Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Düsseldorf
Written By: JEH
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Peter Kürten was a German serial killer dubbed both as The Vampire of Düsseldorf and the Düsseldorf Monster. Psychiatrist Karl Berg described Kürten as the “the king of the sexual perverts,” but his crimes surpass sexual assaults and murders. Kürten has a lengthy criminal record for offenses including torture, arson, mutilation, animal cruelty, bestiality, cannibalism, and theft. His relentless crime spree makes one wonder if this man came straight from hell.
Before his execution, Kürten was found guilty of nine counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder. However, his list of victims is believed to have surpassed 30 and could have been anywhere from 35 to 70.
The Early Life of Peter Kürten
Peter Kürten was born into a poverty-stricken, abusive family in Mülheim, Germany on May 26, 1883. He was the third of 13 children, two of who died at an early age. Living inside a small one-bedroom apartment, Kürten and his siblings often fell victim to the abuse of their alcoholic father. When intoxicated, Kürten’s father would force his wife to strip and engage in sexual intercourse as their children watched. Kürten’s sister was also not safe from their father’s sexual advances. It would take years for their father to be arrested and he was jailed for 15 months for committing incest. These traumatizing incidents disturbed the young Kürten, leading him to attempt to drown one of his playmates. Coincidentally, he also befriends a local dog-catcher living in their apartment building who taught young Kürten how to torture animals.
At the age of 13, Kürten attempted to form sexual relationships with girls his age. However, they would reject his sexual advances, frustrating Kürten. To channel his sexual frustrations, he resorted to bestiality with local farm animals. Additionally, he mutilated the animals during intercourse to reach an orgasm. When a farmer caught him stabbing a pig, he had to stop his actions.
A few years later, Kürten stole all of the money in his household and ran away from home to begin a relationship with a prostitute two years his senior. After spending a month in jail for petty theft and four years in prison for fraud, he was drafted into the German army. However, he escaped and began committing acts of arson in hopes of burning homeless people alive. But he was eventually arrested not for arson, but for deserting the army. Kürten was tried by the military system and was imprisoned from 1905 to 1913.
Uncontrollable Lust: Becoming a Murderer
Kürten’s time in jail made him discover his fascination for brutal sexual acts; his solitary confinement enhancing his fantasies. During his periods of release between prison spells, he tried to release his urges. But his lust could no longer be satisfied by prostitutes and farm animals. So shortly after his release, in May 1913, he broke into a home in his neighborhood. There, he found 10-year-old Christine Klein sleeping in the living room. Kürten proceeded to stab the girl as he sexually assaulted her. Kürten was not suspected for the crime, despite accidentally dropping his handkerchief in the crime scene. Two months after Christine’s death, he committed the same crime and claimed the life of 17-year-old girl Gertrud Franken. Thus, the crimes of Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Düsseldorf officially begun.
Interrupted Killing Spree
Days after the death of Gertrud Franken, Kürten was arrested for a series of arson attacks and burglaries. He was sentenced to six years of imprisonment, but his incarceration was extended two more years for insubordination.
Released in April 1921, Kürten relocated to Altenburg, where he lived with his sister. It was also there where he met a woman three years his senior, Auguste Scharf. Scharf, a sweet shop proprietor, was a former prostitute who had previously been convicted of shooting her fiancé to death. Two years later, Kürten and Scharf married. Although the two had an active sexual relationship, Kürten still found himself longing for violent, murderous sex. So in 1925, Kürten and his wife returned to Düsseldorf, where he soon began his affairs with a servant girl, Tiede, and a housemaid, Mech. Scharf soon discovered the affairs, and Tiede and Mech filed charges against Kürten. According to Tiede, Kürten seduced her, while Mech alleged Kürten had raped her. Mech’s allegations were dropped, but Tiede’s charge was pursued. As a result, Kürten was arrested for seduction and threatening behavior and he served six out of eight months of his sentence.
The Terror Continues
On February 3, 1929, Kürten targeted an elderly woman named Apollonia Kühn. Kürten dragged Kühn into nearby undergrowth, where he stabbed her 24 times with a sharpened pair of scissors. Despite her serious injuries, Kühn survived the attack.
A few days after Kühn’s attack, Kürten strangled 9-year-old Rosa Ohliger. Once the girl was unconscious, Kürten stabber her in the stomach, temple, genitals, and heart as he masturbated. Then, he set the girl’s body on fire and the sight of the flames helped Kürten achieve an orgasm.
Not long after Rosa’s death, Kürten killed a 45-year-old mechanic named Rudolf Scheer in the suburb of Flingen Nord. Scheer was stabbed 20 times, particularly about the head, back, and eyes. When the police discovered Scheer’s body, Kürten returned to the scene, conversed with them, and gave the detectives a false lead.
Between March and July 1929, Kürten unsuccessfully strangled four women, one of whom he claimed to have thrown into the Rhine River. But on August 11, his streak continued after the murder of a young woman named Maria Hahn. Kürten raped, strangled, and repeatedly stabbed her. Then, he buried her body in a cornfield only to return several weeks later to nail her decomposing remains to a tree in a mock crucifixion to shock and disgust the public. However, he was unsuccessful because Hanh’s remains proved too heavy for him.
Three months after Hanh’s death, Kürten posted an anonymous letter to the police in which he confessed to Hahn’s murder, adding that her remains had been buried in a field. Police began to suspect the possibility of a serial killer. To convince the police that more than one perpetrator was responsible for the deaths, Kürten changed his weapon from scissors to a knife.
In the early morning of August 21, Kürten randomly stabbed an 18-year-old girl, a 30-year-old man, and a 37-year-old woman in separate attacks. All three victims survived and gave their statements to the police.
Three days after the stabbing incident, Kürten targeted two foster sisters, 14-year-old Luise Lenzen and 5-year-old Gertrude Hamacher. Kürten sent Luise on an errand to purchase cigarettes for him. Left alone with The Vampire of Düsseldorf, Gertrude was lifted off the ground by her neck, losing consciousness. Then, Kürten cut her throat and threw her body in a patch of runner beans. When Luise returned, she suffered the same fate as Gertrude but with her wounds sucked for blood by Kürten.
The following day, Kürten asked a 27-year-old housemaid named Gertrude Schulte for sex. Rejecting the offer, Schulte was stabbed repeatedly in the head, neck, shoulder, and back. Although she survived the attack, the only information he could give the police was the estimated age of the suspect.
Before changing from a knife to a hammer, Kürten attempted to kill two more people in September.
The Horror of the Hammer Attacks
On the evening of September 30, Kürten persuaded a 31-year-old servant girl named Ida Reuter to accompany him to a café. At this location, he repeatedly struck her about the head with a hammer both before and after he had raped her. Eleven days later, he victimized 22-year-old Elizabeth Dörrier outside a theatre. Once again, Kürten convinced the woman to accompany him to a café. Unfortunately, Dörrier suffered the same fate as Reuter. On October 25, Kürten also attacked two women with his hammer but both victims survived.
His last recorded murder happened on November 7, 1929. Kürten asked 5-year-old Gertrude Albermann to accompany him to a section of deserted allotments. There, she was seized by the throat. After losing consciousness, she was stabbed in the left temple with a pair of scissors. Kürten then proceeded to stab the girl 34 more times in the temple and chest.
Catching the Vampire of Düsseldorf
On May 14, 1930, an unknown man approached 20-year-old Maria Budlick at Düsseldorf station. Discovering that the woman just arrived at the city, he offered to help Budlick find her hostel. Noticing that they were heading a scarcely populated park, Budlick became apprehensive and started to argue with the unknown man. Kürten noticed the commotion and interrupted, causing the unknown man to walk away. Then, Kürten invited the distressed Budlick to his apartment on Mettmanner Straße. However, Kürten lured her into the Grafenburg Woods, where he seized her by the throat and attempted to strangle her as he raped her. After the incident, Kürten let Budlick go.
Budlick did not report the incident to the police but wrote a letter to her friend discussing the events in great detail. What Budlick did not realize was that she addressed the letter incorrectly, prompting a post office clerk to open the letter. Upon reading the content of the letter, the clerk immediately forwarded the letter to the Düsseldorf police.
Chief Inspector Gennat asked Budlick to recount her ordeal. It was revealed that she still remembered the address of Kürten’s apartment. The police wasted no time and went to the apartment complex, where the landlady gave away Kürten’s name to the police. Although Kürten was not at home when Budlick and Chief Inspector Gennat searched his property, he spotted the pair in the communal hallway and promptly left.
Arrest, Trial, and Execution of Peter Kürten
Knowing that his identity was now known to the police, he feared that he will be connected to the crimes of “the Vampire of Düsseldorf”. He confessed to his wife he had raped Budlick and he may receive 15 years’ penal labor. Scharf helped her husband escape and arranged his lodgings in the Adlerstraße district of Düsseldorf. On May 23, after Kürten returned home, he confessed to his wife that he was the Vampire of Düsseldorf. Kürten then encouraged her to turn him in so that she could collect the reward offered for his capture. Scharf contacted the police and that afternoon, Kürten was arrested at gunpoint.
Kürten freely admitted his guilt in all the crimes police had attributed to the Vampire of Düsseldorf. He also admitted to 68 crimes including 10 murders and 31 attempted murders. Aside from the murders, he claimed to have drunk the blood from the throat of one victim, from the temple of another, and to have licked the blood from a third victim’s hands. He also added that in 1930, he decapitated a swan to drink its blood as he masturbated.
Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Düsseldorf pleaded not guilty because of insanity, but psychiatrist Dr. Karl Berg and other legal examiners ruled Kürten was legally sane and competent to stand trial.
After 10 days of trial, the jury deliberated for 90 minutes and found Kürten guilty and sentenced him to death on nine counts of murder. He was also found guilty of seven counts of attempted murder. Kürten did not appeal his conviction. He remained composed and asked for permission to see his Confessor, to write letters of apology to the relatives of his victims, and a final farewell letter to his wife.
On July 1, 1931, Kürten received his last meal, which was Wiener Schnitzel, a bottle of white wine, and fried potatoes. The next day, at 6 a.m., Peter Kürten was beheaded by guillotine in the grounds of Klingelputz Prison, Cologne. Before he was placed on the guillotine, he asked a psychiatrist, “Tell me… after my head is chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”
Following his execution, his head was bisected and mummified. His brain was also removed and subjected to forensic analysis in an attempt to explain his personality and behavior. After the Second World War, Kürten’s head was transported to the United States, where it is currently on display at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in Wisconsin.
Dr. Karl Berg published a book, titled “The Sadist”, based on the confessions of Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Düsseldorf. Up until the late 2000s, Kürten’s crimes continued to inspire films, books, and TV shows.
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