and cried over and over that he wanted to live. He also screamed for his father to come ‘And see what you have made”.
Ultimately, he was tied to a stake in the ground and repeatedly shot until he was dead. His body was then buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery near the site. A brutal end for a brutal killer.
But, was it the end? What had he meant when he called to his father? How had his father created the beast he became? Was it exclusively through bad parenting? Did he say it philosophically? Or was there something more specific, more damning, even more, Evil and cunning involved in his madness and crimes?
No one will ever know for sure. A year after his death in 1972, his father, Florea Ramaru, fell from a moving train and died. That’s it. There is no investigation into it- no thought of suicide or foul play..no one pushed him. He merely “fell.”
Strange. Yet, what his death revealed is perhaps the most bizarre twist of all.
In 1944 Bucharest had been held in terror by another serial killer. This one had committed crimes with similar ferocity, using a hammer and ax and violating the corpses. Even some of the names of the victims from 1944 and 1970 were similar. This 1944 killer would break into the basement apartments of his victims and bash them to death. He left fingerprints, and he left footprints. Size 42/43 military boot.
When Florea Ramaru’s body was brought into the Medico-Legal Institute (similar to our coroner ), they noticed that his foot size was the same as the 1944 killer. His height coincided with that suspect as well. When they ran his prints, they discovered that Ion Ramaru was not the first serial killer in his family. His father had killed at least 4 women, stopping 2 years before Ion was born.
Is there DNA to Evil? Is there a gene? Is there something that explains this more completely than simply nurture? There is NO evidence that anyone, including Ion, knew Florea was anything more than a run of the mill brute. Furthermore, Ion seemed to have implied that his father made him the creature that he was …created him or sired him as the evil beast.
But we started this story in 2019, and we probably should return there.
As one might imagine, it became challenging to have the name Ramaru in Bucharest after 1972. Most of the family moved away if they could, further into the country, and most changed their name. They simply wanted to be forgotten and to have no one know their familial shame. They chose a simple yet uncommon name. They chose Dinca.
It is easy to draw a line and say, “the awareness of one crime leads to the committing of another,” yet that’s fiction..that’s creative writing. Think of your own life and the things you have been inspired to do or avoided doing because of familial stories or legends..is that enough to explain these generational crimes against nature? Are social and economic conditions enough? Is abuse enough? Poverty? Anger?
We may flesh this story out in blogs and newspapers and books and films and all manner of things, but in Romania, they wonder. They wonder if, in fact, it isn’t something far more straightforward and far darker. Could it be Strigoi- an evil entity that marked this family and stayed with it through at least 3 generations and dozens of victims?
Is that explanation so much stranger than what our conventional account through psychology might give us?
When you walk the streets of Bucharest at night, you see the little marks of protection and “superstition” on the walls of buildings, and you think of 40-50-60 years ago. It is not so hard to imagine that psychology is a new language for something more primordial. It is not so hard to believe that The Vampire of Bucharest was indeed an ancient inhuman. A strigoi who struck at precisely the right time in exactly the right place to extract the most pain and fear.
They are still looking for additional victims from George Dinka. It will not be surprising if they find them… it is rare for a killer like him to suddenly start at 65 years of age, yet, what do I know? Still…the thought of that young girl pleading to be believed and found..it almost makes you want it to be a demon that used infernal powers to cause her death instead of callous disregard. But then again, maybe that is the infernal power- maybe that is the Evil that walks.