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Serial Killer Index Short List
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Serial Killer Index
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  KUERTEN Peter (KÜRTEN) *1883 +1931/07/02 GERMANY ... ... ... 9
Dusseldorf Vampire
 : ... ... ... ...
Verdict/Urteil: Death by Guillotine
In the entire history of crime no one killer has caused such widespread fear and indignation as that created by Peter Kürten in Düsseldorf in the inter-war period. The subject of extensive judicial examination, justice has sought not only to punish the killer for his crimes, but also to probe the mind and soul of this outrageously enigmatic man. A clinical study of Kürten has rewarded diligent and patient analysis with an enlargement of abnormal and pathological crime. The killer's first murder occurred in the city of Köln on May 25th 1913. Kürten had been stealing throughout the spring, specialising in public bars or inns where the owners lived in an apartment above the premises. On this particular evening, he was surveying an inn in Köln. Here, he himself, takes up the story, "I broke into a house in the Wolfstrasse - an inn owned by Klein - and went up to the first floor. I opened different doors and found nothing worth stealing; but in the bed I saw a sleeping girl of about 10, covered with a thick feather bed." Kürten seized the girl by the neck and with both hands, throttled her. The child struggled for some time before unconsciousness and Kürten then drew her head over the edge of the bed and penetrated her genitals with his fingers. "I had a small but sharp pocket knife with me and I held the child's head and cut her throat. I heard the blood spurt and drip on the mat beside the bed. It spurted in an arch, right over my hand. The whole thing lasted about three minutes. Then I went locked the door again and went back home to Düsseldorf." The child's corpse was pallid. There was hardly any post-mortem staining and the tongue was severely bitten. On the throat there were two wounds separated from each other; the one shallow, only 1 to 2 mm deep; the other deep, 9 cm in length. The upper wound suggested a single stroke, the lower wound had been made by four movements. Kürten's first victim had been Christine Klein, a 10-year-old girl at school in nearby Köln. Her father, Peter Klein, kept the tavern and suspicion immediately fell on his brother Otto. On the previous evening, Otto Klein had asked his brother for a loan and had been refused; in a violent rage, he had threatened to do something his brother "would remember all his life." In the room in which the child had been killed, the police found a handkerchief with the initials "P.K.," and it seemed conceivable that Otto had borrowed it from his brother Peter. Suspicion of Otto was deepened by the fact that the murder seemed otherwise motiveless; the child had been throttled unconscious, her throat had been cut with a sharp knife. There were signs of some sexual molestation, but not rape and again it seemed possible that Otto Klein had penetrated the child's genitals in order to provide an apparent motive. He was charged with Christine's murder, but the jury, although partly convinced of his guilt, felt that the evidence was not sufficiently strong enough and he was rightly acquitted. On the following day, Kürten went back to Mullheim and in a café opposite the Kleins' inn sat and drank a glass of beer. The killer later remarked that all around him people were talking about the murder and "all the horror and indignation did him good." Kürten was safe from capture and his sadistic impulse had been awakened. With his bloodthirsty appetite whetted, Kürten soon began a series of axe and strangulation attacks on the people of Düsseldorf. The period up until 1921 was spent in prison and, upon his entry to Altenburg and subsequent marriage, Kürten seems to have lived a perfectly normal and respectable life. He found permanent work in a factory and became very active in trade union circles. With his new guise as a political activist, there followed four years of peace and decency. In 1925, Peter found his way to Düsseldorf and once again the town proved to be a catalyst for his criminal inclinations. Kürten saw Düsseldorf again in the evening light and rejoiced that "the sunset was blood-red on my return," interpreting this as an omen of his destiny. Four years of arson attacks and petty crime seemed to have controlled the murderous streak, but these proved to be only a prelude to the horrors witnessed by Düsseldorf in the year of 1929.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 thirteen 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 twenty-four 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. "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 forty-five-year-old mechanic named Scheer was found stabbed to death on a road in Flingern; he had twenty 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 fourteen-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. 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. As is invariably the case with serial crime, the capture of the killer happened almost by chance. On the 14th May 1930 an unemployed domestic servant named Maria Budlick left the cathedral city of Köln in search of work in nearby Düsseldorf. On the platform at Düsseldorf station she was accosted by a man who offered to show her the way to a girls' hostel. They followed the brightly-lit streets for a while, but when he started leading her towards the park she suddenly remembered the newspaper stories of the murderer and refused to go any farther. The man insisted and it was while they were arguing that a second man appeared and inquired as to whether everything was all right. Clearly both upset and intimidated by the newcomer's arrival, the man from the railway station soon slunk away and Fraulein Budlick was left alone with her rescuer, one Peter Kürten. The pair went by tram to Worringerplatz and walked deep into the Grafenberger Woods. Here Kürten seized Budlick with one hand by the neck and asked whether he could have her. Kürten was remarkably calm and collected throughout the ordeal and made sure that no one on the tram saw him deposit the young girl at the station. Contrary to the opinion of Kürten, Fraulein Budlick had indeed remembered the address, vividly recalling the nameplate 'Mettmanner Strasse' under the flickering gaslight. Most crucially, however, Maria wrote of her encounter in a letter of the 17th May to one Frau Bruckner. The letter never reached its intended recipient. It was misdirected and opened by a Frau Brugmann, who took one look at the contents and called the police. Maria Budlick was immediately located and questioned extensively. After a long time and considerable hesitation she led Chief Inspector Gennat into the hallway of number 71 Mettmanner Strasse. The landlady ushered into an empty room, which Budlick immediately recognised and it was soon established that a man by the name of Peter Kürten occupied the premises. While at the house, Fraulein Budlick encountered even more conclusive proof when her attacker entered the house and began climbing the stairs towards her. He looked briefly startled, but carried on to his room and shut the door behind him. A few moments later he left the house with his hat pulled down over his eyes, passed the two plainclothes men standing in the street and disappeared round a corner. Upon realisation of his inevitable capture, Kürten chose to explain the Budlick case to his wife. As the attempt at sexual intercourse could be considered as rape; along with his previous convictions, Kürten ascertained that it could be enough to ensure fifteen years penal servitude. Up to this point, nothing linked Kürten with the attacks of the 'Vampire'. His only crime was suspected rape, but he knew now that there was no longer any hope of concealing his identity. Peter Kürten described the consequent events of Friday 23rd May in writing. "Today, the 23rd, in the morning, I told my wife that I was also responsible for the Schulte affair, adding my usual remark that it would mean ten years - or more separation for us - probably forever. At that, my wife was inconsolable. She spoke of unemployment, lack of means and starvation in old age. She raved that I should take my life, then she would do the same, since her future was completely without hope. Then, in the late afternoon, I told my wife that I could help her." Peter proceeded to tell his wife that he was the infamous 'Düsseldorf Vampire' and disclosed every murder to her. Kürten then hinted that a high reward had been offered for the discovery of the criminal and that she could get hold of that prize if she would report the confession and denounce him to the police. On May 24th 1930, Frau Kürten told the story to the police, adding that she had arranged to meet her husband outside St. Rochus church at 3 o'clock that afternoon. By that time the whole area had been surrounded and four officers rushed forward with loaded revolvers the moment Peter Kürten appeared. The man smiled and offered no resistance. Once under arrest, Kürten spoke with remarkable frankness to Professor Karl Berg, an eminent German psychologist, who was later to write the most comprehensive guide to the career of Peter Kuerten in a book entitled The Sadist. Berg was supremely successful in winning the prisoner's confidence and provided a fascinating insight into the mind of a killer. Kürten's memory functioned with a most extraordinary clarity and the vividness with which he preserved the details of each crime gives us a measure of the gratification of the act. When Kürten dealt with matters that had no emotional value for him, his memory was often highly defective and flawed. The manner in which Kürten enumerated all his offences is quite astounding. He was not accused of these crimes one by one, but reeled off his own account, beginning with No.1 and ending with No.79. Every single case was dictated to the stenographer and Kürten even showed enjoyment at the horrified faces of the many police officers that listened to his shocking recital. Such then is the so-called "great" confession attributed to Kürten after his arrest. The fullness and accuracy of the disclosure naturally awoke doubts as to its veracity and yet, aside from the occasional and perhaps understandable mistruth, the vast majority of his salient statements were adhered to in discussions with the examining magistrate and later with Professor Berg. Kürten himself recognised the obvious scepticism regarding his confession and consequently took time to describe each crime as precisely as possible to Berg. Kürten's over-riding motivation to explain his wrongs was not, as one might expect, a feeling of guilt or repentance, but simply to secure a lucrative future for his wife. The consistently high regard paid to Frau Kürten throughout the ordeal is one of the most fascinating aspects in the account and contradicts much of what we know about Kürten's persona. Even though unfaithful throughout his marriage, Kürten was still exceptionally fond of his wife and was desperate to ensure a substantial reward for her future years. Charged with a total of nine murders and seven attempted murders, the trial of the 'Düsseldorf Vampire' opened on April 13th 1931. A special shoulder-high cage had been built inside the courtroom to prevent his escape and behind it was arranged some of the grisly exhibits of the Kürten museum. There lay skulls of his victims and body parts displaying the injuries inflicted by the killer, each meticulously presented in a chronologically fashion. Knives, rope, scissors and a hammer were on show, along with many articles of clothing and a spade he had used to bury a woman. It was indeed a gruesome exhibition. The initial shock to the crowd, however, came with the physical appearance of the 'Monster'. Dressed in an immaculate suit and with sleek, neatly parted hair, Kürten had the look of a prim and proper businessman. Speaking in a quiet, matter-of-fact voice, he initially denied his earlier confession and presented a not-guilty plea to the examining magistrate. He had, he said, confessed to the crimes on the first occasion only to secure the reward for his wife. Even though thoroughly persistent, Kürten was eventually broken down by the examining magistrate and, after a trying two months, reverted to his original and full confession. The amplification of the crimes was more monstrous than anyone had imagined, yet the most brilliant doctors in Germany testified that Kürten had been "perfectly responsible for his actions at all times". His motive was made clear from the start; he wanted to revenge himself on society for the wrongs he had suffered in prison. In answer to the judge's question as to whether he had a conscience, Kuerten replied, "I have none. Never have I felt any misgiving in my soul; never did I think to myself that what I did was bad, even though human society condemns it. My blood and the blood of my victims will be on the heads of my torturers. There must be a Higher Being who gave in the first place the first vital spark to life. That Higher Being would deem my actions good since I revenged injustice. The punishments I have suffered have destroyed all my feelings as a human being. That was why I had no pity for my victims." In his trademark flat, unemotional voice, Kürten described a life in which a luckless combination of factors - heredity, environment, the faults of the German penal system - had conspired to bring out and foster the latent sadistic streak with which Kürten believed he had been born. The court became hypnotised with the dramatic extent of the revelations, the killer at one point describing his thoughts on how to cause accidents involving thousands of people with no modicum of self-restraint. Kuerten went on to narrate the details of his killing, each individual incident presented in a manner of such organisation and efficiency never before seen. The confession was indeed so damning that the prosecution barely bothered to present any evidence. The defendant?s counsel, Dr. Wehner, had the hopeless task of trying to prove insanity in the face of unbreakable evidence from the many distinguished psychiatrists. The jury took only one and half-hours to reach a unanimous verdict: guilty on all counts. The presiding judge, Dr. Rose, interrupted the continuing self-righteous ramblings of the defendant to sentence him to death nine times. Kürten behaved in a dignified fashion and did not challenge the judgement nor feign any remorse. He did, however, note every discrepancy in the accounts of the witnesses and also protested against the observations of the experts, which were not, in his opinion, wholly accurate. On July 2nd 1932, the 'Düsseldorf Vampire' went to his death at a guillotine erected in the yard of the Klingelputz Prison. Kürten expressed his last earthly desire on the way to the yard: "Tell me", he asked the prison psychiatrist, "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?" He savoured this thought for a while, then added, "that would be the pleasure to end all pleasures."
Copyright 1995-2005 by Elisabeth Wetsch
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