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Peter Kürten (May 26, 1883-July 2, 1932) was a German serial killer dubbed The Vampire of Düsseldorf by the contemporary media. He committed a series of sex crimes, assaults and murders against adults and children, most notoriously from February to November 1929 in Düsseldorf.


Kürten was born into a poverty-stricken, abusive family in Mülheim (now a district of Cologne) on May 26, 1883, the third of thirteen children. Disturbed from an early age, watching his alcoholic father repeatedly sexually assault his mother and sister, he grew into a petty criminal and often ran away from home. He later claimed to have committed his first murders at the age of five, drowning two young friends while swimming. He moved with his family to Düsseldorf in 1894 and received a number of short prison sentences for various crimes, including theft and arson. As a youth he was employed by the local dogcatcher, who taught him how to masturbate and torture dogs. His violent tendencies increased as he progressed from torturing animals to attacks on people. He committed his first provable murder in 1913 during the course of a burglary, by strangling a young girl. His crimes were then halted by the First World War and an eight-year sentence in prison. In 1921 he left prison and moved to Altenburg, where he married. He returned to Düsseldorf in 1925 to later begin the series of crimes that would last until his capture.

On February 8, 1929, he assaulted a woman and sexually molested and murdered an eight-year-old girl. On February 13, he murdered a middle-aged mechanic, stabbing him twenty times. Kürten did not attack again until August, stabbing three people in separate attacks on the 21st; murdering two sisters, aged five and fourteen, on the 23rd; and stabbing another woman on the 24th. In September he committed a single rape and murder and in October another, also attacking two women with a hammer. On November 7 he killed a five-year-old girl and sent a map to a local newspaper disclosing her grave. The variety of victims and methods led to the assumption that there had to be more than one killer at large, and over 900,000 different names were given to the police as potential suspects.

The November murder was Kürten's last, although there were a spate of non-fatal hammer attacks from February to March 1930. In May he accosted a young woman called Maria Budlick (or Budlies), and took her first to his home and then to the Grafenberger Woods where he raped her, but left her alive. Budlick led the police to Kürten's home. He was concerned over the sentence he would receive for the rape and avoided the police. Kürten told his wife of the rape and also of his other crimes, and he told her to inform the police. On May 24 he was located and arrested.

Kürten confessed to almost eighty offenses, and was charged with nine murders and seven attempted murders. He went to trial in April 1931, and initially he pleaded not guilty, but after some weeks changed his plea. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. His last words were: "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." He was executed by guillotine in Köln on the morning of July 2, 1932.

The Kürten case was important in the evolution of police investigations regarding the capture of serial killers. It was the first time profiling was used to determine the criminal viability of possible suspects. The process as used by German authorities ultimately suffered a fatal flaw when the police decided wrongly that the killer was insane; Kürten was, in fact, declared to be sane. Regardless, profiling of suspects was carried out in many cases of serial killings following the Kürten incidents.

Kürten's motives were often debated. He gave two reasons for his murders, one to the legal representatives, and one to the medical examiners after his conviction. He said to the legal examiners that his primary motive was to 'strike back on the suppressive society.' He did not deny that he had sexually molested his victims, however, he always claimed during his trial that this was not his primary motive.

As he was awaiting execution, he was often interviewed by Dr. Karl Berg. Later Berg's book The Sadist was written on the account of Kürten's murderous career. Kürten gave his primary motive to Berg as being one entirely of sexual pleasure. The number of stab wounds differed due to the simple fact it took longer to achieve climax. It was the sight of blood that was integral to his sexual ejaculation.

Popular Culture


  • In 1931, Fritz Lang's movie M was released. It told a fictionalized story of a serial child killer. Some feel it was in part based on Kürten's crime spree, primarily concerning itself with the atmosphere of hysteria surrounding the case. The creator of the movie, Fritz Lang, denied such a connection.


  • US death metal band Macabre named a song after the serial killer, “The Vampire of Dusseldorf”.

See also


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Part of this article consists of modified text from Wikipedia, and the article is therefore licensed under GFDL.