DNA analysis reveals identity of 19th century 'Connecticut Vampire'

These days, the word "vampire" conjures up images of Bela Lugosi or a sparkling Robert Pattinson, but not so long ago, vampires were serious business. Dead serious. Much like how a real life "werewolf" terrorized France in the 1700s, the 1800s saw places like Rhode Island and Connecticut go insane over what is now called the Great New England Vampire Panic, as Mental Floss explains, wherein lots of northern folks came down with consumption, or as you'd call it today, tuberculosis. Back then, the spread of TB between family members was often blamed on an undead, unholy creature doing its undead, unholy thing: see, unlike the European, bloodsucking vampires, the New England creatures never left their graves, and allegedly drained people's life forces through psychic means. Hey, these were different times. 

Not everyone believed in psychic vampires, of course, but people were desperate. So, if your family member got TB, Smithsonian says that the accepted procedure was to figure out which dead person was the vampire, then dig up their grave. Once the supernatural predator was "discovered," you'd cut out and burn the person's heart (yuck), break off their head and femurs, and arrange the pieces into a skull and crossbones. Again, different times. 

Anyhow, fast forward to 1990. In the town of Griswold, Connecticut, a trio of kids were hanging out in a sandpit when they discovered human skulls poking out of the recently excavated ground. Sounds like a Stephen King premise, huh? This discovery uncovered a slew of other graves, and surely enough, one of the bodies — found in a coffin mysteriously marked "JB55" — had his severed head and femurs arranged in the dreaded pirate flag position. Vampire alert! 

Since then, the experts have tried to figure out who JB55 was. Back in the nineties, DNA analysis yielded no results. Technology has come a long way since then, though, and in 2019, Ars Technica reported that SNA International had revisited the case ... and gotten answers. 

The Connecticut Vampire, unmasked

By using Y-chromosome DNA profiling, and then checking the genetic markers against an online genealogy database, the researchers finally figured out that JB55 was John Barber, a 55 year old laborer from Griswold. JB55 = John Barber 55. Get it? Further research showed that Barber had a son, Nathan, who died as a preteen, and surely enough, a nearby grave was labeled NB13. 

Now, it's one thing when real life people are accused of being actual monsters during their lifetime, but a whole other ballgame to wait until they're six feet under. Poor John, right? To be clear, John Barber was absolutely not a vampire. Most likely, he died of TB himself, and was only labeled as a vampire afterward, since people often believed that consumption victims became consumption monsters. So, while it's nice that this mystery is finally solved, don't blame this guy for the fact that his neighbors dug up and defaced his grave.