MAROTINU DE SUS, Romania - Before Toma Petre�s relatives pulled his body from the grave, ripped out his heart, burned it to ashes, mixed it with water and drank it, he hadn�t been in the news much.
Villagers here aren�t up in arms about the undead, but they are outraged that the police are involved in a simple vampire slaying. After all, vampire slaying is an accepted, although hidden, bit of national heritage, even if it is illegal.
"What did we do?" asked Flora Marinescu, Petre�s sister and the wife of the man accused of rekilling him. "If they�re right, he was already dead. If we�re right, we killed a vampire and saved lives. . . . Is that so wrong?"
Yes, according to the Romanian State Police. Its view, said Constantin Ghindeano, the chief agent for the region, is that vampires aren�t real and that bodies in graves aren�t to be dug out and killed again. Not even by relatives.
Ghindeano doesn�t really have much more to say on this case, other than noting that Petre was removed from his grave and that his heart was cut out and presumably consumed by his kin. Police are expanding the investigation, which began in mid-January, to include similar incidents in the area, he said.
"The investigation is ongoing, and we expect to file charges later," he said. (That would be a charge of disturbing the peace of the dead, punishable by three years in jail.) "We are determining whether this was an isolated case or whether there is a pattern in the village."
Romania has been filled with news of the vampire-slaying investigation. Villagers admit there is indeed a pattern, but they say that is why the matter doesn�t belong in court: There�s a lot of vampire killing going on, and few complain about the practice.
Vampire slaying is a custom passed down for generations beyond memory in scores of villages in southern Romania.
On a recent afternoon in this village�s lone store, which also serves as its lone bar, men explained the vampire facts of life to a stranger. Most said that they had at least one vampire, or strigoi, in their family histories. Most had learned as children how to kill vampires.
They laugh at Hollywood conventions - crosses, cloves of garlic, mirrors. Utter nonsense. Vampires, they said, are humans who have died, commonly babies who died before baptism or people unfortunate enough to have black cats jump over their coffins. Vampires occur everywhere, but in busy cities no one notices, the men said.
Vampires are obvious when dug up. They will not have decomposed. Beards will have continued to grow. And they will have blood around their mouths.
But the biggest tip-off is the family, because vampires always prey on their families. If someone falls ill after a death in the family, the men said, odds are a vampire is draining the sick person�s blood at night, looking for company.
"That�s the problem with vampires," said Doru Morinescu, a 30-year-old shepherd. "They�d be all right if you could set them after your enemies. But they only kill loved ones. I can understand why, but they have to be stopped."
Ion Balasa, 64, said that there are two ways to stop a vampire.
"Before the burial, you can insert a long sewing needle, just into the bellybutton," he said. "That will stop them from becoming a vampire."
But if the person already has become a vampire, all that�s left is to dig him up, use a curved haying sickle to remove the heart, burn the heart to ashes on an iron plate, then have the ill relatives drink the ashes mixed with water.
"The heart of a vampire, while you burn it, will squeak like a mouse and try to escape," Balasa said. "It�s best to take a wooden stake and pin it to the pan, so it won�t get away."