Read a real-life medical report on three cases of Haitian zombies

Zombies may seem like the purview of AMC dramas nowadays, but in 1997, English medical journal The Lancet published an intriguing set of case studies detailing three reports of zombification in Haiti. What caused the dead to walk in these instances? Well, let's just say reality is far less lurid than George Romero flicks.

Here are the three case studies the researchers observed in southern Haiti between 1996-1997:

FI was around 30 years old when she died after a short febrile illness and was buried by her family the same day in the family tomb next to her house. 3 years later she was recognised by a friend wandering near the village; her mother confirmed her identity by a facial mark, as did her 7-year-old daughter, her siblings, other villagers, her husband, and the local priest. She appeared mute and unable to feed herself. Her parents accused her husband of zombifying her (he was jealous of her after she had had an affair). After a local court authorised the opening of her tomb, which was full of stones, her parents were undecided whether to take her home and she was admitted to the psychiatric hospital in Port-au Prince [...]

WD, 26 years old, was the eldest son of an alleged former tonton macoute (secret policeman) under the Duvaliers' regime. The father was our principal informant together with WD's mother and other villagers. When he was 18, he suddenly became ill with a fever, "his eyes turned yellow," he "smelled bad like death," and "his body swelled up". Suspecting sorcery, his father asked his older brother to obtain advice from a boko [or sorcerer], but WD died after 3 days and was buried in a tomb on family land next to the house of a female cousin. The tomb was not, as was customary, watched that night. 19 months later, WD reappeared at a nearby cock fight, recognised his father, and accused his uncle of zombifying him [...]

MM, aged 31, was the younger sister of our principal informant who described her as formerly a friendly but quiet and shy girl, not very bright. At the age of 18, MM had joined some friends in prayers for a neighbour who had been zombified; she herself then became ill with diarrhoea and fever, her body swelled up and she died in a few days. The family suspected revenge sorcery. After 13 years, MM had reappeared in the town market 2 months before we met her, with an account of having been kept as a zombi in a village 100 miles to the north, and having borne a child to another zombi (or perhaps to the boko). On the death of the boko, his son had released her and she travelled home on foot.

The researchers diagnosed the first patient with catatonic schizophrenia, the second with epilepsy and brain damage (presumably from oxygen deprivation), and the third with potential fetal alcohol syndrome.

To makes matters even curiouser, DNA testing revealed that the second and third patients were cases of mistaken identity. The researchers posit that reported cases of zombification have less to do with mind-controlling neurotoxins and more to do with untreated or undiagnosed mental illness and brain disorders. You can read the full study — "Clinical findings in three cases of zombification" — here.

[The Lancet via Mind Hacks. Top image from 1943's I Walked With A Zombie.]