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Interview with Trystan Swale, Highgate Vampire Blogger

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Highgate Vampire blogger, folklorist and podcast host, Trystan Swale, during a meet with the author, June 29, 2015, at Caffè Nero, Clarks Village, U.K. Photo: Erin Chapman

I recently went to England and had made arrangements to meet Trystan Swale, in the flesh, a friend Anthony had introduced me to online in February 2014. Trystan has been on the Highgate Vampire scene for many years now and is familiar with all the ins and outs of the case.

Originally, I planned to meet Trystan for coffee because I wanted to meet an online friend in person since the opportunity was there. Considering I had flown all the way from Canada he was too damn close not to.

The day before we met on June 29, I was chatting with Anthony and he suggested doing an interview with Trystan. I liked the idea and blindsided Trystan with questions, catching him totally off guard. He was a good sport though and jumped right in.

I recorded the interview, but later opted to use written responses he provided through email instead because they were more thorough. I sent my questions on June 30 and received his reply on July 1. The links interspersing the text were added later, to elaborate on items discussed during the interview. Without out further ado, let’s meet Trystan.

Erin Chapman: You’re the webmaster for the site The Highgate Vampire which is dedicated to the Highgate Vampire case. Can you tell me about the site and what do you cover?

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The Highgate Vampire homepage. Source: Trystan Swale.

Trystan Swale: Well, it’s a new site that only went online in the spring of 2015. It’s a very understated, minimal affair and I put it together to provide the newcomer with a basic overview of the Highgate saga. It may seem extraordinary I have chosen to do this, but there hasn’t really been such a repository until now. The Wikipedia article came close, though it was and still is very thin on details.

I recall how maddening it was when I began to research the case back in 2009. There was plenty of material out there regarding the Highgate affair, but most of it was extremely confusing. There were various reasons for this, the biggest being the wildly divergent narratives of David Farrant and Sean Manchester, the case’s major protagonists. It gets even more puzzling when you come across the sideshows that both men have become involved in. Who would believe my research into that Highgate case would see me have to digest bizarre tales involving fake clergymen, animal sacrifice, triathletes, camp Nazis, Robin Hood, UFOs and the disputed gender of psychic mediums? It’s crazy. As distracting as many of these sideshows are, I’m not going to overlook them for THV; from time to time I’ll be adding new articles on them in their own clearly designated area.

EC: You have a background in the paranormal field, can you tell me a little about it and how you became involved in the case?

TS: Yes, I grew up a believer in all things weird and wonderful. The prospect of being abducted by aliens or coming face to face with a headless apparition filled me full of dread. I even lived in a house some would consider haunted.

My outlook began to change shortly after the millennium. I became exposed to ghost hunting television shows and began to question the evidence they used to demonstrate an apparition’s presence. I ended up joining a local paranormal group and saw the influence television had on some of its members. They were essentially creating their own ghosts. My favourite recollection is of one team member claiming a ghost was influencing her camcorder because it was unable, in low light conditions, to focus at close range onto a blank wall. She cried spook, I went off and did some reading on her camcorder. Whilst I am unable to prove a ghost was not making her Sony gear go crazy, I understand her camcorder was automatically attempting to find something to focus on.

After about five years working with various paranormal investigation teams I took a step back and considered all I had learned. I had become extremely skeptical of all things supposedly paranormal and, in 2009, decided to voice my perspective by starting a podcast. It was called Righteous Indignation and its tagline was ‘talking skeptically about the supernatural’. You should get the idea!

One afternoon I was considering guests I would like to interview for the show. I flicked back through some books for inspiration. Among them was a copy of ‘The Possessed’ by Brian McConnell. I had vague memories of having read it a decade or so earlier and having been amused by the recount it contained of the Highgate Vampire brouhaha. It was the sort of tale most young men with an interest in British horror movies couldn’t help but appreciate, even if they didn’t condone the actions of its players. There were vampire hunts, nude witchcraft rituals, desecration of graves and bodies being dragged out of tombs. For his part in disturbing human remains and vandalising a vault, David Farrant was sent to jail. Thirty five years on from his sentencing he seemed a good guest to feature on Righteous Indignation. Sad to say, I’ve not looked back. My interest in the Highgate Vampire case has grown with each passing year.

EC: Anthony Hogg has been researching the Highgate Vampire Case since 2006. How did you two meet and how did his guest appearance on your podcast show Fortean Radio come about?

TS: I first came across Anthony online following the release of the Righteous Indignation podcast featuring David. Sean Manchester was unhappy at some of the things David had said and proceeded to use sock puppet fake identities to bombard the show’s website. After I banned Sean’s IP address the discussion moved elsewhere on the Internet. From what I recall – and this may be a false memory – Anthony was the contributor to these discussions who tried to explain just what was unfolding before me. We struck up an instant friendship and he’s done more through the following years than anyone to help me make sense of the Highgate craziness.

I quit Righteous Indignation in 2011 for a number of reasons. When my desire to record returned again I launched Fortean Radio. I was keen to give Anthony the chance to speak out on the Highgate case so I approached him for an interview.

EC: During his interview you both discuss the two major players of the case; Sean Manchester and David Farrant. Have you had personal dealings with them and how did it pan out?

TS: I had the same first impressions of David that I think most people have. He is extremely charming, generous and is surrounded by an aura of boyish vulnerability. Although I have been critical of his evasive behaviour when it comes to his ever morphing narrative of that Highgate case, I really don’t dislike him as a person. I’ve never had much of an issue with David, only certain people within his camp. I remember his hand-fastened partner Della ordering me to leave a Facebook group I had been involuntarily added to. She had some issue or other with the group’s owner. I objected to Della’s foot stomping because I’m not prepared to allow a stranger to dictate what I can or cannot read. As I dared to show some level of free thought I was declared persona non grata in the Farrant household. Oh well. What, exactly, did I lose from the situation? Certainly not any sleep. It was all very silly, unnecessary and childish, but I’ve been around the Fortean scene too long to be anything other than amused by these little dramas. They come with the territory.

Sean is a different proposition. He is very defensive of his narrative of how he tracked and laid the Highgate Vampire to rest. I don’t really understand how anyone thinks he’ll be taken seriously given the nonsense it has been proven to contain!

EC: The article you published called “The Highgate Vampire- An Exercise In Deception?” on the site Mysterious Times is one of my favourite pieces I have read on the case. On the page there are 154 comments, some we know stemming from Sean Manchester and his puppets. I also know you have had numerous issues with DMCA [Digital Millennium Copyright Act] claims and other forms of online harassment. Can you elaborate on those for me?

TS: Thank you for the kind words.

Yes, Sean took issue with that piece and sent his sock puppets to tap on his keyboard. He found a photo of my children online and suggested I should be more careful in case ‘perverts’ viewed the image. Then he posted a link to the image, enabling the ‘perverts’! It’s weird behaviour, but I’ve never known anything different. The problems I’ve encountered with Sean have their origins from the time I interviewed David Farrant. I extended the invitation to Sean as well, but he refused and threatened legal action should his name be mentioned by David or I when we recorded. Since then he has kept a close eye on what I’ve posted and written.

The_Highgate_Vampire_–_An_Exercise_In_Deception_Mysterious_Times_-_2015-07-25_20.42.29
Writing as “British Occult Society,” Sean Manchester discusses photographs of Trystan Swale’s children he found through Swale’s Facebook account in the comments section of Swale’s Mysterious Times article, “The Highgate Vampire – An Exercise in Deception?” (March 27, 2014). Source: The Mysterious Times.

I’ve been the subject of breach of copyright complaints from Manchester on a number of occasions. They’re annoying but are symptomatic of the vulnerable position bloggers and site owners find themselves in. In accordance with laws in both Britain and America, we are entitled to reproduce content providing we have permission from the copyright holder, or, failing that, act in compliance with fair use exemptions. This is grand in principle but the reality is another matter. Web hosting companies are reluctant to become involved in any copyright dispute for fear of being taken to court. I can understand they don’t want the hassle, so they just demand the material be removed, fair use or otherwise. In some ways it’s a game; Sean has demonstrated his willingness to download photos of me, run them through a bad Photoshop filter and post them on his sock puppets’ blogs.

The ongoing hassles with Sean did produce one golden moment. He complained to my hosts I had called him a ‘phoney vampire slayer’. It’s true, I did, and I’m fully justified in doing so. How can anyone claim to have killed a creature that exists only within the realms of folklore, superstition and fiction? Anyone who does is, in the absence of verifiable evidence, making a thoroughly ridiculous statement. Amazingly, my hosts demanded I removed the comments though it has never been explained to me why. I assume it’s because they were wrongly deemed defamatory, which they most definitely weren’t, or ‘offensive’. If it’s the latter, where does the madness stop?

Needless to say, I laughed in the face of my hosts so they suspended my service until my account expired. When I finally did get to speak to the company’s solicitor even she was a little taken aback by their decision.

EC: In the OVC [Online Vampire Community], you have developed a reputation for your skepticism. Has your paranormal background and experience influenced your views on vampires and how have you applied those experiences to the vampire genre?

TS: Skepticism comes in useful when someone makes a testable claim, no matter who they are or how they identify their place and role within society. I don’t see members of the OVC as vampires, they’ve just adopted the term for their own usage. They’re a fairly diverse mix of people who are either role playing or sincerely believe they have a physical requirement to consume blood or some kind of ‘life force energy’, whatever that is.

EC: Speaking of skepticism, I know you are planning on attending the upcoming Highgate Vampire Symposium on July 15, 2015. What are your thoughts on the event and do you anticipate the vampire aspect will be over shadowed by the “ghost” theory considering the panel of speakers and what they bring to the table?

TS: On THV I’ve renamed the Highgate Vampire as the ‘Highgate *’, the asterisk representing a wildcard. David and Sean just cannot agree on what was haunting Highgate Cemetery!

I’m really looking forward to the symposium and will approach it knowing the organiser is a proponent of David’s fabled ghost theory. I am expecting Sean Manchester’s vampire theory to be discussed and dismissed, though I don’t see much difference between species of supernatural entities. It is only because of our cultural background that we tend to see ghosts as more likely to exist than vampires.

EC: What do you have coming up? Do you plan to get back into your podcasts at all? Do you plan on hosting older archived materials on your site?

TS: I’m certainly open to hosting archived materials on THV. There is an abundance of material out there, but finding the time to post it all – as well as find ways around the inevitable copyright issues – is another matter. I may return to podcasting at some point though nothing is set in stone.

Notes:

  1. Anthony Hogg has been researching the Highgate Vampire Case since 2006: Anthony Hogg, “Temporary Setbacks, or, the Phoenix Arisen,” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? (blog), May 8, 2008, accessed July 25, 2015, http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/temporary-setbacks-or-phoenix-risen.html.
  2. his guest appearance: Anthony Hogg, “Podcast Goes Live!” Did a Wampyr Walk in Highgate? (blog), March 4, 2013, accessed July 25, 2015, http://dawwih.blogspot.com.au/2013/03/podcast-goes-live.html. The podcast was recorded on Feb. 14, 2013, released March 2, 2013.
  3. “The Highgate Vampire- An Exercise In Deception?”: Trystan Swale, “The Highgate Vampire – An Exercise in Deception?,” Mysterious Times, March 27, 2014, accessed Dec. 13, 2014, http://mysterioustimes.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/the-highgate-vampire-an-exercise-in-deception/.
  4. Sean Manchester and his puppets: Anthony Hogg, “Suspended from Facebook,” The Vampirologist (blog), Nov. 26, 2013, accessed July 25, 2015, https://thevampirologist.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/suspended-from-facebook/. Manchester is notorious for using “sockpuppets” (false online identities) to harass and malign critics. Manchester’s sockpuppets include “Vampirologist,” “Demonologist,” “British Occult Society”/”B.O.S.,” “Vebjørn Hästehufvud” and even “Arminius Vámbéry”—the name of a famous Hungarian traveler and writer (1832–1913) Bram Stoker was acquainted with.
  5. you are planning on attending the upcoming Highgate Vampire Symposium: admin [Trystan Swale], “Highgate Vampire Symposium,” The Highgate Vampire (blog), July 4, 2015, accessed July 25, 2015, http://thehighgatevampire.co.uk/index.php/2015/07/04/highgate-vampire-symposium/. That intent was accurate at the time the interview questions were written. On July 16, three days before the symposium took place, David Farrant e-mailed Swale informing him he had been “formally disallowed” from attending, after finding out Swale had purchased tickets and intended to review the event—despite Farrant referring to it as a “free exchange of ideas” in the same e-mail. Trystan Swale, “Banned from the Symposium!” The Highgate Vampire (blog), July 16, 2015, accessed July 25, 2015, http://thehighgatevampire.co.uk/index.php/2015/07/16/banned-from-the-symposium/.

Disclosure: Trystan Swale’s website is listed as one of our “Associates”—that means we respect his work, he respects ours, we link to each other’s respective websites (see third column footer at the bottom of this website).

Read his review of “Haunted Highgate” (2014) a book written by the symposium’s organiser, Della Farrant (David Farrant’s wife): “Mystery or Myth? Della Farrant’s Case for Highgate Ghost” (June 18, 2015).

Written by Erin Chapman

Erin is Vamped’s Co-administrator. She has 2 turtles; has 15 piercings and 5 tattoos; loves turtles and walking around in bare feet. She has a degree in marketing and sales and has been in the industry for over 11 years. She lives in Vancouver, Canada.

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