Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Dusseldorf

The Making of a Killer

Unquestionably, the victim of a vicious background, Kürten was born in Köln-Mullheim on the 26th May 1883. His childhood was spent in a poverty-stricken, one room apartment; one of a family of 13 whose father was a brutal drunkard. There was a long history of alcoholism and mental trouble on the paternal side of the family and his father frequently arrived home drunk, assaulting the children and forcing intercourse on the mother.

"If they hadn't been married, it would have been rape", Kürten once remarked.

Irascible and self-possessed, Mr. Kürten was sexually uncontrolled and was later jailed for three years for committing incest with Peter's sister, aged 13. Maternally, Kürten seems to have originated from fairly respectable stock. The daughter of an affluent proprietor, Mrs. Kürten had five brothers and sisters, all of whom lived to a ripe age. A separation was secured from her husband following his attempted incest and imprisonment and, in 1911, she remarried. She died in 1927.

Kürten's sadistic impulses were awakened by the violent scenes in his own home.

"The whole family suffered through his drinking, for when he was in drink, my father was terrible. I, being the eldest, had to suffer most. As you may well imagine, we suffered terrible poverty, all because the wages went on drink. We all lived in one room and you will appreciate what affect that had on me sexually."

At the age of nine, Kürten befriended a dogcatcher who lived in the same house, a degenerate who showed him how to masturbate and torture dogs. Whereas a normal child would have reacted with emotional recoil to this influence, the boy welcomed the friendship and a powerful and most significant bond developed. Around the same time, Kürten drowned a schoolfellow while playing on a raft in the Rhine. When the boy's friend dived in to rescue him, he, too, was pushed under the raft and held down until he suffocated.

The sexual urges were developing rapidly and Kürten was soon committing bestiality on sheep and goats in the nearby stables. It was quickly discovered that he had his most powerful sensation when he stabbed a sheep as he had intercourse, an act that was performed with increasing frequency.

By the age of 16, Peter was stealing and had run away from home. He was soon to receive the first of 27 prison sentences that would occupy 24 years of his life. The crimes were at first petty, mostly thieving for food and clothing and often gaining short sentences in Düsseldorf prisons. Upon release from detention in 1899, Kürten began living with an ill-treated masochistic prostitute twice his age. His "education" was now complete and the inherent sadistic impulses were transferred from animals to human beings.

The first lengthy period of incarceration left Kürten bitter and angry at human penal conditions.

"I do not condemn those sentences in themselves, but I do condemn the way they are carried out on young people."

Internment also introduced Kürten to yet another perverse refinement, a fantasy world where he could achieve orgasm by imagining brutal sexual acts. He became so obsessed with these fantasies that he deliberately broke minor prison rules so that he could be sentenced to solitary confinement. This proved to be the ideal atmosphere for sadistic daydreaming.

Shortly after a release from prison, Kürten made his first murderous attack on a girl during sexual intercourse, leaving her for dead in the Grafenberg Woods. No body was ever found and the girl most probably crawled away, keeping the terrible secret to herself. Inevitably, more confinement followed and, after each jail term, Kürten's feelings of injustice were strengthened. Most worryingly for the people of Düsseldorf, his sexual and sadistic fantasies now involved revenge on society.

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