The werewolf is a common symbol of European folklore that has spread throughout the world. In short, it is that notion that a man or woman may change his or her physical form either to resemble or to fully become that of a wolf. There are many examples in fiction, most recently in The Twilight Saga. Yet there are many apparently true examples that we can draw on.
1. Stephanie Pistey
The tragic story of a murder in 2011 revealed a bizarre defence on behalf of the accused. Stephanie Pistey, a Florida resident, along with her boyfriend and three others were accused of luring a 16 year old boy to a remote location so the group could kill him. Pistey drank the blood of her boyfriend on several occasions though the victim did not suffer in this way. Pistey was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
2. Peter Stumpe
Known as the Werewolf of Bedburg, Stumpe was a convicted serial killer who lived in the 16th century. He was a farmer who lived in the Rhineland may have been given the name Stumpe (or Stubb) due to the fact that he had lost a hand. The rumour that he may have been a werewolf came from a claim that another man had been attacked by a werewolf and the man had cut off one of its front paws. Stumpe killed several people and claimed that Satan had given him a magic belt made from wolf’s hide that permitted him to change his shape.
3. Petrus Gonsalvus
Otherwise known as ‘The Man of the Woods’ was born in Tenerife in 1537. He suffered from hypertrichosis which meant that he was almost completely covered in hair. The condition is more commonly known as ‘Werewolf Syndrome’ and is still seen today. He was not a serial killer though, he was welcomed at several great European courts and eventually settled in Holland where he raised a family. His children also showed signs of the condition.
4. The Beast of GÃƒ©vaudan
Folklore provides many stories of man-eating wolves terrorising not just farmers, but whole communities. This legend from French folklore comes from a time just before the French Revolution. A wolf or dog killed a number of people by tearing out their throats: estimates on victim numbers vary between 60 and 200. The French government sent in the army as well as private guards of nobles to find the creature. The creature was killed in 1767 but another took its place, killing a number of other people. Theories abound, but no conclusion about what it was has ever been satisfactorily proposed.
5. Gilles Garnier
Also known as ‘The Hermit of St. Bonnot’ and ‘The Werewolf of Dole’, Garnier lived in Dole in France in the 16th century. He too was a convicted killer and cannibal. He came to the attention of the authorities when a number of children disappeared from the area where he lived. During the trial, he claimed that while in the forest one night hunting for food, a spectre came to him and gave him a balm which it said would make it easier for him to hunt. He confessed to the murder of four children.
6. The Werewolf of Chalons
This is one person who was identified but the crime was so horrific that the courts ordered the destruction of all documents pertaining to the case (Damnatio Memoriae ‘ something that was common in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt but far rarer in 1598 when the murders took place). He lured a number of children to his shop in Paris. Once there, he raped and then killed them before boiling the flesh off of their bones for consumption. A large number of bleached bones were found in the shop’s cellar.
7. The Wolf of Ansbach
The strangest story on the list concerns an actual wolf that was responsible for the slaughter of a lot of farmers’ livestock. For some reason, the locals believed that this wolf was the reincarnation of their dead Mayor returned to exact revenge on the village. They chased the wolf down and killed it near a well where they dressed it in their former Mayor’s clothes and put a fake beard on it. They hung it in the village so everyone could see their victory.
Known only by this single name, this Estonian man was put on trial for a number of killings over a two year period. Teeth marks on his leg practically condemned the man to death already and the court managed to persuade him to confess to having cavorted with a man dressed in black ‘ this, the court decide, was Satan and the man was executed not just for the crimes, but also for his conspiracy with Satan ‘ arguably considered then the greater crime.
9. The Klein-Krams Werewolf
Rich hunting grounds and visited by the nobility for generations, the forests Klein-Krams was haunted for a time by a Great Wolf. The creature was exceptionally clever, it could get close enough to steal the men’s kill and it was impervious to bullets. It was later revealed that a young boy of a local village could apparently become a wolf when left alone, something that the local disbelieved as fanciful’¦ that was until the day one of them entered the house and apparently witnessed the wolf become a boy.
10. Claudia Gaillard
The only known case of a woman accused of being a werewolf (usually they are men, women were accused of witchcraft), Gaillard was one of hundreds of victims of Witch Finder and Demonologist Henry Boguet. People who knew her reported that she was regularly seen moving around on all fours; one even claimed to have witnessed her transformation. She admitted to the charge and was tortured ‘ she was reported not to have reacted, something that only seemed to confirm her guilt.
The werewolf remains an important and identifiable symbol of popular culture but it is important to remember the dark history that has clouded the development of the folklore. Often, the people accused of being werewolves were serial killers and sometimes innocent people suffering the effects of mob rule.