It reads like the script from one of his horror films; a stolen head, burnt black candles and satanic symbols – but this week they became elements of Berlin police department’s latest case.
The head in question belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the director of the iconic early-20th-Century Dracula film adaptation ‘Nosferatu – a Symphony of Horror’, taken from his grave near the German capital.
And officers have have already turned their attention to Germany’s darker sects as they search for those who took the well-preserved body part from a grave site often scrawled with pentangles and other symbols of devil worship.
Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ was and remains one of the most important milestones in cinema.
Based upon Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’, it told the story of Count Orlok of the undead, and its moody scenes and clever camera angles influenced generations of fans and filmakers alike.
But death was at the heart of the movie and death has continued to stir the passions of vampire lovers ever since it was made in 1922.
Indeed, his own death in 1931 aged 41 was enough to elicit some fascination of its own: openly homosexual, he was engaging in oral sex with his 14-year-old Filipino houseboy on the Pacific Coast Highway at Santa Barbara when he lost concentration and slammed into a telegraph pole.
His corpse was embalmed and placed in a metal coffin, and the following year it was shipped to Germany for burial in Stahnsdorf’s south-west cemetery.
And down the years the lovers of the undead – goths, ghouls and living vampires who get their sexual thrills from the drinking of human blood – have made the pilgrimage to the grave of Murnau to pay their respects to a man…
Stahnsdorf cemetery warden Olaf Ihlefeldt found the head missing as he slid the lid of the coffin away while investigating minor damage he had spotted on mausoleum number 22.
‘The body is still in pretty good condition,’ he said.
Murnau’s head was still recognisable and had its hair and teeth, he added, ‘the last time I saw it‘.
RTFA for tidbits and collateral tales of Satanism, vampire cults and other slightly disturbing religious rationales for often-demented, sometimes fanciful behavior.
Good enough for today’s TV series.
I must admit when my parents convinced the head librarian of our neighborhood Carnegie Library that I – 8-years-old – had exhausted the offerings for teens and pre-teens and required an adult library card, I almost blew it when the first book I went to borrow was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.
Murnau’s “Nosferatu” has long been my favorite silent film. If you require a soundtrack, try the version by Werner Herzog, “Nosferatu the Vampyre”, starring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani.