'Vampire Murders' ringleader could go free in possible re-sentencing
04/11/2016 11:52 am PDT
Rod Ferrell is the bloodthirsty villain at the center of a case that lives in criminal infamy as the "Vampire Murders." The once-self-proclaimed vampire could be freed from his cage any time now, a prospect that horrifies the detective who hunted him down.
Rod had already developed a macabre lust for blood as a young teenager. Rod had also gotten into sex and drugs.
"Everything I was listening to it was dark, it was based upon hate, war, death, pain, that's all my music, all my movies that I watched," said Rod.
"He was also into the black arts and he was teaching other kids and other people about being in the black arts and about being in witchcraft," said Rod's mother Sondra.
"My bedroom was an array of the darker side of the occult, such as the Necronomicon, the Satanic Bible, I had upside-down crosses, I had broken shards of glass laying about in the corner," said Rod. "I had hooks and metal cables wrapped around looking like 'Hellraiser.'"
By age 15, Rod was convinced he was actually 500 years old, and one of the undead.
In fact he had become the leader of his own small cult of teenage followers partaking in vampire rituals, feeding on each other's blood in the belief that it was the elixir of life and love.
"I tried to embrace the lifestyle of being a vampire and being so young, my mind latched onto it so deeply, so tenaciously, that I got lost inside it," said Rod.
And Rod Ferrell, teenage vampire, was about to lead his small group of disciples into the ultimate blood-letting ritual.
Rod Ferrell and three of his so-called disciples -- Charity Keesee, Scott Anderson and Dana Cooper -- set off in Scott's car from Murray, Kentucky, heading in the direction of Daytona Beach, Florida. Heather Wendorf, 15, who lived in the nearby town of Eustis, Florida, was planning to run away with Rod to join his vampire cult.
"And go back up to Murray where I had my power base," said Rod.
Rod told Phil Chalmers that he met Heather a year earlier after he and his mother Sondra had briefly moved from Kentucky to Florida. And like Rod, Heather is a troubled kid who allegedly had told him she was being mistreated by her parents, Richard and Naoma.
"She implied that her father was doing the hurting, her mother was doing nothing to stop it," said Rod.
Rod says he felt an empathy with heather because he claims he had been abused by a family member, and Heather had allegedly asked him to do something for her/
Did Heather ask Rod to kill her parents?
"She'd said something about it," said Rod. "I figured it was just a joke. Like 'Sure, right.'"
Rod says his vampire cult's plan to simply pick up Heather and return home to Kentucky suddenly changes when their car begins breaking down after they arrive in Florida. So it's decided they will steal a Ford Explorer Heather's parents own.
"Heather told me they keys are inside her parents' bedroom, so I said OK," said Rod.
Rod says Heather was to leave the garage door unlocked so he can get inside the house. But first Rod would have to initiate Heather into his vampire cult in a ghoulish ceremony known as "crossing over" at a local cemetery.
"And she and I went through a little ritualistic scenario together, what in the vampire culture they call 'the Embrace,'" said Rod.
Rod and Heather cut each other and feasted on one another's blood, as well as a buffet of mind-warping drugs that would turn out to be just an appetizer for the unspeakable horror that is about to follow.
"Basically, everything that could happen, happened. Every single trigger that could've triggered shot off," said Rod. "I was exceedingly high, the other ones around me were nervous, some of the girls had popped pills, I believe."
And any plan they might have had to simply steal the Explorer and run is destined to go terribly awry.
"I'd dropped some acid, and I'd dropped some pills," said Rod.
The girls drop off Rod and Sott off near Heather's home around 9 p.m. The two walk to the house and open the garage door that she'd allegedly unlocked for them.
"We had sticks, just wooden sticks in our hands," said Rod. "I didn't know how big her father was and I was slightly worried about that, and I knew a grown man could smash me to the ground without a second thought."
So Rod looks around the garage for something a little more dangerous than sticks.
"I see an ax. I'm 'Oh, there's an ax. It's been done before,'" said Rod. "'Chainsaw. That's too loud.' That's when I found a crowbar. It was something I knew I could swat somebody away with and run if I had to."
Rod and Scott walk through another door in the garage leading to the main part of the house, where they see Heather's father Richard asleep on a couch.
"And we went into the back bedrooms," said Rod.
But they can't find the parents' bedroom, where Heather had allegedly told them they the keys to the Explorer would be.
"That was when everything went red basically," said Rod.
Still high on hallucinogens and hemoglobin from Heather's initiation rites a couple of hours earlier, Rod suddenly flies into a furious, murderous frenzy.
"I snapped, I lost full control of myself," said Rod. He repeatedly bludgeons Heather's father with the crowbar until he is beyond dead.
"I have no idea how many times I hit him," said Rod.
Police would later determine it was more than 20 times, leaving Richard Wendorf soaking in blood, with his face unrecognizable and a gaping hole in his head.
Rod's partner in crime, Scott, stands behind him in shock.
"He stood frozen, stock still, he was scared to death," said Rod. "He'd never seen anything like that, never seen a death, never seen even really any extreme violence. So he was stunned."
Now even more intoxicated by the blood he's just spilled, Rod dances around Richard Wendorf's body, and the slaughter hasn't finished yet.
Heather's mother Naoma suddenly appears in front of the two young vampires, wearing a bathrobe with a cup of coffee in her hand ... and a look of horror on her face
"Everything went into a blur at that time," said Rod. "But she basically asked me, Who are you? And I told her to run, get out of here -- or at least I thought I did."
"But she charged at me, flung the coffee in my face, so the next thing I know I've taken her down to the ground, and I've beaten her to death," said Rod.
Like he did her husband, bludgeoning her to death with the crowbar.
"I'm just getting the grasp that I just killed this man over here, now I've just killed his wife," said Rod. "What just happened? How did I even get here?"
He gets back to the business of finding the master bedroom.
"So I grabbed a pearl necklace off the stand that belonged to her mother, I grabbed a hunting knife that was in the draw from her father," said Rod. "I found the keys in a dish on the drawer, I grabbed Scott and ran out the door."
They drive off in the family's Ford Explorer to collect the vampire brides and get out of town, leaving Heather's big sister Jennifer to find their slaughtered parents when she arrives home soon after.
Veteran cops are horrified when they arrive at the Wendorf home.
Detective Al Gussler, now retired, but then the lead investigator with the Lake County Sheriff's Office is the first on the scene.
"I've never seen anything worse," said Gussler. "It was a very gruesome situation. That was probably the worst case I've had."
Detective Gussler knows immediately who he's looking for after big sister Jennifer tells him Heather appears to have run off in the family Explorer with a boy from out of town.
Rod, covered in blood, hides in the back seat of the Wendorfs' stolen Ford Explorer while Scott drives to pick up their three other cult members, including Heather, the 15-year old daughter of the slaughtered couple. And the band of fugitives heads toward New Orleans and Mardi Gras, taking an out-of-the way route to try to elude a nationwide police manhunt.
Rod says after dumping the murder weapon and other evidence in the Mississippi River and taking off his bloody clothes at a gas station, the carful of wanted teens would actually be pulled over by police five times.
How could they be stopped five times and not arrested?
"They were expecting a teenage cult-leading psychopath, and instead I was speaking to them with every courtesy, quiet, I already had my story set up," said Rod. "I had already told the others we're college students from Texas or Iowa or wherever."
When they are stopped for the fifth time, right after reaching New Orleans, they change their plans and drive on to Baton Rouge, where they figure they can keep a lower profile.
But Baton Rouge is exactly where their luck runs out. Rod's girlfriend Charity calls her family, who inform the police, who then in turn trace the number to a motel where all five fugitives are arrested just three days after the murders.
Rod and Charity seem remarkable unconcerned in surveillance video, showing them passionately making out in their holding cell before being extradited back to Florida amid a media frenzy/
Rod confesses to murdering Richard and Naoma Wendorf on his own, performing like a circus act in the hope it would help his four followers would go free.
"And when I found out about the sensationalism, I was like 'OK, it's working, they're looking at me and not these other people. They're not going to look at them as monsters, they're going to see me as the monster and that'll help them,'" said Rod.
Detectives finally get Charity to admit she knew of the plan to kill Heather's parents, but tried to persuade Rod and Scott not to do it, and Dana Cooper tells police the same thing.
Scott admits his role in the killing.
"I was going to go for the father, and he was going to go for the mother, but when i saw him make the first blow, I couldn't," said Scott.
Police try to find out if new cult initiate Heather knew Rod was going to murder her parents.
"I remember telling him flat out, don't even go near my parents," Heather tells police on camera. "Because he asked me not too long ago if I wanted my parents dead or alive and I told him straight out I want them alive.
Dana Cooper says Heather didn't even know Rod had murdered her parents until they were on their way to New Orleans.
"Charity told her right as we were getting ready to leave Florida, while we were basically leaving the county," Dana tells police. "She started freaking out really bad."
Police keep the heat on Heather. "He kept telling me I didn't have a choice to go or stay," Heather said.
Heather denies hating or being mistreated by her parents and is ultimately exonerated by a grand jury, which finds she was not aware of the plan to murder her mom and dad. She was never charged.
Charity Keesee and Dana Cooper each plead guilty to a variety of lesser charges, which include knowing about Rod Ferrell's murder plans. Charity is sentenced to 10 and a half years, while Dana gets 17 and a half years. Both have since been released from prison.
Scott Anderson pleads guilty to being a principal to first-degree murder and is sentenced to life without parole.
And Rod Ferrell gets the maximum: he's sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life without parole because Rod was just 16, and still a juvenile, when he committed the murders. Then the U.S. Supreme Court declared life without parole unconstitutional for juveniles, and just last year the state Supreme Court ruled all juvenile killers with automatic life sentences must be resentenced.
"Evidently there's a very strong possibility that I'm going to have life without parole commuted to a term of years, if not time served," said Rod.
Which means that after 20 years behind bars, Rod Ferrell could be a free man any time now -- and he already has his new life planned.
"I have a woman, I have a job waiting on me," said Rod. "I even have a cat and dog waiting."
"He didn't give a second chance to the brutal murder of the mother and father so no, as far as I'm concerned he could stay there for life," said retired detective Gussler. "And if I lived in the area he was getting out in I would definitely keep an eye out on him."