A killer stalked the streets of Germany. But who was this monster?

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On a winter morning in February 1929, the body of an 8-year-old girl was found under a hedge in Dusseldorf, Germany. Sexually assaulted, stabbed 13 times, doused in petrol and set on fire.

Police could find no witness, no motive, and in the days before DNA fingerprinting – no clues.

Which meant that just a few days later, the murderer was free to strike again.

This time an older woman, but as before, she was found repeatedly stabbed and sexually assaulted. It was a matter of hours before the maniac killed another 8-year-old, and then a 40-year-old mechanic… Each one was stabbed so badly their faces barely remained.

Weeks and months passed. Then, on the morning of 21 August, another body was found. Then, just a few hours later, a second victim. A few hours after that a third…

Two days on, two sisters aged 5 and 14 were butchered. Then, two days after that, another terrified woman stabbed.

The murders continued to chill the residents of Dusseldorf. More men, women and children stabbed, battered. When police said they believed the attacker might be drinking his victims’ blood, the Press labelled him The Vampire of Dusseldorf. But still no clues.

Until finally, in February 1930, the ‘Vampire’ found another victim, Maria Budlick. He led her to his home, then to some nearby woods. He raped her, but he didn’t kill her.

Budlick gave police a description of her attacker, pointed them to his house. When police went there, a kindly woman said her husband Peter Kurten wasn’t home.

Neighbours said he was ‘kind, respectable, wears suits, works in a local factory.’ But the police started digging…

His father was an alcoholic who repeatedly raped his mother – even one of his sisters – in front of the young Kurten. His first real friend was a dog-handler who taught him about bestiality and torture. Kurten was soon involved in petty crime and, by the age of 14, he was in prison – the first of many stays.

In 1925, aged 43, he was out again and got married. He got a job, tried to be a good husband. But in fact, he was beginning his reign of terror…

Once under arrest, Kurten admitted to all the murders in the last year. He also claimed to have killed a 10-year-old girl in 1913 and to have drowned two of his friends when he was 9.

Even today, psychologists struggle to understand what drove Kurten to commit such terrible crimes and become a killer.

Kurten's skull which doctors examined after his death to see if there were any irregularities in his brain.

Kurten’s skull which doctors examined after his death to see if there were any irregularities in his brain.

In April 1931 he pleaded not guilty. The jury convicted him of all the counts and he was sentenced to death.

His last words were not of remorse though…. ‘After my head has been chopped off,’ he asked the psychiatrist, ‘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.’

 

By Rachel Tompkins