Peter Kürten was well named "The Vampire of Düsseldorf" - a madman whose blood lust inspired the classic Fritz Lang film "M". But his own reign of terror was no work of fiction.

Peter Kürten is, for my money, the most frightening human monster I have yet run across in my research into serial killers. Born in May of 1883 in Cologne-Mulheim, Kürten began his career of murder when he was five years old by drowning two of his playmates while rafting. From then on, until his death by execution in 1931, Kürten intermittently carried on a campaign of rape, murder, cannibalism and bestiality.

Kürten has the distinction of being the first serial killer to be interviewed in depth by a psychiatrist. Because of this, his early life is known, and it goes a long way to confirming the current thinking that serial killers are created by abuse; physical, sexual and/or verbal. To say that Kürten grew up in an abusive atmosphere is to be guilty of the grossest understatement. One of thirteen children, in addition to being abused physically, he and the other children were often forced to watch while his father had sex with his mother. When his father was arrested for the attempted rape of his daughter, Kürten finished the atrocity for him.

While his father was in jail, the family had to take in a lodger to keep some money in the house. The tenant was a local dogcatcher who instructed Kürten in how to masturbate dogs and then torture them.

Kürten is known as the "Vampire of Düsseldorf" because of his preoccupation with blood. His victims included men as well as women, the sight of blood being the sexual stimulus he needed, rather than actual intercourse. This fixation was so powerful that he was once observed ripping the heads from two swans in the City Park and drinking the blood that gushed from their necks.

Many of Kürten’s victims were children, but he did not limit himself to them. One man was attacked while on his way home from a beer cellar at night and was stabbed repeatedly in the head and neck. Two men were attacked with an axe to satisfy Kürten’s lust for the sight of blood. A trio of two women and a man were attacked in 1929, but they were among the very few whom survived an encounter with Peter Kürten. There were also servant women, gypsies and many little girls, all of whom were stabbed multiple times or beaten with a hammer and raped.

But it seems that Kürten was capable of some affection. During the most active part of his forty-year killing spree, he was married and somehow managed to conceal his other life from his wife until he confessed to her in 1930. This occurred only because his last victim, a girl named Maria Budlick was uncharacteristically allowed to escape, and subsequently identify him to the police. When called in by the police for questioning, Kürten suggested to his wife that she turn him in so that she could claim the substantial reward, which would allow her to live comfortably for the rest of her life.

Doctor Professor Karl Berg, the interviewing psychiatrist, described Kürten as being "A king of sexual perverts" and a "narcissistic psychopath." This would certainly qualify Kürten for the modern term "sociopath."

When asked if he had any regrets about his life of murder, Kürten said, "I have no remorse. As to whether recollection of my deeds makes me feel ashamed, I will tell you. Thinking back to all the details is not at all unpleasant. I rather enjoy it."

As he went to the guillutine on July 2nd, 1932, his last thoughts were not of his victims - but whether or not he might be able to hear the sound of his own blood gushing from his body as his life drained quickly away. Happily, we'll never know.

This "vampire" is secure in his grave - never to walk the earth again.

by Peter Dain