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Serial Killer Deep Dive: The Vampire of Düsseldorf

Known as one of Germany's most notorious killers, his thirst for murder never got quenched.

Everyone has their kinks, from bondage to roleplaying and everything in between. Typically most kinks aren't considered outrageous or dangerous... but what about getting off on killing animals or people?

Today we're taking a look at one of the most interesting cases of sexual psychology in a criminal. He's got a reputation for being one of Germany's most twisted serial killers with his first murder allegedly being when he was just nine-years-old. Also known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf and the Düsseldorf Monster, prepare to meet an extremely messed up person: Peter Kürten.

Author's note: I became interested in Peter Kürten after briefly writing about him in last week's article but I wasn't prepared for what I would find when I did more research on him. He was an extremely f*cked up person and I felt sick to my stomach reading about his childhood and the things he did as an adolescent. Just thought I'd give a fair warning that what you're about to read is very disturbing.

WARNING: the following article contains graphic content about abuse, sexual assault, bestiality and of course, murder. 

Peter was born into an extremely impoverished and abusive family. He was the third of thirteen children, although two of his siblings died at a young age. The family shared a one-bedroom apartment in Mülheim am Rhein and living conditions were extremely poor. Both of Peter's parents were alcoholics and the two were constantly fighting. In addition to beating his wife and children, Peter's father would often force the family to gather in one room and order his wife to strip naked and have sex with him as the children watched. 

It didn't take long for Peter's traumatic home life to start having an effect on him. When he was five years old, he attempted to drown one of his playmates. Four years later, he befriended a dog-catcher and accompanied him on his rounds. Unfortunately, this man was quite messed up himself, as he would often torture and kill the animals he caught. Peter followed in his footsteps and soon began willingly abusing the animals as well. 

Being the eldest male out of all of the children, Peter was the main target of his father's physical abuse. It was so bad that Peter frequently refused to return home from school but was forced to by his teachers. He started running away from home and spent time on the streets with criminals. It was through these acquaintances that Peter became involved in petty crime in order to support himself. Peter later claimed that he committed his first murder at the age of nine. He pushed a classmate, whom he knew was unable to swim, off a raft. When a second boy attempted to save the drowning child, Peter held the boy's head underwater and ensured that both of them had drowned. Authorities later ruled the deaths as accidental.

In 1894, Peter's father was jailed for committing incest with his eldest daughter who was thirteen at the time. Peter's mother obtained a separation order and later remarried and moved to Düsseldorf with the children.

At the age of thirteen, Peter got into a "relationship" with a girl who would allow him to undress and fondle her, although she would deny all of his attempts to have sex with her. As a result, Peter resorted to bestiality with sheep, pigs and goats to achieve satisfaction. He later reported that if he stabbed the animals beforehand, it would help him achieve a greater orgasm.

In 1897, Peter left school and got a job as an apprentice molder as per his father's instructions. Towards the end of his two year apprenticeship, Peter stole all the money he could find in his household and took 300 German gold marks from his work before running away to Koblenz. He began a relationship with a prostitute and continued on his spree of petty theft to support himself. After just four weeks of being in Koblenz, Peter was arrested and charged with breaking & entering and theft. He served one month in prison and immediately went back to committing petty crimes after he was released.

It wasn't until 1899 that Peter claimed he committed his first real murder. He picked up an 18-year-old girl and persuaded her to come to the Hofgarten with him to have sex. She agreed and the two went to the public gardens where she unfortunately met her demise. While they were having sex, Peter strangled the young girl to death with his bare hands. In an interview with authorities in 1930, he said that by committing this act, he realized that he could only achieve the highest level of sexual satisfaction by killing.

In 1900, Peter was arrested for fraud plus the attempted murder of a girl with a firearm. He was sentenced to four years in prison. Upon his release in 1904, Peter was drafted into the German Army and deployed to the city of Metz, France. He deserted the army shortly after arriving and returned to the life of crime he had become so familiar with. He began committing acts of arson, which reportedly he would watch emergency crews attempt to extinguish the fire from a distance. He later admitted that he had committed these acts to satisfy his sexual needs and in hopes of burning sleeping people alive. As a result of deserting the army, Peter was tried by the military system and also convicted for more acts of arson and robbery. He was imprisoned from 1905 to 1913 and he spent majority of his time in solitary confinement.

The first publicly known murder committed by Peter occurred on May 25th, 1913. During a burglary in the town of Mülheim am Rhein, Peter encountered a nine-year-old girl named Christine Klein sleeping in her bed. He crept up to her bedside, put his hands around her throat and strangled her. Christine woke up, alarmed, and began fighting for her life but soon fell unconscious. Peter pulled out a pocket knife and slit her throat twice, having an orgasm as he did so. Once he was finished, he quietly snuck out of the house and returned home. What motivated him to strangle Christine in the first place was never known.

- Peter Kürten, recounting the murder of Christine Klein at his trial, 1931

The following day, Peter returned to a tavern located across the street from Christine's house. He sat quietly by himself and listened to the locals talk about the child's murder, receiving gratification from their shocked and disgusted reactions. In the weeks following Christine's funeral, Peter occasionally visited her grave. During his trial, he recalled that he would touch the soil covering her grave and it would bring him to orgasm.

Two months later, Peter broke into a home in Loscheckes and discovered a 17-year-old girl named Gertrud Franken sleeping. Just like he had done with Christine, Peter strangled the girl and slit her throat, achieving orgasm as he did so. He managed to escape from the home undetected.

Peter Kürten's mugshot.

A few days later on July 14, Peter was arrested for a series of arson attacks and burglaries. He was sentenced to six years in a military prison in Brieg (then a part of the German Empire, now a part of Poland & renamed Brzeg). Following his sentence, Peter went to live with his sister in Altenburg. He met a woman named Auguste Scharf and the two married two years later. Peter recalled that while he enjoyed having sex with his wife, he would still fantasize about committing violence against another individual. Peter eventually started having affairs with a servant named Tiede and a housemaid named Mech. When Auguste found out about the affairs, she kicked him out of the house and the other women went to the police and claimed that Peter had seduced and raped them. He served eight months in prison and was released under the condition that he relocated to Düsseldorf.

From February to November 1929, Peter went on a murdering spree. He assaulted and killed several men and women ranging from young to old. He stabbed his victims to death using a pair of scissors, often strangling them beforehand. On February 3, he strangled an elderly woman named Apollonia Kühn and stabbed her 24 times. Luckily, she survived her injuries. On February 8, he strangled a nine-year-old girl named Rosa Ohliger into unconsciousness before stabbing her in the stomach, temple, genitals and heart. He tried to hide her body in a hedge but then decided to burn it. On February 13, he stabbed a middle-aged man name Rudolf Scheer in the head, back and eyes about twenty times. Peter returned to the scene of the crime a few days later after news broke about finding Rudolf's body. When questioned about why he was at the crime scene, Peter lied to the police that he had heard about the murder via telephone and wanted to come check it out for safety reasons.

Other than an attempt to strangle four more women between March and July of that year, Peter's next known murder wasn't committed until August 11. He met a woman named Maria Hahn a few days prior and asked her out on a date. He lured her into a meadow where he then raped, strangled and repeatedly stabbed her to death. He buried her body in a cornfield and returned to the site several weeks later with the intention of nailing her remains to a tree in a mock crucifixion to shock and disgust the public. However, Maria's remains were too heavy for Peter to do so and he simply returned her corpse to her grave. He embraced and caressed the decomposing body as he lay beneath her remains.

Three months following Maria's death, Peter sent an anonymous letter to the police in which he confessed to the murder. He gave the location of Maria's remains and investigators were able to locate what was left of her body on November 15.

A few months prior to sending the letter, Peter continued killing at random. He switched his weapon from scissors to a knife in effort to convince police that there was more than one perpetrator responsible for the assaults and murders. In late August, he stabbed an eighteen-year-old girl, a thirty-year-old man and a thirty-seven-year-old woman in separate attacks. At a fairground, Peter approached two foster sisters, five-year-old Gertrude Hamacher and fourteen-year-old Luise Lenzen, and asked Luise to go purchase cigarettes for him promising 20 pfennig in return. After Luise left, Peter lifted Gertrude by her neck and strangled her into unconsciousness before slitting her throat. When Luise returned, Peter strangled her and stabbed her in the torso. He also bit and cut her throat before sucking blood from the wounds. This is when he became known as the Vampire of Düsseldorf.

Following the deaths of Gertrude and Luise, Peter murdered a few more victims before switching his weapon of choice to a hammer. He successfully managed to kill at least two people until October 25, when his hammer broke during an attempt to attack two women. Both women survived and managed to escape. He switched back to scissors for his next victim: five-year-old Gertrude Albermann. He encountered the child on the street and lured her into an alleyway where he strangled her and stabbed her in the left temple with a pair of scissors. Peter stabbed her lifeless body an additional 34 times before disposing of it in a pile of nettles against a factory wall.

The murders committed by the individual the press had dubbed the Vampire of Düsseldorf and the Düsseldorf Monster began receiving international attention. Due to the gruesomeness of the murders, the diverse background of the victims and the different modus operandi, both the police and the press theorized that the assaults and murders were the work of more than one person.

Two days after the murder of Gertrude Albermann, a local newspaper received a map revealing the location of Maria Hahn's grave as well as the location of Getrude's body, which had been found by authorities earlier that day. An analysis of the handwriting revealed that it was the same person who had sent police the anonymous letter about Maria in the beginning of November. Chief Inspector of the Berlin Police, Ernst Gennat, concluded that that one man was responsible for most or all of the murders.

Gertrude Albermann appeared to be the last successful murder committed by Peter, although he did engage in several non-fatal hammer attacks and attempted strangulations between February and May 1930. All survivors were able to describe their attacker to police and authorities began to get a clear picture of the person they were looking for.

Düsseldorf Hauptbahnhof train station in 1900 (top left) and in the 2000s (bottom right).

On May 14th 1930, an unknown man approached twenty-year-old Maria Budlick at Düsseldorf station. The man offered to help Maria find a local hostel and the two began walking through a park. For unknown reasons, they began arguing and another man approached the duo and asked if Maria was being harassed. When Maria nodded, the man she had been walking with quickly left. As for the mystery man who saved Maria, it was Peter. He invited her back to his apartment for a drink - and then to have sex - but Maria declined. Peter offered to walk her the rest of the way to the hostel and she accepted. Instead, Peter led her into the Grafenburg Woods where he pinned her down and tried to strangle her as he raped her. Maria began to scream and Peter loosened his grip, allowing her to break free. 

Maria didn't report the incident to the police but instead wrote a letter to her friend telling her about what happened. However, Maria addressed the letter incorrectly and it never got sent. A post office clerk had put the letter aside and out of curiosity, he opened it a few days later. Upon reading the contents of the letter, the clerk forwarded it to the police. Authorities contacted Maria and asked her to take them to Peter's home. Although she wasn't entirely sure where he lived, she was able to guide them to the general neighbourhood that Peter had mentioned he lived in. With the help of a few neighbours and landlords, they successfully located Peter's unit.

Peter wasn't home during the time that the police and Maria searched his apartment. When he returned to the building and saw police officers standing in the hallway surrounding his door, he promptly left the premises. He contacted his wife and asked her if he could come home and she agreed. Upon returning home, he confessed to Auguste that he was the Vampire of Düsseldorf. A bounty had been placed for Peter's capture and he urged her to turn him in and collect the reward. Auguste contacted the police the next day and told them about Peter's confession. He had also confessed to the unsolved murders of Christine Klein and Gertrud Franken. Later that day, Peter was arrested at gunpoint outside of St. Rochus church.

"The mass murderer of Düsseldorf arrested!"

When brought in for questioning, Peter made no attempt to excuse his crimes but justified them based on the injustices he had endured throughout his life. He admitted to psychiatrists that the sight of his victim's blood gave him sexual satisfaction. He claimed that he drank the blood from the throat of one victim, from the temple of another and licked blood off a third victim's hand. In one case, he drank so much blood from Maria Hahn's body that he vomited. He confessed that the reason he started drinking the blood of his victims was because he decapitated a swan in the spring of 1930 and drinking its blood brought him to orgasm.

- Peter Kürten, responding to the presiding judge's question as to whether he possessed a conscience at his trial, 1931.

On April 13th 1931, Peter stood trial in Düsseldorf. He was charged with nine counts of murder and seven of attempted murder. Peter pleaded not guilty to each charge by reason of insanity, but doctors ruled him as not insane. The trial lasted ten days and Peter was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was to be executed by guillotine.

While awaiting his execution, Peter was thoroughly examined by psychologists. The interviews conducted by Dr. Karl Berg in 1930 and 1931 proved to be the first psychological study done on a sexual serial killer. Peter told Dr. Berg that his primary motive was sexual pleasure and that he had begun to associate sexual excitement with violent acts and the sight of blood. Dr. Berg and legal examiners determined that Peter's primary motive in all of his crimes was seen as a, "strike back at an oppressive society." They believed that he considered his repeated incarcerations unjustified and that he sought out these horrific crimes as a form of revenge for the neglect and abuse he suffered as a child. Many psychologists agreed that Peter was not insane and was fully aware of his actions and able to control them.

On July 1st 1931, Peter received his last meal. He ordered Wiener Schnitzel, a bottle of white wine and fried potatoes. He ate the entire thing and requested a second helping, which the guards granted. In the early hours of July 2, Peter was guided to the execution grounds of Klingelputz Prison, Cologne. Before his head was placed on the guillotine, Peter turned to a psychiatrist and asked: "Tell me... after my head has been 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." When asked if he had any other last words to say, Peter simply smiled and replied "No." He was then beheaded by the guillotine.

It's clear to see that Peter Kürten was an extremely messed up person and it's safe to say that his upbringing definitely had a huge effect on him. Many psychiatrists agreed that being forced to watch his parents engage in sexual activity was likely the root cause of Peter's troubled sexuality. He didn't know how to express his own sexual desires in a normal, healthy way and instead turned to acts like bestiality to satisfy these urges. Also growing up in a violent household where he was subject to regular physical beatings might be why he was so fond of the idea of being violent towards his victims. A combination of the violence and sexual abuse he experienced from his family created the perfect, sadistic, sexual serial killer. In addition to his motive of revenge, perhaps when he was committing his crimes it was the only time that he felt like he actually had control. Unfortunately, he let his desires get out of control which led to him going on impulsive murder & assault sprees and getting sloppy with his crimes in the end. Perhaps the anonymous letters he sent to the police was a way of him reaching out for help. Despite believing he did nothing wrong, maybe deep down he knew that it wasn't a normal way for him to be expressing his sexual desires and that he didn't know how to stop.

Following Peter's execution, his head was dissected and mummified. His brain was removed and subjected to forensic analysis in an attempt to explain his personality and behaviour. Examiners found no abnormalities. Peter's head is currently on display at the Ripley's Believe It or Not! museum in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin.

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