Terrifying Legends of Peru #4: Sarah Ellen, Vampiress of Pisco


Sarah Ellen swore she’d return in 80 years to avenge her death.  Is she already wandering the streets or still waiting in her tomb?

So far in our Terrifying Legends of Peru series, we’ve entered one of Latin America’s most haunted houses, survived a devil’s bargain with a Muki, and stared down two giant Amazonian serpents.

But did you know that one of Dracula’s brides lies buried in Peru?  In 1913, before she was executed, they say she swore to come back from the grave in exactly 80 years to avenge her death.  That day came on June 9, 1993.

But how did a blond haired English vampiress end up buried in Pisco, Peru?

(Photo: Puerto de Pisco/Facebook)

The Legend

It began in 1913 when a merchant ship from Europe docked in Pisco, Peru and delivered a coffin sealed with lead.  The coffin was laid to rest in the port’s cemetery by an Englishman with a face hardened by days of grief, and the locals began to talk.

The story was told in bars, hotels, local shops, and soon spread throughout the town.  The woman inside the coffin was a vampire.

Sarah Ellen had been an Englishwoman, they said, with long blonde hair and pale white skin.

Some said she was a witch, others claimed she was bitten by Dracula himself – that she had lived a double life as a faithful spouse by day and blood-sucking predator by night.  The only detail that everyone agreed on was that she had been tried and found guilty of witchcraft in her hometown of Blackburn, England.

Her execution was carried out on June 9th, 1913.

Before they struck the killing blow, Sarah Ellen swore that in 80 years time she would return to take her revenge on humanity.  They drove a stake through her heart and had sealed her in a coffin lined with lead.

After the execution, Sarah Ellen’s coffin (with her corpse inside it) was left with her husband.  Her husband searched far and wide for a place to bury her, sailing all over Europe.  However, all had heard of her unholiness and the promise of vengeance, and no country would allow her to be buried on their soil.

Sarah Ellen’s husband had no choice but to journey to the Americas.  Argentina turned the coffin away and so did Chile.  One day, as the widowed man was about to give up hope, a sailor recommended him to bring Sarah Ellen to Peru.

Everyone knows Peru is the land of witches,” the sailor said without the slightest hint of jest.

This is how Sarah Ellen’s coffin came to the port of Pisco in 1913, the same year she was executed.  She was buried in the local cemetery where she remained until…

(Sarah Ellen, la vampiresa de Peru/Facebook)

80 years later

In early June of 1993, the state controlled media of the dictatorship of Alberto Fujimori broadcasted throngs of people gathered in the cemetery of Pisco.  They held wooden stakes, garlic cloves, and holy relics, massed in front of the grave of Sarah Ellen.  They were prepared to fight whatever demon, vampire or spirit that would return for the promised vengeance.

That year, a “vampirologist” had appeared on a talk show program of Cristina Saralegui in Peru claiming that Sarah Ellen was one of three female vampires in the world.  She talked of the legend, of her death, her oath of revenge.  The people of Ica were in hysterics after this program, especially those of the little port town of Pisco where Sarah’s body lay.

Many were convinced she would arise again and possess a young infant, child, or a virgin to reclaim human form.  They made preparations and remained vigilant over the grave in the days leading up to June 9th.

Stakes and garlic cloves were always at hand.

(Photo: Pixabay)

Midnight of June 9th came and went and Sarah Ellen remained in her grave, to the relief (or disappointment?) of many.  The hysteria died down and the legend began to evolve in different directions.

Some say that it wasn’t 80 years in which she swore to return, but 100, or 180!  The time may yet be to come…

Others have taken to treating Sarah Ellen as a saint, leaving her flowers and other offerings while asking for favors or blessings from her spirit.  In fact, it seems the people have begun to see her in a tragic, tender, or spiritual way.

Then again, perhaps she has already returned from the dead, and stalks the dunes and coastal bluffs of Ica in the night, possessing the bodies of other young women to carry on her work: a thirst for vengeance that can never be satisfied.

The True Story?

As you might imagine, the story of Sarah Ellen gave many in England a good laugh when they heard what a hysteria it caused for Peru in 1993.

First of all, England had long ended the practice of executing witches in 1913, when Sarah Ellen was allegedly killed.  In fact, the last witch execution in England occurred in 1684.

Secondly, historical records easily disprove most of the legend.

Sarah Ellen and her husband, John Roberts, were both weavers.  Ica was a big producer of cotton at the time, so it is not surprising that they would have made trips to the region’s principal port of Pisco.  On one of these trips, Sarah Ellen passed away, and her husband was forced to carry her in a makeshift coffin to the nearest cemetery – naturally arousing suspicion and possibly rumors among the locals.

(Photo: La Cueva del Mistero/Facebook)

This is based on research by Stephen Smith published in the Daily Mail.  Smith also believes that the legend is mostly a result of the Peruvian media’s hype in that very same year of 1993, although he does not rule out the possibility that it was “an enduring local myth” ever since Sarah’s coffin arrived under the aforementioned strange circumstances.

Despite the historical impossibility, plot holes, and over-the-top fantasy elements in the Sarah Ellen legend, it truly is a compelling story.

Also, that part in the tale where they tell Sarah Ellen’s widowed husband that Peru is the land of witches – they weren’t kidding.  It won’t be long before we hear about witches again, and we will return to the department of Ica for that very legend.

Thanks for reading another episode of Terrifying Legends of Peru.  If you enjoyed, please like, comment, and share on Facebook.  Join us next week for another mysterious tale from the Andean country!

Sources and Related Links:

Sarah Ellen: Santa o Vampira? (Youtube)

Sarah Ellen: la aterradora leyenda de una mujer vampiro en Pisco 

Vampire haunting Peruvian city is unmasked…

La Verdadera historia de Sarah ellen (Youtube)


© Michael Lee Dreckschmidt and Living in Peru, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael Lee Dreckschmidt and Living in Peru with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Mike Dreckschmidt

Mike grew up and eventually attended university in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He graduated in Integrative Leadership Studies with an emphasis in Urban and Regional Planning and has been a part of planning projects in three different countries. Mike’s passion is reading; he devours both literature and nonfiction. His favorite author is Peru’s own Julio Ramón Ribeyro.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Mike,

    Come on. Dictatorship of Fujimori in 1993 ?

    What do you think, that we Peruvians are those Millennial Snow flakes from the US ?

    Despite George Soros, Albright and the Clinton Cash, Fujimori was the best ever.

    If you wish to discuss about dictatorships, coup d’Etats, Regime change/imposing, “democrat” and “free” Governments you guys should learn, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanks and cheers.

    Interesting story, though. But, yes Sir, Thank You Alberto Fujimori.

  2. Mike Dreckschmidt
    Mike Dreckschmidt

    Hi Gino, thanks for the comment. I am not commenting on whether the dictatorial methods were or were not necessary at the time, or whether he was a good leader, because it isn’t relevant to this story. However, it is well recorded that he dissolved congress in 1992, arrested opposition, and was controlling the media behind-the-scenes, which I think makes the use of the word dictator appropriate.

    I read some theories that the Fujimori administration actually helped fabricate and promote this vampire story in 1993 to distract people from what was going on. I didn’t include this in the story and am not commenting on the truth of it, but I thought knowing who was broadcasting all of this was an interesting detail for readers.