Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Sarah Ellen Roberts: The Bride of Dracula?

A woman who was reputedly executed as a Bride of Dracula and now haunts a Peruvian city has been revealed as a humble Lancashire weaver who met her death on holiday.

Sarah Ellen Roberts has become a cult figure in Peru, where the story goes that her husband brought her after she was executed in 1913 as a murderer, a witch and a vampire.

She had apparently been seen biting the neck of a child and sucking its blood, and her merchant husband John witnessed her pouring blood over ice cream before eating it.

article-1186290-050D1E13000005DC-646_468x404The legend: Sarah Ellen Roberts is believed in Peru to have been a bride of Dracula, like the one portrayed here by Elena Anaya in the 2004 movie Van Helsing

though she was reputedly tried and executed in Blackburn, John Roberts is said to have travelled the world seeking a place to lay her to rest after the Church of England refused her burial on consecrated ground.

Only the town of Pisco in Peru would take her body, according to local playwright Racso Miro Quesada, who is adapting Sarah's story for the stage.

He said: 'Her husband John Roberts travelled the world trying to find a place to bury his wife.

'Because of the things she was accused of, there was no place on earth where she could rest.' 

He added: 'No one wanted to have the remains of the person he loved. She ended up being accepted in the small fishing town Pisco.' 

In an elaboration of the story, Sarah was one of 'three brides of Dracula' along with two sisters, Andrea and Erica, who were executed in Blackburn in the same way and were buried by John Roberts in Mexico and Hungary or Panama.

Ever since Sarah's interment, Pisco's inhabitants have been terrified she will return, having vowed to rise up again in vengeance in 80 years' time as she was forced into her lead-lined casket.



On the 80th anniversary of her death, June 9, 1993, all thoughts in Pisco - now Peru's main port with a population of more than 100,000 - turned to fears of the revenant vampire.

Pregnant women fled, fearful that her spirit might try to reincarnate itself in their child. Hundreds bought anti-vampire kits, complete with garlic and stakes, before descending on the tombstone to wait the resurrection.

When she failed to reappear, those who had been throwing holy water and praying said they had kept her at bay.

Then in August 2007 a massive earthquake struck Pisco, killing hundreds and demolishing swathes of the city.

In the cemetery, large numbers of coffins were uncovered by the tremor - but not Sarah's. A counter-myth seems to have sprung up in which, far from being a vampire, she is blessed.

Racso Miro Quesada said: 'It was the only grave that survived - something that reinforces the belief that Sarah is a powerful saint.' 

Aside from the well-documented 2007 tragedy, British historians understandably smelt something fishy about the whole Sarah Roberts story. For a start, although the good citizens of Lancashire may have famously executed the so-called witches of Pendle in 1612, by 1913 they tended to consider that kind of thing rather passé.


Blackburn history expert Stephen Smith has dismissed the legend of Sarah as hocus pocus and says that, far from being the third Bride of Dracula, she was just an ordinary weaver from Burnley.

He said: 'The courts in Blackburn could not have tried Sarah and sentenced her to death for any crime, and even in those days the worst that could have happened to her for practising witchcraft would have been a prison sentence.'

Mr Smith's researches reveal that Sarah was born with the surname Gargett in 1872, and had just one sister who was called neither Andrea nor the equally un-Lancastrian Erica.

Sarah married John Roberts 20 years later. The 1901 census lists both husband and wife as weavers and says they had two sons.

In the same year, John's younger brother moved to Lima, Peru, to set up a cotton mill, and the couple later crossed the Atlantic at least once to visit.

It was during one trip that Sarah died.

Her grandchildren, who were completely unaware of the vampire legend until the well-publicised events of 1993, believe she probably met her end accidentally somewhere isolated.

Her husband would have been forced to carry her in a makeshift coffin to the nearest village - but the strange incident could have raised suspicions and spawned an enduring local myth.

Mr Smith suspects the legend owes most to spin by the Peruvian media in 1993, noting that tourism in the Pisco area had increased by more than 60 per cent since the Sarah legend took hold.

At one point the Mayor of Pisco even said he would like his town twinned with Blackburn - to which the Lancashire town’s own Mayor, Paul Browne, responded: 'This vampire lark will do our town no good at all.  People around the world will think we are bloodsuckers.'

Roger Booth, Blackburn library's local history expert, said: 'Sarah has gone down in history but in reality she was just a cotton weaver.

'It is understandable people in Peru may have believed this tale in 1913 but it is hard to see how they are still thought she was going to emerge from the grave in 1993.'



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