The Gandillon Werewolf Family

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Painting of Henri Boguet, the French judge who recorded the Gandillons’ story and took part in their trial.

One werewolf is incredulous enough, but a whole family of werewolves? Such a story happened in the Jura region of eastern France in 1598. In the spring of that year, a boy named Benoit Bidel and his sister were picking strawberries near the village of St. Claude. While Benoit was climbing a tree, a wolf with human hands emerged from the forest and lunged at his sister. Benoit hopped down and tried to stab the wolf with a knife. The wolf tossed his knife away though, and it then bit his neck and ran back off into the trees.

Some near-by peasants who heard the scuffle rushed to the scene. They found Benoit badly bleeding, although his sister was unharmed. Before dying on the spot, Benoit gave a description of the strange wolf he saw. The angry peasants immediately set off looking for the wolf in the forest, but instead they stumbled on a local girl named Pernette Gandillon. The furious mob noticed that Pernette’s dress was covered in blood, so they grabbed her and tore her apart.

Regardless of whether Pernette confessed to being the wolf or not, as some accounts claim, Pernette was a pretty unpopular person to begin with. She and her family lived in the forest, isolated from the rest of St. Claude. They were rumored to be Satanists and witches, so it wasn’t that big of a leap to suspect her of being a werewolf either.

Following Pernette’s murder,  her brother Pierre and sister Antoinette were also accused of being werewolves. They were both accused of attending sabbaths, as well as summoning hailstorms and having sex with demons. (In Antoinette’s case, her sexual partner was a goat, who was actually the Devil in disguise.) After being tortured, surely the most reliable method of truth inducement, Pierre cracked and confessed that the accusations were true.

He admitted that the Devil gave his family magical wolf-skins, which had the power to turn the Gandillons into werewolves. Wearing the skins, they couldn’t help but run across the land on all fours, devouring animals and humans alike. Pierre’s son, Georges, also confessed to having an ointment that had the same magical power. With the help of his aunts, he said that he killed two goats while in the form of a wolf.

Unluckily for the Gandillons, the infamous judge Henri Boguet was put in charge of their case. Belief in werewolves might have been widespread during the time, but educated people were generally more skeptical. They thought werewolves were mentally ill, or suffering from delusions caused by the Devil. (Hey, they were close.)

Boguet, on the other hand, took werewolves seriously. He was the author of a best-selling book about witchcraft, and claimed to have sentenced over 600 werewolves to death during his long and, shall we say, distinguished career. While visiting the Gandillons in jail, he noted that Antoinette, Georges, and Pierre walked on all fours and howled. Their faces, hands, and legs were marked with scratches. Pierre was so badly disfigured, in fact, “that he bore hardly any resemblance to a man and struck all those who looked at him with horror.” 

The Gandillons never transformed into wolves during their captivity, but Boguet attributed this to a lack of magical ointment. The Gandillons’ behavior in their cells was proof enough for Boguet, and he sentenced all three family members to be burnt at the stake.

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The Legend of Count Estruch, Europe’s First Vampire Story

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Ruins of Castle Llers, the castle where Count Estruch was said to live.

The legend of Count Estruch is thought to be one of the first European vampire stories, if not the earliest that we know of. The story takes place in the 12th century, during the time of Muslim rule in southern Spain. King Alfonso II,  the king of Aragon in northeast Spain, was worried that pagans in the region of Emporda might ally themselves with his Muslim enemies. The King decided to send a war hero, a count named Guifredo Estruch, to christianize the region.

After being placed in local Llers Castle, Count Estruch set to work christianizing the pagans. Unfortunately, the Count was a very vicious man, and his method of “converting” consisted of murder, torture, and witch-hunts. The Count went on his blood-spree for quite some time, until he was assassinated by one of his own soldiers in 1173. The man, a captain named Benach, poisoned the Count and his daughter Nuria. Benach had wanted to marry Nuria, so his motivation presumably came from rejection, not any disgust with the Count’s hobby of killing pagans.

Still, others say that the Count died after being cursed by one of the many witches he ordered burnt to death. The day after the witch’s execution, Count Estruch found himself so sick that he couldn’t even get out of bed. He died a short time later, and his body went missing from the castle before it could be buried.

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A picture of “Estruch,” a 1991 novel about the legend of Count Estruch. That note card over the book says, “The first vampire was Spanish, and he “lived” in a castle in the Pyrenees. Before Dracula, the Count Estruch terrorized the Iberians of the 12th century.”

After the Count’s death, dead cows started turning up around the castle, mutilated and drained of all their blood. The castle’s servants reported seeing their old master walking through the halls and rooms again, looking just as he was when he was a young man. Count Estruch had come back from the dead, and he haunted the people of Emporda, drinking their blood and stealing their women.

Whenever these abducted women would return, they’d come back pregnant. Nine months would pass, just like in a normal pregnancy, but their children would always come out as hideous monsters. These babies would never survive long, and most of them were born stillborn. Eventually, depending on who you ask, either an old nun or a Jewish hermit put an end to the Count’s terror by finding his hidden coffin and driving a stake into the vampire’s heart.

While Count Estruch might have died there, his story was passed down for hundreds of years among the people. Peasants warned their children of the Count, and women who delivered stillborn babies were said to have been seduced by him. Count Estruch terrified generations, but we can’t be sure how exactly true the story is. Nobody knows whether the Count was a real person, or whether he was just a legend. Unfortunately, Llers Castle was reduced to ruins during the Spanish Civil War, and all the historical documents about Count Estruch were destroyed or lost.

Some suggest that the story of Count Estruch might have originated with the persecution of the Cathars, a group of Gnostic Christians that were popular in southern France during medieval times. The Cathars were considered heretics, and were even burnt at the stake and massacred. Some of the Cathars fled for Spain, and “Estruch” might have come from the Occitan surname “Astruc.” I suppose we’ll never know for certain, but you’ve got to wonder how this story came from Spain of all places, a country not particularly known for its vampire lore.