Peter Kürten

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Peter Kürten
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-11502, Polizeiaufnahme eines Massenmörders.jpg
Mugshot of Peter Kürten taken in 1931
Born Peter Kürten
26 May 1883
Mülheim am Rhein, German Empire
Died 2 July 1931(1931-07-02) (aged 48)
Cologne, Weimar Republic
Cause of death Decapitation by guillotine
Other names The Vampire of Düsseldorf
The Düsseldorf Monster
Criminal penalty Death
Motive Psychological and sexual gratification
Vengeance against society[1]
Conviction(s) Arson
Attempted robbery
Attempted murder
Threatening behaviour
Victims Murders: 10+
Attempted murder: 31+
Span of killings
25 May 1913–7 November 1929
Country Germany
State(s) Rhine Province, Prussia
Date apprehended
24 May 1930

Peter Kürten (26 May 1883 – 2 July 1931) was a German serial killer known as both The Vampire of Düsseldorf and the Düsseldorf Monster, who committed a series of murders and sexual assaults between February and November 1929 in the city of Düsseldorf. In the years prior to these assaults and murders, Kürten had amassed a lengthy criminal record for offenses including arson and attempted murder. He also confessed to the 1913 murders of a 9-year-old girl in Mülheim am Rhein,[3] and a 17-year-old girl in Loscheckes.[4]

Described by his defense counsel at his trial as being "the king of sexual delinquents, because he unites nearly all perversions in one person,"[5] Kürten was found guilty of nine counts of murder and seven counts of attempted murder for which he was tried and sentenced to death by beheading in April 1931.[6] He was subsequently executed in July 1931.

Kürten became known as the The Vampire of Düsseldorf as he occasionally made attempts to drink the blood from his victims' wounds, and the Düsseldorf Monster both because the majority of his murders were committed in and around the city of Düsseldorf, and the savagery he inflicted upon his victims' bodies.[7]

Early life[edit]


Peter Kürten was born into a poverty-stricken, abusive family in Mülheim am Rhein on 26 May 1883, the third of thirteen children. Kürten's parents were both alcoholics, and their relationship was marred by the domestic violence Kürten's father would inflict upon both his wife and children, particularly when he was drunk. When intoxicated, Kürten's father would often force his wife and children to assemble in one room before ordering his wife to strip naked and engage in intercourse with him as his children watched.[8] He would be jailed for 15 months in 1894 for committing incest with his eldest daughter.[9] Shortly thereafter, Kürten's mother obtained a separation order, and later remarried and relocated to Düsseldorf.[10]

In 1888, Kürten attempted to drown one of his playmates. The same year, he befriended a local-dog-catcher who lived in the same building as his family, and began accompanying him on his rounds. This individual would often torture and kill the animals he caught, and Kürten soon became an active and willing participant in torturing the animals himself.[9]

Kürten began committing petty crime at a young age. He later claimed to have committed his first murders at the age of nine, when he pushed a school friend whom he knew could not swim off a raft. When a second boy attempted to save the drowning youngster, Kürten held this boy's head underwater in order that both boys drowned. Both deaths were ruled by authorities as being accidental.[11]


By the age of 13, Kürten began to engage in acts of bestiality with sheep, pigs an goats, but later claimed he obtained his greatest sense of elation if he actually stabbed these animals. Thus, he began stabbing and slashing animals with increasing frequency. He is also known to have attempted to rape the same sister his father had earlier molested.[12] The following year, Kürten left school and obtained employment as an apprentice molder. This apprenticeship would last for two years before Kürten stole a cumulative vast sum of money from his both his mother and stepfather and employer and ran away from home. He relocated to Koblenz, where he began a relationship with a prostitute whom he claimed willingly submitted to every form of sexual perversion he demanded of her.[13]

First attempted murder[edit]

Kürten claimed to have committed his first murder in November 1899.[14] In his 1930 confessions to investigators, Kürten claimed to have "picked up an 18-year-old girl at the Alleestraße" and persuaded her to accompany him to the Horgarten, where he claimed to have engaged in sex with the girl before strangling her to death with his bare hands, before leaving the scene.[15]

No contemporary records exist to corroborate Kürten's claims. If this attack did indeed take place, the victim likely survived this assault.[16]

First convictions[edit]

Shortly thereafter, in 1900, Kürten was arrested for fraud. He would be rearrested later the same year on the same charge, although on this second occasion, charges pertaining to his 1899 Düsseldorf thefts, plus the attempted murder of a girl with a firearm were added to the indictment.[17] Consequently, Kürten was sentenced to four years' imprisonment. (This would prove to be the first of 17 instances in which Kürten was imprisoned throughout his life.)[18]

Released in the summer of 1904, Kürten was drafted into the German Army; he was deployed to the Alsatian city of Metz to serve in the 98th Infantry Regiment, although he soon deserted. That autumn, Kürten began committing acts of arson, which he would discreetly watch from a distance as emergency services attempted to extinguish the fires. The majority of these fires were in barns and haylofts, and Kürten would estimate to police he had committed approximately 24 acts of arson upon his arrest that New Year's Eve. He also freely admitted these fires had been committed both for his sexual excitement and in the hopes of burning sleeping tramps alive. Consequently, he was convicted of multiple counts of arson, robbery and attempted robbery (the latter charges pertaining to acts he had also committed that year), and imprisoned from 1905 to 1913. Kürten served his sentence in Münster, with much of his time spent in solitary confinement for repeated instances of insubordination.[19]


The first murder Kürten is known to have committed occurred on 25 May 1913. During the course of a burglary at an tavern in the town of Mülheim am Rhein, he encountered a 9-year-old girl named Christine Klein asleep in her bed. He strangled the child, then slashed her twice across the throat, ejaculating as he heard the blood dripping from her wounds onto the floor by her bed.[20] Two months later—again in the course of committing a burglary with the aid of a skeleton key—he strangled a 17-year-old girl named Gertrud Franken as the teenager slept in her bed, which had been positioned between the beds of her two siblings.[21] Kürten managed to escape from the scene of both this murder and that of Klein undetected.

Following the murder of Gertrud Franken, Kürten was arrested for a series of arson attacks and burglaries. He was sentenced to eight years' imprisonment.[22] Released in 1921, Kürten moved to Altenburg, where he attempted to murder an unnamed war widow by strangling her. Two years later, Kürten married a woman three years his senior. For the first time in his life, Kürten obtained regular employment, also becoming an active trades union official.[23] In 1925, he returned with his wife to Düsseldorf, where he soon began affairs with a servant girl named Tiede, and a housemaid named Mech. When his wife discovered his infidelity, Tiede reported Kürten to police, claiming he had seduced her; Mech alleged Kürten had raped her. The more serious charge was later dropped, although Tiede's allegations were pursued, thus earning him a short prison sentence for seduction and threatening behaviour.[22]


On 3 February 1929, Kürten stabbed a woman named Apollonia Kühn 24 times[24] with a sharpened pair of scissors. Although many of the wounds he inflicted were so deep they impacted her bones, Kühn survived her injuries.[25] On 8 February he strangled a nine-year-old girl named Rosa Ohliger, before stabbing her in the stomach, temple, genitals and heart with a pair of scissors. He returned to the scene several hours later and set the child's body alight.[26] Ohliger's body was found beneath a hedge the following day. On 13 February, he murdered a 45-year-old mechanic named Rudolf Scheer, stabbing him 20 times. Although Kürten did attempt to strangle three women between March and July 1929,[27] he not kill any further victims until 11 August when he raped, strangled, then repeatedly stabbed a young woman named Maria Hahn, whom he had taken on a date that evening and whom Kürten later admitted had repeatedly pleaded with him to spare her life as he alternately stabbed her in the chest and head, or sat astride her body, waiting for her to die.[23] Hahn died approximately one hour after Kürten had begun attacking her. Fearful his wife may connect the bloodstains she had noted on his clothes with Hahn's murder, Kürten later buried her body in a cornfield, and would later send a letter to the police, confessing to her murder and adding he had buried Hahn's remains. According to Kürten's later confession, he "went to the grave many times afterwards and kept improving on it; and every time I thought of what was lying there and was filled with satisfaction."[28]

Following the murder of Maria Hahn, Kürten changed his choice of weapon from scissors to a knife in an apparent effort to convince police more than one perpetrator was responsible for the spate of assaults and murders.[28] In the early morning of 21 August, Kürten randomly stabbed two women and a man in separate attacks. Three days later, at a fairground in the suburb of Flehe,[29] he observed two foster sisters (aged five and 14) walking from the fairground to a meadow. Sending the older girl, Luise Lenzen, on an errand to purchase cigarettes for him, Kürten lifted the younger child, Gertrude Hamacher, off the ground by her neck and strangled her to into unconsciousness before cutting her throat. When Lenzen returned to the scene, Kürten partially strangled her, before stabbing her about the torso.[30] A 27-year-old woman was stabbed on 25 August, although she survived her injuries. Kürten attempted to murder two further victims—one by strangulation; another by stabbing—in September, before opting to predominantly use a hammer in his murders.[28]

Hammer attacks[edit]

On the evening of 30 September, Kürten raped, then bludgeoned to death a servant girl named Ida Reuter to death with a hammer in woodland close to the Rhine River.[31] 11 days later, on 11 October, he encountered a 22-year-old servant girl named Elizabeth Dörrier outside a theatre. Dörrier agreed to accompany Kürten for a drink at a café before the pair took a train to Grafenberg, with view to a walk alongside the Kleine Düssel river, where she was struck once across her right temple with a hammer, then raped before Kürten struck her repeatedly about the head with the hammer and left her for dead.[32] On 25 October, he attacked two women with a hammer; both survived, and on 7 November, he murdered a five-year-old girl named Gertrude Albermann by strangling her, then stabbing her 35 times in the temple and chest with a pair of scissors, before leaving her body against a factory wall.[33]

Due to the sheer savagery of the murders, the diverse background of the victims, and the differing methods in which they had been assaulted and/or murdered, police theorized the spate of assaults and murders were the work of more than one perpetrator. By the end of 1929 the police had compiled a list of 900,000 different names on their potential suspect list.

Two days after the murder of Gertrude Albermann, Kürten sent a map to a local Communist newspaper, revealing the location of the grave of Maria Hahn.[34] In this drawing, Kürten also revealed precisely where he had left Gertrude Albermann's body, describing the exact position of her corpse[35] and adding her body could be found among bricks and rubble.[36] An analysis of the handwriting revealed the author was the same individual who had earlier written to police that he had killed Hahn and buried her body. Kürten himself would join an angry crowd which gathered to watch detectives unearthing Hahn's body.[37]


The murder of Gertrude Albermann would prove to be Kürten's final fatal attack, although he did engage in a spate of non-fatal hammer attacks and attempted strangulations from February to May 1930.[38]

Arrest and confession[edit]

On 14 May 1930, Kürten encountered a 20-year-old woman named Maria Butlies at Düsseldorf station. Discovering Butlies had travelled to Düsseldorf in search of lodgings and employment, Kürten invited her to his apartment to eat and drink before luring her into the Grafenburg Woods, where he raped and attempted to strangle her. When Butlies began to scream, Kürten released his grasp on her throat, before allowing her to leave.[37]

Butlies did not report this assault to police but described her ordeal in a letter to a friend, although she addressed the letter incorrectly. As such, the letter was opened at the post office, where a clerk read the contents, and forwarded the letter to the Düsseldorf police. Police interviewed Butlies, who recounted her ordeal, further divulging one of the reasons Kürten had spared her was because she had falsely informed him she could not remember his address. She then led the police to Kürten's home. Knowing that his identity was known by the police, Kürten confessed to his wife he was the individual the press had dubbed The Vampire of Düsseldorf. On 24 May, his wife contacted the police, adding that Kürten had confessed to her, and that he was willing to likewise confess to police. That afternoon, Kürten was located and arrested.[39]

Mug shots of Kürten, taken after his May 1930 arrest

Kürten freely admitted his guilt in all the crimes police had attributed to the The Vampire of Düsseldorf, and further admitted his guilt in the two murders he had committed in 1913. In total, Kürten admitted to 68 crimes including 10 murders, and 31 attempted murders.[40] He also admitted to both investigators and psychiatrists that the actual sight of his victims' blood was, on many occasions, sufficient to bring him to orgasm,[41] and that, on occasion, if he experienced ejaculation in the act of strangling a woman, he would immediately become apologetic to his victim, proclaiming, "That's what love is all about".[42] He further claimed to have drank the blood[43] from the throat of one victim, and from the temple of another, and admitted to having once decapitated a swan in order that he could drink blood from the animal's neck, achieving ejaculation in the process.[44]

Psychological study[edit]

As Kürten awaited his trial, then execution, he was extensively interviewed by Dr. Karl Berg,[45] whose interviews and accompanying analysis of Kürten formed the basis of his book, The Sadist, (the first psychological study of a sexual serial killer). In these interviews, Kürten stated to Berg that his primary motive was one of sexual pleasure. The number of stab or bludgeoning wounds inflicted to each victim had varied depending upon the length of time it had taken Kürten to achieve an orgasm, and the actual sight of his victims' blood had been integral to his sexual stimulation.[46]

Kürten also told 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, and to have stroked their genitals as he stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned their bodies, although during his trial he consistently claimed the sexual assault of his victims was not his primary motive.

Both Berg and other psychologists concluded Kürten was not insane, was fully able to control his actions, and appreciated the criminality of his conduct. Each ruled Kürten was legally sane and competent to stand trial.[47]


Kürten 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. Kürten did appeal his conviction, although his appeal was rejected.[47]


On 2 July 1931 Kürten was executed by guillotine in the grounds of Klingelputz Prison, Cologne.[48] He walked unassisted to the guillotine. When asked whether he had any last words to say, Kürten simply replied, "No."[49]

Shortly before his execution, Kürten had 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."[50]

In 1931, scientists examined 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.[51]





  • Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper is a play focusing on the case of Peter Kürten. Scripted by Anthony Neilson, the play was first performed at Edinburgh's Pleasance Theatre in August 1991. Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper has since become inspiration for one film.[53]


  • The BBC have commissioned a documentary upon the murders committed by Peter Kürten. This documentary, Profiles of the Criminal Mind, largely focuses on the forensic profiling of Kürten's crimes, and was first broadcast in 2001.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 233
  2. ^ Monsters of Weimar pp. 191-192
  3. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 194
  4. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 197
  5. ^ Crimes of Horror p. 140
  6. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 286
  7. ^ World Famous Murders pp. 392-393
  8. ^ The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers p. 151
  9. ^ a b Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 574.
  10. ^ World Famous Murders pp. 393-394
  11. ^ The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers p. 151
  12. ^ World Famous Murders p. 394
  13. ^ The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers p. 151
  14. ^ Serial Killers p. 96
  15. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 193
  16. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 193
  17. ^ The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers p. 151
  18. ^ World Famous Murders p. 394
  19. ^ Monsters of Werimar p, 189
  20. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 195
  21. ^ Monsters off Weimar p. 197
  22. ^ a b Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 575.
  23. ^ a b Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 576.
  24. ^ World Famous Murders p. 390
  25. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 199
  26. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 200
  27. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 191
  28. ^ a b c Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 577.
  29. ^ Crimes of Horror p. 134
  30. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 207
  31. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 210
  32. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 212
  33. ^ Monsters of Weimar pp. 210-211
  34. ^ World Famous Murders p. 391
  35. ^ "Peter Kürten Biography". 2016-08-29. Retrieved 2017-01-23. 
  36. ^ World Famous Murders p. 392
  37. ^ a b Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 579.
  38. ^ Monsters of Weimar p. 192
  39. ^ Crimes of Horror p. 137
  40. ^ Crimes of Horror p. 137
  41. ^ Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers p. 189
  42. ^ World Famous Murders p. 394
  43. ^ Philbin, Tom; Philbin, Michael (2009-01-01). The Killer Book of Serial Killers: Incredible Stories, Facts and Trivia from the World of Serial Killers. Sourcebooks, Inc. ISBN 9781402241628. 
  44. ^ Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers p. 190
  45. ^ "Peter Kürten Biography". 2016-08-29. Retrieved 2017-01-24. 
  46. ^ The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence. p. 23
  47. ^ a b Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 580.
  48. ^ 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.
  49. ^ Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers pp. 192-193
  50. ^ The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence. p. 23
  51. ^ Raphael, Lutz; Tenorth, Heinz-Elmar, Ideen als gesellschaftliche Gestaltungskraft im Europa der Neuzeit – Beiträge für eine erneuerte Geistesgeschichte, Ed. 20, Berlin 2006, p. 432.
  52. ^
  53. ^ "Review of Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper". 2003-11-21. Retrieved 2017-01-19. 
  54. ^ "Catching the Killers". 2001-08-31. Retrieved 2017-01-19. 

Cited works and further reading[edit]

  • Berg, Karl (1945) [1938]. The Sadist. London: Broadway Press. pp. 159–289. ISBN 978-9-333-35227-7. 
  • Berg, Karl; Godwin, George (1993) [1937]. Monsters of Weimar: Kürten, the Vampire of Düsseldorf. London: Nemesis Books. pp. 159–289. ISBN 1-897743-10-6. 
  • Cawthorne, Nigel; Tibballs, Geoff (1993). Killers. Boxtree. pp. 386–388. ISBN 0-7522-0850-0. 
  • Cummins, Joseph S. (2001). Cannibals: Shocking True Tales of the Last Taboo on Land and at Sea. London: Lyons Press. ISBN 978-1-422-35153-6. 
  • Godwin, George (1945) [1938]. Peter Kürten: A Study In Sadism. London: Acorn. ASIN B00191ENHA. 
  • Hall, Angus (1976). Crimes of Horror. Hamlyn Publishing. ISBN 1-85051-170-5. 
  • Karunaratne, Professor Vidanage (2015). An In-depth Analysis of the True Living Vampires of the Modern Era. WSIC EBooks Ltd. ISBN 978-1-927-52688-0. 
  • Lane, Brian; Gregg, Wilfred (1995) [1992]. The Encyclopedia Of Serial Killers. New York City: Berkley Books. pp. 244–247. ISBN 978-0-425-15213-3. 
  • Sinney, C.L. (2016). Monster: The True Story of Serial Killer Peter Kürten. Ronnie Mercer Publishing. ISBN 978-1-987-90215-0. 
  • Ramsland, Katherine (2011). The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence. Praeger Publishing. ISBN 978-0-313-38672-5. 
  • Wagner, Margaret Seaton (1932). The Monster of Düsseldorf: The Life and Trial of Peter Kürten. Faber & Faber. ASIN B00087AXB6. 
  • Wynn, Douglas (1996). On Trial For Murder. Pan Books. pp. 53–54. ISBN 978-0-3303-3947-6. 

External links[edit]