Vampires are becoming a bit of a problem in the Sunshine State.
Less than two weeks ago, reports of another blood-lust crime surfaced in the state. "I am a vampire, I am going to eat you," 22-year-old Josephine Smith allegedly told a 69-year-old St. Petersburg homeless man before biting the skin off his arm, face and lips.
In February two teenagers from Monroe County, Florida, were found to have bitten each other repeatedly in a vampire-inspired romantic ritual. And late last year, Jonathan Sharkey, a 45-year-old Tampa-native who calls himself "the impaler", announced plans to run for president on the vampire ticket. He's also been accused by the parents of 16-year-old-girl, of brainwashing after he tried to take her as his wife.
You can blame pop culture for the rise in the real-life trend, but vampires have been around in Florida long before "Twilight" or "True Blood". One of the most notorious murders in the state in the past 20 years involved a teenage "Vampire clan." After a very public trial, 16-year-old Rod Farrell was charged with the 1998 murder of one of his so-called "clan member's" parents in Eustis, Florida.
Now Farrell serves as a cautionary tale for members of vampire communities all across Florida-an example of how the blood-sucking culture can go wrong. But he's also a bizarre historical touchstone for Floridian vamps, adding fuel to the fact the state is becoming America's vampire headquarters.
Back in 2009, a reporter for Broward's New Times investigated South Florida's "underground" vampire community-a burgeoning club scene that sounds like a cross between a Tim Burton film, the Jersey Shore and an '80s new wave concert.
"Between gatherings like Fetish Factory's in Fort Lauderdale, Electrolust Hollywood, and Vamps South Beach, fang bearers and fang bangers can all don their darkest robes, show off their customized teeth and contact lenses, and dance to electronic tributes to Depeche Mode almost any night of the week."
For many club-goers the practice of draining energy or "aura" from others is enough to sustain their vampire lifestyle, but others go all the way with the help of "Black Swans". They're donors who allow vamps to cut them and suck on their blood.
The New Times reports: "There is plenty of hedonism and "psychic feeding" at these parties... Rarely is there 'blood play' or discussion in public. 'That part is a little bit like the Mafia: The more people know, the less they talk, and the more they talk, the less they know."
In St. Petersburg, the site of the most recent Vampire crime, the monthly gatherings take place at a club called Castle, where members are approved for entry only when they pass a set of gargoyles sitting outside. In addition to drinking red wine and socializing with other like-minded vamps, it's a time to reiterate guidelines among the groups, and initiate newcomers.
"Most people have no idea how many vampires are out there," a 26 year old female vampire named Azrael, told the New Times. "I know doctors, lawyers, businessmen - all vampires. It's just a way to maintain more control over your life."
One of those doctors involved in the community, at least professionally, is Julio Hernandez, a Miami dentist who charges upwards of $800 for a set of permanent fangs.
His work will likely be on display this Friday, at The Vampire Ball of Florida. The annual event is set to draw hoards of believers to the two-day gothic-themed costume convention in Miami.
A listing in Broward's New Times boasts vampire belling dancers, goth music, free fang giveaways and "blood magic rituals." If it all seems like an angst-y teen stunt or a Halloween hoax, consider the explicit event description: "It's an invitation to turn all-vampire and pretend - or, if you find a willing participant, not-so-much pretend - to blood-suck."