Peter Kurten: The Vampire of Dusseldorf

Crime Files

Peter Kürten was born into extreme deprivation and poverty in Köln-Mullheim, a suburb of Cologne, Germany on 26 May 1883. The eldest of thirteen children, his father was an alcoholic with sadistic tendencies, who brutalised both wife and children, in the one room apartment that they all shared, for the duration of Kurten’s childhood.This daily subjection to sexual violence must have had an immense influence on the boy who, aged 9, formed an unhealthy relationship with a dog-catcher living in the same building, who introduced him to the practise of bestiality, carried out initially on dogs.Kurten claims to have drowned two school friends at the age of nine. Having pushed one overboard, the second dived in to his rescue. Kurten held both under water until they had suffocated. At the time the event was dismissed as a tragic childhood accident.As Kurten matured sexually, his bestiality extended to sheep, goats and other farmyard animals, with the teenager discovering particular pleasure when the animal was stabbed during intercourse.

By 1899, at the age of sixteen, Kurten had progressed to petty crime, and ran away from home to escape the continuing violence. Shortly after his departure, his father was arrested for incestuous relations with Kurten’s 13-year old sister, and he was jailed for three years.His petty crime soon led to the first of many prison sentences, mostly short-term, for various misdemeanours, that punctuated his existence over the following years. The appalling conditions within these prisons confirmed his sadistic tendencies, which he now transferred from farm animals to humans.With each successive sentence, Kurten’s rage against society, and his capacity for depravity, increased; he discovered a fascination for brutal sexual acts whilst in solitary confinement, which enhanced his fantasies: so much so that he began to break prison rules to ensure the maximum time in solitary confinement.

The Trial

A victim of the system

Kurten’s trial commenced on 13 April 1931, on charges including nine murders and seven attempted murders. To outward appearances the successful businessman, in well-tailored suit, he initially retracted his extensive confession, claiming that he had sought only to ensure his wife’s financial security.However, exhaustive questioning by the examining magistrate, and a damning litany of evidence, over the subsequent two months, caused him to eventually admit guilt whilst under interrogation. In an emotionless voice, Kurten claimed that his childhood, and the German penal system, was responsible for releasing his sadistic tendencies, and he showed no remorse for his crimes.The jury took only 90 minutes to return a verdict of guilty on all counts, and Kurten received nine death sentences. He was executed by guillotine on 2 July 1931.

The Arrest

An evil killer who loved his wife

Throughout Kurten’s reign of terror he maintained a fond attachment to his wife and, recognising that he would eventually be caught for the rape of Budlick, now that the police knew his identity, he devised a plan to ensure her financial security following his arrest. He confessed to her that he was the “Dusseldorf Vampire”, detailing all the killings and attacks, and he insisted that she would be paid a large reward for turning him over to the authorities.On 24 May 1930, Frau Kurten reluctantly did as he had advised, and took the police to their designated rendezvous site, a local church, where Kurten surrendered quietly.

Once under arrest, Kurten provided an astonishingly detailed account of his string of crimes to Professor Karl Berg, a distinguished psychologist, who later published the confession in a book entitled “The Sadist”. He claimed 79 individual acts of crime in all, and went to great lengths to convince the authorities of his guilt, perhaps in the hope that his full cooperation would ensure the maximum financial benefit for his wife. His memory was near eidetic, and his own “action-replay” of each offence obviously provided him with great pleasure; less so the attending stenographers.

The Crimes

terror in the rhine

During his periods of release between prison spells, Kurten was responsible for various sexual assaults, but his first documented murder victim was 10-year-old Christine Klein, who was sexually assaulted and stabbed in her home in Cologne, on 25 May 1913, whilst her parents worked in their pub below her bedroom.Her uncle, who had had an argument with her father, immediately came under suspicion, and Kurten, who returned to the scene of the crime the next day, was enthralled by the horror the killing had invoked in the locals, especially when the sexual assault came to light. Fortunately, the innocent uncle was cleared of the murder, given the lack of evidence, but Kurten followed his trial with interest, whetting his sadistic appetite for suffering in others.Kurten was called up for military service following the start of the First World War, but military discipline did not suit him, and he deserted from his barracks. He was jailed when captured, and remained in prison until 1921, his longest sentence to date, and his rage at this injustice intensified.Following his release from prison, he moved to Altenburg, where he met and married a former prostitute, who had been jailed for the murder of her fiancé. He spent the next four years living a life of relative normality and found work as a moulder (his father’s profession), even becoming active in the trade union.

During his periods of release between prison spells, Kurten was responsible for various sexual assaults, but his first documented murder victim was 10-year-old Christine Klein, who was sexually assaulted and stabbed in her home in Cologne, on 25 May 1913, whilst her parents worked in their pub below her bedroom.Her uncle, who had had an argument with her father, immediately came under suspicion, and Kurten, who returned to the scene of the crime the next day, was enthralled by the horror the killing had invoked in the locals, especially when the sexual assault came to light. Fortunately, the innocent uncle was cleared of the murder, given the lack of evidence, but Kurten followed his trial with interest, whetting his sadistic appetite for suffering in others.Kurten was called up for military service following the start of the First World War, but military discipline did not suit him, and he deserted from his barracks. He was jailed when captured, and remained in prison until 1921, his longest sentence to date, and his rage at this injustice intensified.Following his release from prison, he moved to Altenburg, where he met and married a former prostitute, who had been jailed for the murder of her fiancé. He spent the next four years living a life of relative normality and found work as a moulder (his father’s profession), even becoming active in the trade union.

Kurten enjoyed the mass hysteria and horror enormously, feeding off the press attention, even going so far as to contact a newspaper, on 9 November 1929, with a map detailing the position of the body of his latest victim, Gertrude Albermann, a five-year-old he had stabbed to death two days before, dumping her body under some builders rubble.Kurten’s attacks continued into that winter, and the spring of 1930, but none were fatal, which served only to escalate the horror, as harrowing survivor attacks provided lurid copy for newspapers, an antidote to the growing economic deprivations being inflicted by the Great Depression. Public condemnation of the authorities, for failing to catch the killer, was widespread.14 May 1930 saw the start of a chain of events that resulted in the eventual capture of Kurten. He offered a young unemployed woman, Maria Budlick, somewhere to stay, and took her to his apartment, hoping to have sex with her. When she refused, he agreed to find her somewhere else to stay but, on returning her to the train station, he took her into the nearby forest, where he raped her, then let her go.Initially ashamed, she had no intention of going to the police, but a letter which she had written to a friend about the attack, and intended for her information only, was incorrectly delivered. The recipient called the police, who tracked down Budlick and persuaded her to press charges. She recalled Kurten’s apartment clearly, and returned there with the police on 21 May 1930, where Kurten saw her, and made a quick escape.

Timeline

The "Vampire's" victims

Born: 26 May 1883The Victims:1892 - Claimed to have drowned two school friends25 May 1913 - Christine Klein, 109 February 1929 - Rosa Ohliger, 814 February 1929 - Herr Scheer, 4523 August 1929 - Gertrude Hamacher, 523 August 1929 - Louise Lenzen, 14September 1929 - Ida Reuter12 October 1929 - Elizabeth Dorrier7 November 1929 - Gertrude Albermann, 5Arrested: 24 May 1930Trial: 13 April 1931Convicted: 21 June 1931Died: 2 July 1931