Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Dusseldorf

A Year of Terror

The Düsseldorf police were first made aware of the atrocities on the 9th of February 1929, when the body of an eight-year-old girl, Rosa Ohliger, was found under a hedge. She had been stabbed 13 times and an attempt had been made to burn the body with petrol. The murderer had also stabbed her in the vagina and seminal stains on the knickers indicated that he had experienced emission.

The essential factors to be considered for diagnosis of the cause and time of death, as well as for the motive of the murderer, were the characteristic stabs, the congestion of blood that was found in the head and the injury to the genitalia. From these considerations, one may ascertain that Kürten's objective had not been coitus, but that he must have inserted a finger smeared with semen under the unopened knickers of the child and thus inserted it into the vagina.

Six days earlier, a man overtook a woman named Kühn, grabbed her lapels and stabbed her repeatedly. Frau Kühn suffered 24 wounds before the man ran off. The sadistic appetite of Kürten was not yet satisfied and he had discovered a new sexual stimulant by returning to the scenes of his crimes.

Gertrude Hamacher
Gertrude Hamacher

"The place where I attacked Frau Kühn I visited again that same evening twice and later several times. In doing so, I sometimes had an orgasm. When that morning I poured petrol over the child Ohliger and set fire to her, I had an orgasm at the height of the fire."

Only five days after the murder of Rosa Ohliger, a 45-year-old mechanic named Scheer was found stabbed to death on a road in Flingern; he had 20 knife wounds, including several in the head. On the following day Kürten once again returned to the scene of his attack and even had the audacity to strike up a conversation with a detective at the site. Although suspicious, the policeman clearly had no reason for concern and so spoke frankly about the crime; a fantastic cameo episode which was confirmed during the trial by the detective in question.

Shortly after this spate of violations, an idiot named Stausberg was arrested for assaulting two women with a noose. Naturally, the police accused Stausberg of the February attacks and for some reason, unknown to this day, he confessed to all the crimes and was removed to a lunatic asylum. It was fatal for the detection of the 'Vampire' that this irrelevant criminal was arrested for assaults so similar to the ones described above.

In August, however, a series of strangulation and stabbing incidents made the police aware that a madman was once again on the prowl. On the 21st of the month, in the western suburb of Lierenfeld, three people were stabbed while walking home at night. The three random victims were all bidden "Good Evening" to before being subjected to a deep knife wound in their ribs and back.

As the lights went out on the night of the 23rd August 1929, hundreds of people were enjoying the annual fair in the ancient town of Flehe. At around 10.30 p.m., two foster sisters, five-year-old Gertrude Hamacher and 14-year-old Louise Lenzen, left the fair and started walking through the adjoining allotments to their home. As they did so, a shadow broke away from among the trees and followed them along a footpath. The shadow stopped the children and asked whether Louise "would be very kind and get some cigarettes for me? I'll look after the little girl." Louise took the man's money and ran back towards the fairground. Quietly, the man picked up Gertrude in his arms and strangled her, before slowly cutting her throat with a clasp knife. Louise returned a few moments later and was dragged off the footpath before being strangled and decapitated.

On the following afternoon, a servant girl named Gertrude Schulte was accosted by a man who tried to persuade her to have sexual intercourse. When she said, "I'd rather die," he answered, "Die then" and stabbed her. Fortunately, though, Schulte survived and was able to give a good description of her assailant, who proved to be a pleasant-looking, nondescript man of about forty.

Ida Reuter
Ida Reuter

Kürten had by now reached his sexual overdrive and the increasing frequency and ferocity of the attacks convinced medical experts that the 'Vampire' had lost all control of his sadistic impulses. A young girl named Ida Reuter was raped and battered to death in September and, on the 12th of October, another servant girl by the name of Elizabeth Dorrier was beaten to death. This was followed by hammer attacks on Frau Meurer and Frau Wanders, both on the 25th of October.

Düsseldorf was thrown into a panic comparable to that caused by Jack the Ripper as the murder toll continued to mount. On the 7th of November, five-year-old Gertrude Albermann disappeared and two days later the newspaper Freedom received a letter with a map enclosed, stating that the child's body would be found near a factory wall. The body was indeed found where the killer had described, amongst a mass of bricks and rubble. She had been strangled and stabbed thirty-five times.

The period between February and May of 1930 saw a continued spate of strangulation and hammer attacks, although none with fatal consequences. Despite the enormous manhunt now in operation, the killer had still not been apprehended and Düsseldorf was at the point of public outcry. Where as the motives may have been similar, the means used by the elusive Kürten were constantly changing and as such provided no clear pattern for the investigating detectives. By the May of 1930, sheer terror had gripped Düsseldorf and the 'Vampire' was still on the loose.

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