Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Vampire Killers

Vampirism in Self Defense

James Riva
James Riva
James Riva claimed to hear the voice of a vampire in April, 1980, before he shot his grandmother four times with bullets that he had painted gold.  He then tried to drink her blood from the wound in order to get eternal life.  Finally, he set her corpse on fire.  Carol Page documents his tale and includes her interview with Riva in Bloodlust: Conversations with Real Vampires.

To some degree, he claimed, it was self defense, because he was convinced she was drinking his blood while he was asleep.  He believed that everyone was a vampire and that he needed to become like them. The secret, he was told by imaginary voices, was to kill someone and drink the blood.  Afterward, the vampires would throw a party for him. 

Fascinated with vampires since the age of 13, he drew pictures of violent acts and began to eat things with a blood-like consistency.  He killed animals, including a horse (he says), to drink their blood.  He also punched a friend in the nose and tried to spear another in order to get blood from them, and claimed that he had attacked strangers to get it, but didn't want to kill anyone.  He kept an ax by his bedroom door and once told a psychiatrist he was going to kill his father. 

Riva told a psychiatrist about the voices warning him to watch out for vampires.  They said that he had to drink blood.  He decided that his grandmother was using an ice pick at night to get his blood—although she was in a wheelchair.  He also believed that she was poisoning his food.  On the day that he killed her, he felt he was going to die.

A jury returned a verdict of second degree murder, with a life term. He stopped drinking blood in prison, he said, because he couldn't get enough and he thought his body, used to human tissue consumption, was metabolizing his.

At a parole hearing on August 4, 2009, Riva told the parole board and the weeping members of his family that he was sorry. "The name penitentiary came from the word penitent — and you learn how to be penitent in prison." For the last 29 years, he said, he has been in therapy and on medication and no he longer believes he is a vampire, nor does he have the compulsion to torture animals. He even converted to Islam.

The parole board and his family were not as convinced of his remorse, but rather were concerned that his ability to premeditatedly and horribly murder someone who cared for him made him capable of doing that to anyone. In addition, he has become fixated on his claim that his mother abused him as a child and has sent letters to her from prison demanding that she confess to having tortured and threatened him with drowning as a child. Prison officials do not trust him to take his medication, since he went off it once and attacked a guard he thought was sneaking into his cell at night and draining his spinal fluid.

 

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