12 'Real' Werewolf Cases Throughout History
12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History

Tim Flight - May 14, 2018

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History
King Lycaon, engraved by Hendrik Goltzius, Netherlands, 1589. Wikimedia Commons

Hans the Werewolf

Hans the Werewolf was active in Estonia until his execution in 1651. He has the unhappy distinction of being the youngest person executed for lycanthropy on this list, being only 18 at the time. Estonia and much of the Baltic were especially rich hunting grounds for witchfinders, as the peasantry were still practicing paganism (and associated folk-magic) into the Early Modern period, and thus often accused one another of casting spells. The God-fearing authorities interpreted such acts and accusations as Satanic witchcraft, and many were put to death. The peasantry also believed wholeheartedly in werewolves, to the detriment of many.

Brought before the judges, Hans made his confession without the need for torture. He admitted to having hunted as a werewolf for 2 years but had not taken on the form willingly. Instead, he claimed to have been bitten by a man wearing black garments, whom he later discovered to be a werewolf. The judges took the opportunity to ask so unusually pliable a werewolf for further detail about his condition. Hans explained that when in wolf-form he felt more like a wild beast than a man, and that he believed the transformation to be physical, not just spiritual.

Although there was no evidence of Hans committing any murders, he was still sentenced to death. The detail of the werewolf dressed in black that bit him was taken to be evidence of pact witchcraft – punishable by death – with the mysterious figure being Satan himself. At his trial, Hans showed the court a scar from what appeared to be canine jaws, which he said was given to him by the werewolf. With hindsight, it is easy to see a teenager confessing to anything in order to escape torture, and showing the physical scars from a normal dog bite as proof.

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History
Maurice Sand, ‘Le Loup-Garou’,France, 1857. Wikimedia Commons

Jean Grenier

In early spring 1603, the St. Severs district of Gascony, South-West France, was gripped by terror. Little girls and boys had disappeared without a trace from the fields and roads, and on one occasion a baby had been taken silently from its cradle whilst the mother was in another part of her small cottage. The local magistrate began an investigation, and several witnesses came forward. One, a 13-year-old girl, stated that she had been attacked by a savage wolf under a full moon, whilst another had been watching cattle when she was assailed by a gigantic wolf in broad daylight.

Shockingly, a 14-year-old boy, Jean Grenier, had been heard to boast that he was behind the attacks. Tending cattle one day with Jeanne Gaboriaut, his fellow servant, he told the 18-year-old that he would one day marry her. When she remarked how filthy he was, Grenier replied that this was because of the wolf-skin he wore to turn himself into a werewolf. He further elaborated that he was part of a pack of 9 werewolves that hunted 3 times a week in the area. He stated that his favorite prey was young children, owing to the tenderness of their flesh.

Terrified, Gaboriaut immediately informed the local magistrate, who arrested Grenier. The teenager made a full confession without the need for torture. He had run away from an abusive father, and was compelled to make a living by begging and cowherding. Another boy, Pierre de la Tilhaire, had taken him one night to meet ‘The Lord of the Forest’, who gave Grenier an icy kiss and a mark on his thigh. The Lord also gave the boy a wolfskin and unguent, which transformed him into a wolf, and cautioned him never to cut his left thumbnail, which now resembled a claw.

His first murder was of a 3-year-old girl, named Guyonne, whom he ate whole. He confessed to various murders, and in each case was able to give exact details about the time and place at which the victim was taken. He also reported being chased away from a young boy by an elder brother, who came forward to corroborate Grenier’s statement. In spite of all this, the court showed clemency to Grenier on account of his age and poor education, and he was sent to stay with Franciscans at the friary of St Michael the Archangel, Bordeaux, in 1603.

In 1610, one Pierre de Lancre visited him, and later reported what he found. Grenier had fierce, sunken black eyes, long teeth that looked like fangs, and his hands were like talons, with long and crooked nails. He would often rush around on all fours, and seemed better able to move in this way than on two legs. He loved to hear talk of wolves, and the friars reported that in his early days at the friary he would only eat raw meat and offal. Grenier, clearly suffering from a psychological disorder or disease, died shortly afterward in 1611.

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History
Charcoal drawing from Manuel Blanco Romasanta’s medical report, Spain, c.1852. Wikimedia Commons

Manuel Blanco Romasanta

So far, we have been examining werewolf cases from the Early Modern period. However, werewolves have been (allegedly) active in more recent times. Manuel Blanco Romasanta (1809-63) is Spain’s first documented serial killer, known as the Werewolf of Allariz, who gave the defense of lycanthropy at his trial. He was originally named Manuela, for it was thought that he was a girl. As an adult, Romasanta worked as a tailor, and is said by some to have been less than 5 feet in height. He married, but his wife died in 1833, and Romasanta became a traveling salesman.

His work took him across Galicia and through Portugal, and often he would drum up trade by acting as a guide for travelers crossing the mountains. His first murder seems to have taken place in 1844 when he killed a constable attempting to collect a debt Romasanta owed to a supplier. He fled and was convicted in absentia and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. Romasanta obtained a false passport and lived in a small village in Galicia, where he worked as a cook and weaver, becoming very friendly with the women of the village, and was considered effeminate by local men.

Whilst living in the region, Romasanta continued to act as a guide for those wishing to cross the mountains, and it was at this time that his serial-killing (or lycanthropic) career began. He would kill women and children who hired him deep in the mountains, and forge letters from the victims to their families so that their deaths went unnoticed for as long as possible. Suspicions grew when he began selling the victims’ clothes and soap rumored to be made of human fat. Finally, the suspicions brought a formal allegation in 1852, and Romasanta was arrested in Nombela, Toledo.

At his trial, Romasanta admitted to 13 murders, but gave the defense of lycanthropy. He said that he first turned into a wolf after coming across a pair of the creatures in the mountains. Examined by doctors according to the principles of phrenology (the long-discredited identification of character traits through skull measurements), he was declared a liar. Romasanta was convicted of 9 murders, and sentenced to death, but died in prison, either shot by a guard or succumbing to cancer. It has been theorized that the famine in Galicia at the time rendered him insane through lack of nourishment.

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History
Werewolves eating a sheep, from the cover of Wie man die falschen Propheten erkennen, Wittenburg,1809. Google Books

Thiess of Livonia

Thiess of Livonia was an octogenarian man put on trial for heresy in 1692, in Jürgensburg, Swedish Livonia (modern day Latvia). Thiess was originally presented to a court as a potential witness to a church robbery, but he shocked the judges by confessing to being a former werewolf who had retired from the activity 10 years previous to the date. His story is fascinating and unique, for not only is Thiess by far the oldest werewolf on our list, but he also unusually claimed to have been a benevolent werewolf who acted in the best interests of the Christian community.

Thiess explained that he had been turned into a werewolf when, many years before, he was a beggar, and a ‘rascal’ drank him a toast, conferring the power upon him. He could do the same for others by toasting them. He and the other Livonian werewolves underwent transformation on 3 nights a year. They would wander the local farms, killing farm animals and roasting them over an open fire, seasoned with salt. Fortified by the meal, they would next travel ‘across the sea’ to hell, where they would chase the devil and his witches and beat them with iron rods.

During their visit to hell, the werewolves would then take back all the grain and livestock stolen by the witches over the year. If they failed to do so, that year’s harvest would be poor. Werewolves, according to Thiess, were the servants of God, and had an important role to play in His plans for mankind. Unfortunately, Thiess also confessed that he practiced benevolent folk magic and didn’t attend church as he was too old to understand Lutheran doctrine. Not knowing what else to do with him, the judges had Thiess flogged and permanently banished for misleading Christians.

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History
‘The Werewolves’, illustration from Sabine Baring-Gould, The Book o _Werewolves, London, 1865. Wikimedia Commons

The Galician Werewolf

Another comparatively modern case, this one dates from 1849, and was discussed at length by the clergyman and antiquarian Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924), best-remembered for writing the hymn ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’. The incident took place in the hamlet of Połomia, modern-day Poland, a settlement romantically surrounded by thick pine forests, where most of its inhabitants worked at the time of the story. The villagers in 1849 were extremely poor, but apparently generous, for a beggar made a living there outside the church for several years. Venerable, and with a long white beard, he could be sure of alms from Połomia’s inhabitants.

The beggar, named Swiatek, was one day being fed by a family in one of the hovels. He seemed fond of a young girl, whom he ascertained was an orphan, and gave her a ring, instructing her to go to a pine in the churchyard and recite an incantation, after which she would find more jewels. She called her siblings to join her on the treasure hunt, but Swiatek told her she must go alone. He departed soon after from his meal, and the orphan girl was never seen again. Soon other children, playing amongst the pines, disappeared too.

The disappearances were blamed on wolves, and the villagers began to kill any they encountered. At the same time, the local innkeeper lost a couple of ducks, and immediately suspected the resident beggar of the theft, for Swiatek maintained a wife and children simply by mendicity. As the innkeeper approached Swiatek’s home, he could smell roasted meat, and his suspicions were confirmed. Entering the hovel, the innkeeper noticed Swiatek conceal something beneath his clothes, and immediately seized him around the throat. However, what fell from Swiatek’s clothes was not a duck, but the head of a 14-year-old girl.

When his home was searched, it was found to contain the skilfully-butchered remains of the girl: her organs had been removed and cleaned, a bowl of fresh blood was under the oven, and her limbs were roasting over a fire. Swiatek confessed to having killed and eaten 6 people, though the number was suspected to be far higher. His taste for human flesh came after a catastrophic fire killed several people at a tavern, and he had partaken of the roasted meat. The locals suspected him of lycanthropy, but Swiatek hung himself in prison before the charge could be brought.

12 ‘Real’ Werewolf Cases Throughout History
Gustave Doré , ‘Red Riding Hood Meets Old Father Wolf’, France, 1864. Wikimedia Commons

The Werewolf of Châlons

To finish, we return to Early Modern France, seemingly the spiritual home of lycanthropy, and the horrific tale of a tailor burnt at the stake in 1598. His name is long-lost, but he is known as the Werewolf of Châlons or the Demon Tailor. Operating from the city of Châlons in the Champagne region, the surviving details of his crimes are truly staggering, and simultaneously break several cultural taboos. Unfortunately, the Parliament of Paris, which tried and convicted him, deemed the court transcripts so unpleasant that they were burned, and so we know of the case only through retellings.

By day, the werewolf ran a tailor’s shop on the outskirts of Châlons. In classic fairy-tale style, the tailor would often hear children playing outside his shop, and proceed to lure them inside with promises of treats or marvelous things. Once inside, the tailor would sexually abuse them, slit their throats, and cut the bodies up with the skill of a butcher. He stored them in the barrels in the shop’s cellar, which no one had reason to enter. In some versions of the story, the tailor would also commit necrophilia before butchering the children’s bodies for consumption.

His crimes did not stop there, for he also roamed the nearby forests, looking for lost travelers. In the forest, he turned himself into a wolf, stalking the unfortunate victims through the thick undergrowth and tearing their throats out. It seems that he would eat them in the forest, rather than risk being seen carrying them back to Châlons. His urban activities seem to have aroused suspicion, for eventually his cellar was searched, and the barrels were found to contain bleached bones and butchered human flesh. It is said that he burned to death blaspheming and unrepentant to his last breath.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

The Conversation – The Ancient Origins Of Werewolves

Live Science – Werewolves: Lore, Legend & Lycanthropy

Ancient Origins – Germany’s Brutal Werewolf Belt and The Gut-Wrenching Execution of Peter Stumpp

Mental Floss – 8 Historic Accounts of Werewolves

The Richest – 20 Bizarre Tales Of Real-Life Werewolves

All That’s Interesting – The Grisly Werewolf Panic That Swept Europe A Century Before The Salem Witch Trials

History of Yesterday – Before Salem: The Real-Life Werewolf Trials That Plagued European Nations

Vocal Media – The Wolf Trials

Ultimate History Project – Werewolves: Fable Or Affliction?

Listverse – 10 Real Life Werewolves

Retrieverman – The Wolf of Ansbach

Grunge – The Truth Behind Europe’s Brutal Werewolf Trials

Faolad – Hounds of God: The Werewolf Ritual According to Thiess

Baring-Gould, Sabine. The Book of Were-Wolves, Being an Account of a Terrible Superstition. London: Smith, Elder, 1865.

Beresford, Matthew. The White Devil: The Werewolf in European Culture. London: Reaktion, 2013.

Flight, Tim. ‘The Wolf Must Be in the Woods: The Real and Mythical Dangers of the Wilderness’, History Today, June 2017

Otten, Charlotte F., ed. A Lycanthropy Reader: Werewolves in Western Culture. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1986.

Pollard, James. Wolves and Werewolves. London: Robert Hale, 1964.

Summers, Montague. The Werewolf. London: K. Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1933.