'The Embrace': kids, ritual vampirism, the occult


"The Embrace: A True Vampire Story," by Aphrodite Jones. Pocket Books. 384 pages. $23.

Aphrodite Jones is a vulture of crime. Every year or so she swoops down in the aftermath of some bizarre murder, picks over the grisly details and a few months later regurgitates a book. She's on daytime talk shows; Hollywood's got her phone number.

Her latest bit of journalistic voyeurism, "The Embrace," examines the sensational murder of a Florida couple in 1996. Sensational because the accused were five teen-agers who dabbled in ritual blood-sucking and occult practices. Sensational because one of them, Heather Wendorf, was the daughter of the murdered couple.

The story revolves around Heather, who was 15 at the time of the murder, and Roderick Ferrell, the group's ringleader, a wacko 16-year-old who claimed to be a vampire. The downward spiral of Heather's attraction to Rod ties together a confusing story that follows the vampire kids from their first meetings, to the murder a year later, to their arrests, to the subsequent legal wranglings that ended in December 1998.

Rod was a charismatic personality. He mesmerized fringe kids in two rural high schools in Florida and Kentucky with talk about the undead and past lives. He called himself Vesago and claimed to be a fallen angel, the Antichrist, a vampire, an immortal.

In context, his appeal made a kind of sick sense. Many of his occult "family" were trailer-trash kids from broken homes, bored with small-town life and eager for action; their imaginations fired by video images, Anne Rice novels and role-playing games like Vampire: the Masquerade.

But Heather didn't fit the profile. By Jones' account, she came from a well-adjusted family not lacking in comfort or parental care. Her obsession with Roderick, her willing descent into self-mutilation and fantasy seems nearly incomprehensible.

Unfortunately, you can't turn to Aphrodite Jones for understanding. She's interested only in effects; causes and cures are for some other book. (Chronology is for some other book, too. You don't learn until page 40 when the events take place.) "The Embrace" begins and ends as a long series of scenes from a nether world of feral teens.

Even this might be of some lurid interest, but "The Embrace" is also an incoherent mess. Characters come and go without introduction or exit; nothing connects; the style is sub-literate. It's one thing to write about teens; it's another to write like them.

But this is unfair to the teens. The saddest, most powerful passages in the book come in an exchange of letters between Heather and a vampire kid named Scott Anderson. Heather writes: "I am already screaming inside. The voice echoes and tremors run through my body. I am crying inside. I am laughing insanely, but nothing is a bit funny. Blood would taste really good right about now, or maybe ice cream."

In the end, Heather is cleared by a grand jury; Roderick ends up on death row; Aphrodite Jones has another book; and we're left with questions. Why was this mess published now? Is it because "The Embrace" involves Goths, Marilyn Manson music, kids wearing black trench coats? Did the words Littleton, Colo., and Columbine High cross the minds of the marketers?

And who really are the blood- suckers?

John Muncie is arts and entertainment editor of The Sun. From 1987-1995 he was assistant managing editor for features at the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has also worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise.

Pub Date: 06/27/99

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