Vampire-cult leader Rod Ferrell claimed he would live forever. But as the convicted murderer serves a life sentence in prison, it's the story of his gruesome Lake County killings that just won't die.
Ferrell was 16 when he bludgeoned a Eustis couple to death in November 1996. The murders of Richard and Ruth Wendorf have been retold time and again, including in a low-budget film, several true-crime books and a TV docudrama.
Now French filmmakers are revisiting Ferrell's crimes for a 90-minute documentary set to air in May. The film will be broadcast on French state television.
Antoine Baldassari, the film's director, said his goal is to help French audiences understand a contemporary serial killer, Michel Fourniret, through the stories of three murderers from the United States. Fourniret stands trial Thursday for seven murders committed in France and Belgium from 1987 to 2001. He has confessed to six of them.
Filmmakers who recently spent time inLake County conducting interviews for the project said it was Ferrell's potential to become a serial killer that led them to feature him in the film.
French author Stephane Bourgoin, who is working on the documentary and has written about 20 books on criminology and serial killers, said he is convinced Ferrell would have claimed more victims if he hadn't been stopped in time.
"There's no doubt about it," said Bourgoin, who interviewed Ferrell a few weeks ago for the documentary at New River West Correctional Institution in Bradford County. "He was, in a sort, a serial killer in the making."
Ferrell did tell police: "Killing is a way of life. Animals do it, and that's just the way humans are -- just the worst kind of predators of all, actually." And he came up with his vampire name, "Vesago," from a Satan-worshiping serial-killing teen in the 1995 movie Hideaway.
Ferrell's followers called him their "maker," wore black clothes, black lipstick and black nail polish, and drank one another's blood. Baldassari said Ferrell, like Fourniret, saw the ultimate crime as a matter of little moral consequence.
"It was so natural for him to kill," he said. "This kind of criminal can speak with you about murder without any emotion."
Ferrell "was not a serial killer in the classic sense," said State Attorney Brad King, who prosecuted the case. "He killed two people at one time for one particular reason."
King argues the case was sensationalized into a horror story about a cultish murder scheme. Essentially, he said, Ferrell's cult was separate from his killer motive.
"To me, it was about a young man who had influence over a group of people to some extent and committed the murder of two people," King said. "He never really suggested that his murders were connected to his dabbling in the occult. He said the murders were committed to avoid arrest for stealing the parents' car."
After he moved from Eustis to Kentucky and later dropped out of high school, Ferrell had traveled back to Florida with a carload of his followers. They planned to pick up 15-year-old Heather Wendorf, a would-be runaway Ferrell befriended a year earlier.
On Nov. 25, 1996, Ferrell used a crowbar to kill Ruth Wendorf, 54, and her 49-year-old husband, then stole the couple's Ford Explorer from their Eustis home and headed off.
Heather Wendorf said she learned her mom and dad were dead after the group left Eustis. Three days after the killings, authorities caught the group in Baton Rouge, La. In addition to Ferrell, three others were charged in the deaths. A grand jury, however, did not indict Heather -- the fifth teen who left in the Explorer.
Two other killers featured in Baldassari's documentary weren't caught as quickly as the vampire cultists.
Gerard Schaefer wrote about killing more than 30 girls and women before a Florida jury found him guilty of two murders in October 1973. He was stabbed to death by a fellow inmate in 1995.
Edmund Kemper killed his grandparents when he was 15. When he turned himself over to authorities in 1973, in his 20s, he told them his last victims were his mother and her friend. He was found guilty of eight counts of murder and is serving two life sentences in California.
"We want to create a discussion in France about what is a serial killer," Baldassari said. "What are these types of criminals?"