While it isn’t uncommon for serial killers to have mental health or personality disorder diagnoses, certain cases stand out from the rest. Undoubtedly, one of those is Richard Trenton Chase, the infamous “Vampire of Sacramento.” Notorious for the murder and mutilation of six victims in late-70s Sacramento, CA, he became a symbol of fatal madness. What’s striking about his story is, in part, the glimpse it provides into an extraordinarily disturbed psyche. However, the story also highlights the mental health system’s failures and role in creating the Vampire.
Making of the Vampire: Early Struggles with Mental Health
Richard Chase exhibited signs of being disturbed from early life, developing a propensity for setting fires, animal cruelty and frequent bedwetting. These have been called the MacDonald Triad of behaviors that may signal sociopathy and potential violence. More recent empirical research suggests these behaviors are indicators of a dysfunctional home, which itself may produce antisocial behavior.
Chase most certainly came from a troubled home environment, with a physically abusive father and a mother alleged to have undiagnosed mental health conditions. Periodically kicked out of the house in adolescence, he turned to drugs and alcohol as coping methods, and his condition worsened. Drug abuse and impotence sabotaged attempts at dating and living with friends.
As time passed, heavy substance abuse interacted with Chase’s illness to produce vivid delusions, the most consistent of which concerned blood and a specific fixation on not having enough of it in his body. He was in and out of various institutions in the 70s, often checked out by family members before he could be significantly treated. In one case, he was hospitalized with blood poisoning after trying to inject himself with the blood of a rabbit. During another brief stay, hospital assistants discovered evidence of his killing and drinking the blood of several birds. They nicknamed him “Dracula.”
Nevertheless, although that last incident happened at an extended care mental hospital that diagnosed Richard Chase with paranoid schizophrenia, he was shortly released on his mother’s recognizance.
Triple Threat: The Disturbed Psyche That Produced the Vampire
Although Richard Chase was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and showed signs of “sociopathy” — what today we would more commonly call antisocial personality disorder — it’s important to understand that most people with such conditions don’t become violent. In fact, people with mental illness are likelier to be victims than perpetrators of violence. However, as Graham Thornicroft puts it:
“[Higher] rates of violence perpetration have been identified among people with particular types of severe mental illness, namely schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These rates are moderately raised compared with the general population, with an important caveat: People with triple morbidity (i.e., individuals with severe mental illness and substance use disorder and antisocial personality disorder) are substantially more likely to be violent than people with severe mental illness alone.
Did Richard Chase have mental health problems at this level? It turns out that the Vampire of Sacramento was just such a case, suffering from substance use disorder along with his other maladies.
The Vampire Emerges: The Horrifying Crimes of Richard Chase
In the period before his murders, Richard Chase was increasingly in the grip of his delusions. He moved out of his mother’s house when he developed the idea that she was poisoning him. Shortly after that, he rediscovered his fixation on blood.
After his capture, Chase was found to have been killing small animals and blending their organs to mix into a soda concoction. By late summer of 1977, he had escalated to larger animals; police in the Lake Tahoe area caught him covered in cow’s blood but released him. On his return home, he finally went over the edge.
Chase attempted several drive-by shootings before hitting his first victim, 51-year-old Ambrose Griffin, in the chest at the end of December 1977. He earned the “Vampire of Sacramento” moniker in early 1978 with his second victim, Teresa Wallin. Gaining access to her home through an unlocked door, he shot and stabbed her multiple times, removed her organs and drank her blood. Just 4 days later, Chase would commit the mass murder of four people at the home of Evelyn Miroth, who met a gruesome fate similar to what had happened to Wallin before her.
Chase was captured shortly after the Miroth mass murder, and evidence of plans to carry out more than 40 more killings was found in his apartment. His living conditions could only be described as grisly, including a kitchen covered in blood and a fridge containing human viscera. He was sentenced to death and died of suicide in custody.
Fascination of the Macabre: Chase’s Influence on Pop Culture
Since his death, Richard Chase’s macabre crimes have inspired multiple songs and films, including 1987’s “Rampage” and the documentary “Lore: Deadly Obsession.”
Rampage in particular became a classic due to its focus not so much on the details of the murders as on the question of insanity and how it should affect court judgments. Ultimately, and understandably, the film’s prosecutor protagonist — previously against the death penalty — favors it for a slightly fictionalized Chase in this case. But did it have to be this way?
Missed Warning Signs: The Infamous Legacy of the Vampire of Sacramento
Richard Chase displayed a host of disturbing behaviors and was involved in unsettling and frightening incidents during the month of January 1978 before he committed his most grotesque crimes.
Various people in the neighborhood had frightening run-ins with him in public places where he followed or menaced them. He invaded one couple’s home and tried to enter another but was thwarted by a locked screen door. (By his interpretation of the rules of vampirism, locked doors were a sign to Chase that he wasn’t invited.)
These incidents were simply the crescendo of years of warning signs. Strangely, no authority figures Chase encountered on his journey seemed to grasp the problem’s urgency. Multiple points came and went where long-term commitment and genuine help might have averted Chase’s descent into homicidal madness, or at least kept him from potential victims.
Getting Help With Restore Mental Health
While you probably don’t know anyone as dangerous as Richard Chase, a mental illness or substance use disorder doesn’t need to be dramatic or violent before it’s worth getting help. Contact Restore Mental Health today for timely treatment from our compassionate team of professionals.