The true story of 'vampire' Rod Ferrell who became the youngest inmate in the US on death row in 1998
The murders of Naomi 'Ruth' Wendorf and Richard Wendorf in November 1996 is now the subject of an episode in Oxygen's upcoming limited series 'Deadly Cults'
Not many will have heard of Eustis, a small city in Lake County, Florida, which is 40 miles from Orlando and has a population of a little over 19,000 people. Of course, there's little reason for you to have heard about what is, for all intents and unpurposes, an unassuming little city whose call to fame is 'GeorgeFest': a festival which has been held every February since 1902 in honor of George Washington, and which is recognized as the second-longest ongoing annual event in the country. Except, in November 1996, it was witness to one of the most horrific murders the state has ever witnessed and which eventually resulted in the killer becoming the youngest person in the country on Death Row.
The murders of Naomi "Ruth" Wendorf and Richard Wendorf in November 1996 is now the subject of an episode in Oxygen's upcoming limited series 'Deadly Cults' which explores "unhinged murder cases where investigators uncover and expose the dark world of cults that kill." Set to premiere on Sunday, February 10, at 8 pm ET/PT, the episode is set to explore the couple's death at the hands of the then-16-year-old Roderrick Justin "Rod" Ferrell, an avid follower of "Vampirism" who had been of the belief that taking a life gave life.
It's a tragedy that can be traced to the evening of November 25 that year. Seventeen-year-old Jennifer Wendorf was returning home from a late night out with her friends, well aware that she had broken her curfew. Not wanting to draw the attention of her parents, she sneaked into her home and walked past her dad who was on the couch watching television. It was easy. A little too easy. She proceeded to walk into the kitchen, where she's confronted with the body of her mother lying in a pool of her blood. She realizes to her horror that it was the corpse of her father, who had been similarly beaten to death, who she had walked past on the couch.
In a frantic call to 911 recorded by authorities and obtained by Oxygen, Jennifer can be heard describing in horror how she found her parents murdered in cold blood at their home. Their car had been stolen, and even worse, she said, her 15-year-old sister Heather Wendorf was missing.
Investigators were initially restricted to following up on the missing car on which they had issued a BOLO as a lead. However, talks with Jennifer revealed that Heather may not have been abducted, but may be a possible accessory in the murders of her parents. Describing her as "outlandish" and "free-spirited," the 17-year-old brought up the name of Rod Ferrell as a possible suspect in the crime.
Detectives quickly realized that the theory held water, especially after they began looking into his background. Originally from Murray, Kentucky, Ferrell had grown up in a dysfunctional home and was introduced to "Vampirism" by a friend. He became obsessed with the subculture after getting into the roleplaying game 'Vampire: The Masquerade' and soon began going around telling others he was a 500-year-old vampire named Vesago.
Ferrell then began recruiting other members into his "family", which he dubbed "Vampire Clan". He brought onboard Howard Scott Anderson, Charity Keesee, and Dana Cooper, all from troubled families of their own. It was an outlet where he took out his frustrations on life, with his natural charisma and leadership acting as the glue that held the group together.
However, he had all of it taken away from him when his mother, with whom he lived, moved to Eustis, Florida, so she could live with her then-boyfriend. It would be here that he met Heather, and the two would soon be inseparable.
And just when he had begun adjusting to life in Florida, his mother moved back to Kentucky following a break-up, leaving Ferrell in a state of uncertainty once again. But he continued to keep in touch with Heather, with the pair always on the phone with each other.
These exchanges were six months before the Wendorf murders, and investigators believed the killings were sparked by Heather confiding in Ferrell of how she was abused by her parents. Letters sent by Heather and obtained by detectives revealed that the 15-year-old regularly mentioned how their home was "hell" and how she wished her parents were murdered, and it was believed that Ferrell was driven by a "knight in shining armor" complex to protect the teen.
In November 1996, Ferrell, Anderson, Keesee, and Cooper, got into Anderson's car and traveled from Western Kentucky to Eustis to pick up Heather so they could formally induct her into his cult. After arriving in Florida, they completed the induction in a "crossing over" ceremony that required Ferrell and the 15-year-old to drink each other's blood.
The 16-year-old Ferrell then hatched a plan to break into Heather's home so they could steal the keys to her parents' 1993 Ford Explorer. But somewhere along the way, the plan changed and was modified to include the murders of both parents.
Having broken into the garage, Ferrell picked up a crowbar from the utility room and entered the house to find Richard Wendorf asleep on the couch. Before the father had a chance to wake up, the 16-year-old beat him multiple times with the crowbar, fracturing his skull and his ribs, and almost instantly killing him.
Naomi Wendorf, who was in the shower at the time, tried to defend herself but was similarly bludgeoned to death. Ferrell later confessed his intention was to let her live but when she lunged at him and threw a hot cup of coffee at him, he changed his mind and decided to kill her as well. A first responder at the scene described it as a "blood bath" and a "Jackson Pollock painting with just the color red."
Meanwhile, Ferrell, Anderson, Keesee, Cooper, and Heather had fled in the 1993 Ford Explorer. They drove through four states in four days before they ran out of money in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at which point Keesee contacted her grandmother who promptly notified the police to their whereabouts. She tricked the teens into driving to a local Howard Johnson's hotel where detectives had laid a trap. All four were arrested without incident and booked into the Lake County Jail before being moved to a juvenile facility in Ocala.
In 1998, Ferrell pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder but claimed the others traveling with him were innocent, and that Anderson, while an accessory, only watched and did not touch the Wendorfs. Ferrell was sentenced to death, making him the youngest inmate on death row. It would be a record he held until 2000 when his sentence was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Despite Ferrell's testimony, Keesee was convicted of two counts of third-degree murder, robbery with a gun or deadly weapon, and burglary armed with weapons or explosives and was sentenced to 10 and-a-half years in state prison. Cooper was convicted of the same charges as well but was handed down a 17 and-a-half-year sentence. They were released from prison in 2006 and 2011 respectively.
Because of Florida's laws involving accessories to murder, Anderson was convicted of felony murder and given a life sentence without the possibility of parole. A 2016 US Supreme Court ruling where juveniles who had been sentenced to life without the possibility of parole were entitled to new sentencing hearings saw Anderson resentenced to 40 years in prison with credit for time served. He will walk out a free man in 2032 when he will be 51 years old.
But in what many believe was one of the greatest travesties from the trials, Heather walked out a free woman. She remains estranged with her sister to this day.