TRUE STORY TUESDAYS: THE VAMPIRE CLAN MURDERS

On November 25th 1996, Rod Ferrell and Scott Anderson walked into the Wendorf home in Eustis, Florida and committed brutal murder. Ferrell beat Richard Wendorf to death with a crowbar as he slept on the couch. Moments later, Rod would use the same crowbar to bludgeon and stab Ruth Wendorf to death in the family’s kitchen. The bodies were found hours later by the couple’s oldest daughter Jennifer.

As the bodies of the Wendorf couple were slowly going cold and stiff in their home, their youngest daughter Heather rode in the back seat of her parents’ stolen SUV. They were headed to New Orleans, a place they believed was a haven for vampires.

 

Ferrell around the time of arrest

Rod Ferrell

Roderrick Justin Ferrell, Rod for short, was the product of a broken home and a shitty mother. His mother, known to Rod and his friends as Star, was constantly jumping into serious relationships that did not last. This forced the two of them to move regularly. At one point, Star had entered a relationship with a man in  Eustis, Florida where they lived for a time as a family.

During his time in Eustis, Ferrell became friends with Heather Wendorf who was two years Rod’s junior. Both of them were outcasts with Ferrell being more eccentric. In their small suburban town Rod would get constant stares for his gothic clothing, painted nails, and strange habits. Even the most critical of Eustis residents did not know how different Ferrell really was.

When his mother’s relationship fell apart, Rod was forced to move back to his hometown of Murray, Kentucky. Murray was a smaller and more conservative town. There he would meet Jaden Murphy and was slowly allowed into Murphy’s own vampire clan.

Jaden Murphy – Ferrell’s Sire

Jaden and his House were goth kids who were involved in the human vampire lifestyle. That’s right. They group would meet at an abandoned building they called the Vampire Hotel. They would drink each other’s blood, perform blood rituals like the “crossing over” ritual, and when together they lived as a clan with Jaden as their leader.

Something changed in Ferrell and his fascination with death grew. Murphy has said that he knew there was something wrong with Rod the nigh before he left Kentucky for Florida. Rod picked up a stray cat, stoked it a couple of times, and then bashed it against a tree. He then giggled at his own brutal act. Jaden Murphy all but cut ties with Ferrell at that time.

Striking out on His Own

With his relationship with Jaden and his House dissolving, Ferrell began to assemble his own small clan of vampires. Rod was looked down on by most of the people in his area and he was a high school dropout but everyone connected to this case has commented on how charming and charismatic he was.

Like a vampire, Rod Ferrell was a predator. He preyed upon those who were weaker and more insecure than him. He offered them somewhere to belong. He offered them a new family full of love and acceptance. He offered them, as Scott Anderson said, their “shit hole” lives.

Scott Anderson shortly after their conviction

Over time, Ferrell convinced them that he was a five-hundred-year-old vampire named Vesago. He claimed to be able to actually draw power from human blood: the more he drank, the more powerful he would be. He spun a yarn of darkness and immortality that pulled in young impressionable people with a thirst for more in life.

Dana Cooper before crossing over.

Though later, some (including Heather) would claim to have not taken the tales of vampirism and immortality seriously they admit to being taken in by Ferrell’s charisma. The members of Rod’s clan may not have believed everything he told them but they believed enough to follow him. They followed him to their ruin.

His clan did not look like they would soon be at the center of a murder investigation.

The Murray Vampire Clan from a Paducah, KY TV Broadcast 11/29/96

 

Scott and Charity were very close to Ferrell but had no clue what they were getting into on their road trip. Dana, the oldest among them at 19 years old, only wanted to get away from Murray and start a new life somewhere else. She figured that falling in with Rod’s clan was as good a way to do it as any.

 

Connections to Eustis

While living in Murray, Ferrell kept in touch with Heather Wendorf. They talked on the phone and wrote letters. As many teens do, she complained about her parents and expressed a desire to be anywhere but home. Ferrell finally decided to reunite with his old friend. He would make her a member of his family and take her with them to New Orleans where they would live among others like them.

Heather Wendorf before all hell broke loose

Scott had a Buick Skylark and the group pooled their money to travel to New Orleans with a quick stop in Eustis to pick up Heather. They drove through the night and arrived in the small Florida town on Sunday, November 24th. In the time between their arrival and the murders, the group met with Heather Wendorf.

Rod, Scott, and Heather went to the local cemetery. Rod and Heather went off by themselves in order to perform the “crossing over” ritual. Ferrell first cut himself and Heather drank his blood. Ferrell then drank from her. In that moment, Heather had not only became a full member of the vampire clan but also gave her commitment to travel with the group. They would leave town that night.

The Murders

With the addition of Heather, the car would be cramped on the hours long drive to southern Louisiana. To remedy this, the teens decided that Rod and Scott would go into the Wendorf’s garage and take their blue Chevy Blazer.

Heather waited in Anderson’s Skylark a couple miles away while Rod and Scott went to get their new vehicle. None of them had any idea what would happen that night.

Rod and Scott entered the family’s unlocked garage. At that time, Ferrell picked up a crowbar telling Anderson it was a safety precaution in case someone was home. The boys then entered the Wendorf home through the unlocked utility room door.

The Wendorfs in happier times

Upon entering the living room, they found Richard Wendorf asleep on the couch in front of the television. There are conflicting reports on what happened next. Rod says they danced impishly around the sleeping man while Anderson maintains that the coming events happened with little to no preamble.

Rod lifted the crowbar and brought it down on Mr. Wendorf’s head. He repeatedly struck him until he stopped moving, according to one interview with Ferrell. The number of blows isn’t important. Richard Wendorf was bludgeoned to death in his sleep. He would later be found in a pool of his own blood and brain matter by his eldest daughter.

Anderson was shell-shocked. He had no idea that he would be witnessing a brutal murder that night. He thought, like most people did, that Rod Ferrell was full of shit when it came to his much talked about desire to kill.

After murdering Richard, Ferrell ordered Anderson to get the keys and help search the house for valuables. While searching the house, Rod ran into Ruth Wendorf in the kitchen. She was fresh from the shower, wearing a bathrobe and holding her evening cup of coffee. Upon seeing the blood-soaked crowbar-wielding teen, Ruth panicked. She threw her cup of hot coffee in Ferrell’s face. She was struck down in her kitchen.

Ruth got was beaten worse than her husband. I assume this is due to a combination of the fury of being scalded with coffee coupled by Rod’s adrenaline rush. Like the number of blows Richard received, the reason for the more brutal attack doesn’t matter. Ruth died bravely in her kitchen.

The Discovery

Later that night, the Wendorfs’ oldest daughter Jennifer came home after curfew and hoped to sneak into the house. She entered her home and found first her father’s body and then her mother’s. She immediately called 911 and reported the murders as well as the fact that her sister, then 15, and her parent’s SUV were missing.

Seasoned law enforcement officers would go on to say that the scene of the Wendorf murders was like nothing they had ever seen. One officer compared the ceiling above Richard’s body to a Jackson Pollock painting.

The only crime scene photo I was comfortable sharing (Richard Wendorf)

Richard’s body, along with being brutally beaten, bore burns in the shape of a V surrounded by dots that each symbolized a member of the clan which is said to have been Rod’s calling card.

Moving On

After killing the Wendorfs, Rod and Scott gathered what they could and met up with the others. They traded license plates on the cars and left Anderson’s Skylark in a parking lot with the Wendorf’s tags. This would later provide a concrete connection between the teens and the murders.

Charity was the only one of the girls to talk to Rod and Scott when they first showed up. She noticed that Rod was almost giddy and Scott looked like he had seen a ghost. They both had blood on their clothes and faces. They told her to keep her mouth shut for now and they got cleaned up with Charity , Dana, and Heather transferred their belongings to the Blazer. Heather would not know what happened to her parents until they were almost to Louisiana.

Tensions were high. Everyone but Ferrell was scared. Scott and Heather were especially shaken, worried that they would incur Ferrell’s wrath if they went against him. All of them except Heather had been on the road for days with very little food or sleep. They were not prepared for the shitty gas mileage that comes with driving an SUV and money had run out. Things were looking grim for the vampire clan.

The Fatal Flaw

The group had been driving for days and things were getting worse. Finally, Charity suggested that she call her mother to get money. When she called her house from a payphone in Baton Rouge, Louisiana Charity was able to speak to her grandmother who said to stay near the phone and she would call back.

Keesee’s grandmother relayed the information that she had gathered to detectives who were looking for the teens. Soon, she would get in touch with Charity and tell her that she would be able to check in at a Howard Johnson’s near her location and they would then work on wiring her money.

Unbeknownst to the teens, this was part of a sting operation. They barely had no more than turned the engine off in the parking lot of the hotel when they were ambushed by police and taken into custody.

Heather, Charity, Scott, and Rod after their arrest in Baton Rouge

Facing Judgment

Rod Ferrell took his case to trial but changed his plea to guilty in the opening minutes in hopes of avoiding the death penalty.  At the age of 17, he became the youngest person to ever be put on Florida’s death row. His sentence was commuted in 2000 after the US Supreme Court ruled that minors could not be given the death penalty. Rod Ferrell is currently serving life in prison without the possibility of parole under the custody and control of the Florida Department of Corrections. According to reports, Ferrell will have a resentencing hearing in July of this year, though it may be postponed. The families of the victims hope that Rod never sees freedom again.

Ferrell. 17. receiving his death sentence in a Florida Court

Scott Anderson was charged with the first degree murder of Richard and Ruth Wendorf. Though he did not do any of the killing, being present was enough to be charged. Fearing he would receive the death penalty as well, he pleaded guilty and was given a sentence of life without parole. In December of 2018 Anderson was resentenced to 40 years in prison due to supreme court rulings on sentencing of juvenile offenders. The families of the victims are fine with this, saying that he deserves to be punished but they have no issue with him seeing freedom one day. Anderson will be released in 2032.

Scott Anderson awaiting resentencing 2018

Charity Keesee and Dana Cooper were both convicted of two counts of third-degree murder, robbery with a gun or deadly weapon and burglary armed with weapon or explosives. Cooper was handed a 17 and a half year sentence while Keesee, a minor, received 10 and a half years.

The grand jury did not indict Heather Wendorf. They believed that she was unaware that her parents would be harmed. Heather was not a mastermind or a killer. She was a victim. She lived with her attorney’s family until she turned eighteen and is now married. Heather Wendorf is an art school graduate who just wants to get on with her life.

My Thoughts

This case fascinates me. There is a great book about it by Aphrodite Jones called The Embrace and there are several documentaries on it and a horror movie. It isn’t the brutal murders or even the strange vampire aspect that draws me in, though. Like Charity, Scott, Dana, and Heather I am drawn in by Rod Ferrell’s charisma. He made a group of people, including his mother, believe the unbelievable. With the power of his words, he pulled people across the country to an unknown city. He even pulled Scott Anderson into a living nightmare by virtue of the yarn he spun. To me, it doesn’t get more chilling than that.

As always, I only scratched the surface. There is so much more to know about this case. If you’re interested check it out for yourself. Remember, sometimes the true stories are the scariest.

Yeti

Hey guys! I'm Yeti, the head writer of TN Horror News and co-host of The Horror Basement Podcast. I'm a tattooed weirdo who has been a huge horror fan for as long as I remember. I'm not super picky when it comes to movies; I dig it all. I'm a lover of the extreme, offbeat, retro, sleazy, and the down right awful. If you want to connect, you can hit my Instagram @the.yeti.616

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