A cemetery in a small city in Peru might not seem like the most likely place to find the grave of a woman from Blackburn, Lancashire. But according to local legend, this may not be the northern English woman’s final resting place, after all. It was long believed by some that Sarah Helen Roberts was actually a vampire, and that her undead body would rise from the grave 80 years after her demise.
This, of course, didn’t happen, but as the fateful day – June 1, 1993 – approached, residents of Pisco, in the Ica Region of Peru, were prepared. The Independent reported soon after that vampire kits of garlic and crucifixes had been made and sold. Meanwhile, pregnant women had left town on the off chance that the dead woman’s spirit was on the lookout for a child to be reborn into.
The legend that grew up around Sarah Helen Roberts is a wild one that began on June 9, 1913 when she was convicted of witchcraft and imprisoned in a lead coffin. Although her trial was held in England, the story goes that no-one would offer to bury the witch-vampire in consecrated ground.
(Image: F.W. Murnau)
Roberts’ husband was condemned to wander the world in search of a place where he could lay his dead wife to rest. That place turned out to be half the world away, in Pisco, Peru. Legend also claimed that the Blackburn woman was one of the three brides of Dracula. Presumably, burying her alive wasn’t going to kill her. It would merely make the ill-fated vampire extremely angry.
The Lancashire Telegraph looked into the real-life Sarah Helen Roberts, and found that she had married a weaver in 1892 and had two children. When her husband’s brother moved to Peru to take a job in a cotton mill, the young family visited him there, where Sarah tragically died. The cause of death wasn’t specified, but we do know that her husband returned to England to open a grocery store.
Quite how Sarah’s story went from tragic tale to vampire legend isn’t clear, but the Telegraph also noted the ominous date of her obituary: Friday the 13th. Perhaps that’s all it took for superstition to take a hold, elevating an ordinary northern woman to the status of bride to one of folklore’s most terrifying celebrities.