Mugshot of Peter Kürten taken in 1931
May 26, 1883
Mülheim am Rhein, German Empire
|Died||July 2, 1931
Cologne, Weimar Republic
|Cause of death||Decapitation by guillotine|
|Other names||The Vampire of Düsseldorf
The Düsseldorf Monster
|Motive||Sexual gratification / to "strike back at oppressive society"|
Attempted murder: 20+
Span of killings
|26 May 1913–7 November 1929|
|State(s)||Rhine Province, Prussia|
|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, Kürten had amassed a lengthy criminal record for offenses including arson, theft and attempted murder. He also confessed to the 1913 murders of a 9-year-old girl in Mülheim am Rhein, and a 17-year-old girl in Loscheckes.
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 fifth of thirteen children. Kürten progressed from torturing animals (a practice to which he had been introduced by a local dog-catcher in his childhood) 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 (a practice to which he had been introduced by a local dog-catcher in his childhood) to attacks on people. He committed his first recorded murder in May 1913, strangling a 9-year-old girl, Christine Klein, during the course of a burglary. Two months later, again in the course of committing a burglary, he strangled a 17-year-old girl named Gertrud Franken as the teenager slept in her bed.Kürten progressed from torturing animals (a practice to which he had been introduced by a local dog-catcher in his childhood) Kürten managed to escape from the scene of both murders undetected. His crimes were then 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 foster sisters, 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 encountered a 22-year-old servant girl named Elizabeth Dörrier outside a theatre. Dörrier agreed to accompany Kürten on 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. On 25 October, he attacked two women with a hammer; both survived. On 7 November, he murdered a five-year-old girl named Gertrude Albermann by strangling her, then stabbing her in the temple and chest with a pair of 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 both investigators and psychiatrists that the actual sight of his victims' blood was, on many occasions, sufficient to bring him to orgasm and further claimed to have drank the blood from the throat of one victim, and from the temple of another. He also admitted to having once decapitated a swan and drinking the blood from the animal's neck, achieving ejaculation as he had done so.
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 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.
Kürten was executed by guillotine on 2 July 1931 in the grounds of Klingelputz Prison, Cologne. He walked unassisted to the guillotine. When asked whether he had any last words to say, Kürten simply replied, "No."
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."
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.
- The first film to draw inspiration from the murders committed by Peter Kürten, M, was released in May 1931. Directed by Fritz Lang, M starred Peter Lorre as a fictional child killer named Hans Becker. In addition to drawing inspiration from the case of Peter Kürten, M was also inspired by the then-recent and notorious crimes of Fritz Haarmann and Carl Großmann.
- The 1965 thriller Le Vampire de Düsseldorf (The Vampire of Düsseldorf) is directly based on the case of Peter Kürten. Directed by Robert Hossein (who also cast himself as Peter Kürten, the film also stars Marie-France Pisier.
- The 2009 film Normal is based on the crimes of Peter Kürten. Directed by Julius Ševčík, Normal is a film adaptation of playwright Anthony Neilson's Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper. The film stars Milan Kňažko as Kürten, and is portrayed from the point of view of his defense lawyer.
- Berg, Karl The Sadist (1938) ISBN 978-9-333-35227-7
- Berg,Karl; Godwin George (1937) Monsters of Weimar: Kürten, the Vampire of Düsseldorf ISBN 1-897743-10-6
- Cawthorne, Nigel; Tibballs, Geoffrey (1993) Killers: The Ruthless Exponents of Murder ISBN 0-7522-0850-0
- Godwin; George (1938) Peter Kürten: A Study In Sadism ASIN = B00191ENHA
- Lane, Brian; Gregg, Wilfred (1992) The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers ISBN 978-0-747-23731-0
- Sinney, C.L. Monster: The True Story of Serial Killer Peter Kürten ISBN 978-1-987-90215-0
- Wilson, Colin; Wilson, Damon (2006) The World's Most Evil Murderers: Real-Life Stories of Infamous Killers ISBN 978-1-405-48828-0
- Wilson, Colin; Wilson, Damon; Wilson, Rowan (1993) The Giant Book of World Famous Murders ISBN 978-0-752-50122-2
- Wynn; Douglas (1996) On Trial For Murder ISBN 978-0-3303-3947-6
- 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.
- 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.
- Monsters of Weimar p. 194
- Monsters of Weimar p. 197
- Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 574.
- Real-Life Crimes (1993), p. 575.
- Monsters of Weimar p. 212
- Monsters of Weimar pp. 210-211
- Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers p. 189
- 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.
- Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers p. 190
- The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence. p. 23
- 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.
- Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-eating Murderers pp. 192-193
- The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence. p. 23
- Raphael, Lutz; Tenorth, Heinz-Elmar, Ideen als gesellschaftliche Gestaltungskraft im Europa der Neuzeit – Beiträge für eine erneuerte Geistesgeschichte, Ed. 20, Berlin 2006, p. 432.
- "Review of Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper". cix.co.uk. 2003-11-21. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
- "Catching the Killers". bbc.co.uk. 2001-08-31. Retrieved 2017-01-19.
Cited works and further reading
- Berg, Karl (1945) . The Sadist. London: Broadway Press. pp. 159–289. ISBN 978-9-333-35227-7.
- Berg, Karl; Godwin, George (1993) . 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) . Peter Kürten: A Study In Sadism. London: Acorn. ASIN B00191ENHA.
- 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) . 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.
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