Mugshot of Peter Kürten taken in 1931
May 26, 1883
Mülheim am Rhein, Germany
|Died||July 2, 1931
|Cause of death||Decapitation by guillotine|
|Other names||The Vampire of Düsseldorf
The Düsseldorf Monster
|Motive||Sexual gratification / to "strike back at oppressive society"|
|Victims||Murders: 9 (or more)
Attempted: 20 (or more)
Sexual assaults: unknown
Span of killings
|26 May 1913–7 November 1929|
|State(s)||Rhine Province, Prussia|
|May 24, 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, Kürten had amassed a lengthy criminal record for offenses including arson, theft and attempted murder. He also confessed to the 1913 murder of a 9-year-old girl in Mülheim am Rhein.
Kürten became known as both the The Vampire of Düsseldorf and the Düsseldorf Monster because the majority of his murders were committed in and around the city of Düsseldorf. He was considered a vampire because he drank the blood of a killed swan in December 1929 and he also made attempts to drink the blood of some of his human victims.
Peter Kürten was born into a poverty-stricken, abusive family in Mülheim am Rhein, the third eldest of thirteen children. As a child, he witnessed his alcoholic father repeatedly sexually assault his mother and his sisters. He engaged in petty crime from a young age, and he was a frequent runaway. He later claimed to have committed his first murders at the age of nine, when he drowned two young boys with whom he had been swimming.
Kürten moved with his family to Düsseldorf in 1894, and from 1899 he received a number of short prison sentences for various crimes, including theft and arson.
Kürten progressed from torturing animals to attacks on people. He committed his first recorded murder in 1913, strangling a 9-year-old girl, Christine Klein, during the course of a burglary. He managed to get away undiscovered. His crimes were halted by an eight-year prison sentence for several more burglaries, which kept him out of World War I. In 1921, he was released and moved to Altenburg, where he married two years later. In 1925, he returned with his wife to Düsseldorf, where he began the series of crimes that would end with his capture, trial, death sentence, and subsequent execution.
On 2 February 1929, he assaulted a woman; on 9 February he molested and murdered a nine-year-old girl. On 13 February, he murdered a middle-aged mechanic, stabbing him 20 times. Kürten did not commit another deadly attack for six months, until 11 August when he raped and killed a woman. In the early morning of 21 August he stabbed three people in separate attacks within 15 minutes. Three days later he murdered two girls, aged five and 14, and stabbed another woman on 25 August.
On 29 September, he committed rape and murder, brutally beating a servant girl with a hammer in a wooded area outside of Düsseldorf.
On 11 October, he attacked a woman with a hammer, raped her and left her for dead. On 25 October, he attacked two women with a hammer; both survived. On 7 November, he murdered a five-year-old girl by strangling and stabbing her multiple times with scissors.
Various times he sent a map to a local newspaper or the local police disclosing the location of one of his victims' graves.
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 did engage in a spate of non-fatal hammer attacks from February to March 1930. In May, he accosted a young woman named Maria Butlies; he initially took her to his home, and then to the Grafenberger Woods, where he raped (but did not kill) her. Butlies 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. 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 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 as evidenced by his final words: "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."
Peter Kürten 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, but during his trials he always claimed that was not his primary motive.
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.
Fritz Lang's 1931 film M, in which a serial child killer terrorizes a German city, is often said to have been based upon 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 called The Vampire of Dusseldorf in some countries, even though it is set in Berlin.
Playwright Anthony Neilson's work Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper (1991) is a fictional account of Kürten's life, as told from the point of view of his defense lawyer. It was adapted for the screen as Angels Gone, and was also released under the title Normal.
Kim Newman included Kürten as a minor character in his novel The Bloody Red Baron (1995), making the non-veteran Kürten a "batman" (military servant) to Manfred von Richthofen, the World War I flying ace known as the "Red Baron".
- 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.
- Der Fall Kürten. Sachdarstellung und Betrachtungen by Otto Steiner (prosecutor) and Willy Gay (chief of Cologne police) 1957.
- 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.