Mugshot of Peter Kürten taken in 1931
May 26, 1883|
Mülheim am Rhein
|Died||July 2, 1931
|Cause of death||Decapitation by guillotine|
|Other names||The Vampire of Düsseldorf|
|Motive||sexual pleasure / to "strike back at oppressive society"|
|Number of victims||Murders: 9 (possibly over 60)
Sexual assaults: unknown
|Span of killings||26 May 1913–7 November 1929|
|State(s)||Rhine Province, Prussia|
|Date apprehended||May 24, 1930|
Peter Kürten (26 May 1883 – 2 July 1931) was a German serial killer dubbed The Vampire of Düsseldorf by the contemporary media. He committed a series of sexual crimes, assaults and murders against adults and children, most notoriously from February to November 1929 in Düsseldorf.
Peter Kürten was born into a poverty-stricken, abusive family in Mülheim am Rhein, as the third of thirteen children. As a child, he witnessed his alcoholic father repeatedly sexually assault his mother and his sisters. He followed in his father's footsteps, and was soon sexually abusing his sisters. He engaged in petty criminality from a young age, and was a frequent runaway. He later claimed to have committed his first murders drowning two young friends while swimming at the age of nine.
Kürten moved with his family to Düsseldorf in 1894 and received a number of short prison sentences for various crimes, including theft and arson. As an adolescent, he was employed by the local dogcatcher, a job which allowed him to indulge in cruelty to animals.
Kürten progressed from torturing animals to attacks on people. He committed his first recorded murder in 1913, strangling a 10-year-old girl, Christine Klein, during the course of a burglary. His crimes were then halted by World War I and an eight-year prison sentence. In 1921, he left prison and moved to Altenburg, where he got married. In 1925, he returned to Düsseldorf, where he began the series of crimes that would culminate in his capture, sentence to death and execution.
On 8 February 1929, he assaulted a woman and molested and murdered an eight-year-old girl. On 13 February, he murdered a middle-aged mechanic, stabbing him 20 times. Kürten did not attack again until August, stabbing three people in separate attacks on the 21st; murdering two foster sisters, aged five and 14, on the 23rd; and stabbing another woman on the 24th.
In October, he attacked two women with a hammer. On 7 November, he murdered a five-year-old girl by strangling and stabbed her 36 times with scissors. After the crime he sent a map to a local newspaper disclosing the location of her grave. The variety of victims and murder methods gave police the impression that more than one killer was at large: the police had over 900,000 different names on their potential suspect list.
The November murder was Kürten's last, although he engaged in a spate of non-fatal hammer attacks from February to March 1930. In May, he accosted a young woman named Maria Budlick; he initially took her to his home, and then to the Grafenberger Woods, where he raped (but did not kill) her. Budlick led the police to Kürten's home. He avoided the police, but confessed to his wife, knowing that his identity was known by the police, and told her to inform the police in the belief that she would be rewarded by the authority. On 24 May, he was located and arrested.
Kürten also admitted to drinking the blood of at least one of his victims.
Trial and execution
Peter Kürten confessed to 79 offenses, and was charged with nine murders and seven attempted murders. He went on trial in April 1931. He initially pleaded not guilty, but after some weeks changed his plea. He was found guilty and sentenced to death.
As Kürten was awaiting execution, he was interviewed by Dr. Karl Berg, whose interviews and accompanying analysis of Kürten formed the basis of his book, The Sadist. Kürten stated to Berg that his primary motive was one of sexual pleasure. The number of stab wounds varied because it sometimes took longer to achieve orgasm; the sight of blood was integral to his sexual stimulation.
Peter Kürten said to the legal examiners that his primary motive was to "strike back at oppressive society". He did not deny that he had sexually molested his victims, but he always claimed during his trial that this was not his primary motive.
In 1931, scientists attempted to examine irregularities in Kürten's brain in an attempt to explain his personality and behavior. His head was dissected and mummified and is currently on display at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.
Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, in which a serial child killer terrorizes Berlin, is often said to have been based upon Peter Kürten, but Lang denied that Kürten was an influence. Because of the similarities between Kürten and the film's villain, Hans Beckert, the film was known as The Vampire of Duesseldorf in some countries.
The first biopic about Peter Kürten was Robert Hossein's The Secret Killer (Le Vampire de Düsseldorf, 1965). Kürten was subsequently played by Nigel Green in the LWT play Peter and Maria, written by Clive Exton and broadcast on 9 October 1970.
Playwright Anthony Neilson's 1991 work Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper is a fictional account of Peter Kürten's life, is told from the point of view of his defense lawyer. It was adapted for the screen as Angels Gone, and also released under the title Normal.
Copycat features a serial killer character who calls himself "Peter Kuerten".
The name Peter Kürten is used as an alias by the principal villain (and serial killer) in the 1995 film Copycat.
Peter Kürten is referenced several times in Ariana Franklin's "City of Shadows," a historical crime fictional novel set in 20s/30s Berlin.
- The Monster of Dusseldorf: The Life and Trial of Peter Kürten by Margaret Seaton Wagner, 1932.
- The Sadist by Karl Berg, 1945.
- Peter Kurten: A Study In Sadism by George Godwin 1938.
- "Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Dusseldorf — The Making of a Killer — Crime Library on". Trutv.com. Retrieved 2012-03-28.
- "Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Düsseldorf" Gilbert, Alexander. Crime Library. Retrieved on 2007-10-03
- About the decapitation by executioner Carl Gröpler read in detail: Blazek, Matthias, Scharfrichter in Preußen und im Deutschen Reich 1866-1945, Stuttgart 2010, p. 74 f.
- Raphael, Lutz; Tenorth, Heinz-Elmar, Ideen als gesellschaftliche Gestaltungskraft im Europa der Neuzeit – Beiträge für eine erneuerte Geistesgeschichte, Ed. 20, Berlin 2006, p. 432.
- Kim Newman (1995). Anno Dracula. The Bloody Red Baron. London: Titan Books. p. 203. ISBN 978-085-768-0846.
- Lane, Brian and Gregg, Wilfred (1992). The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers. Berkley Books.
- Fuchs, Christian  (2002). Bad Blood. Creation Books.
- Cummins, Joseph S. (2001). "Cannibals: Shocking True Tales of the Last Taboo on Land and at Sea." Lyons Press.