Peter Kurten was born the 26th of May 1883, in Cologne-Mulheim Germany. The eldest of 13 children, he was born into extreme poverty. Having to live in a small one-room apartment, he was witness to the violent outbursts of a drunken father. On his father’s side of the family there was a history of alcoholism and mental problems. Not only was Kurten subjected to the drunken violent assaults by his father, but was also witness to the forced rape of his mother on a continual basis. His father would later be arrested for attempting to molest his own 13-year-old daughter. Kurten would later state this was the beginning of his sexual teachings, which unfortunately would also involve violence.
Having his father in prison, his mother, of “respectable stock” separated from her husband and shortly remarried. However, while the violent episodes that influenced Kurten should have ended, another individual surfaced to continue his perverse teachings. While the father was imprisoned the family took in a boarder, a dogcatcher, who would befriend the young Kurten. The dogcatcher, a severely demented individual, formed a tight bond with the 9-year-old and taught the boy to masturbate dogs and to torture them. Enjoying this immensely, Kurten turned to bestiality, which involved goats and sheep. He soon learned he enjoyed this much more when he would stab them repeatedly during intercourse.
By the age 16 Kurten was involved in committing petty thefts and subsequently ran away from home. It was here that he would receive the first of 27 prison sentences,
which would consume some 24 years of his life. After release from his first sentence he moved in with a prostitute who was twice his age. It is here that his teachings reached full circle and he moved sexually from animals to people.
In 1913, Christine Klein, an 8-year-old girl, was to be the first known victim of Kurten. Frequenting a local inn, one night Kurten broke in to the above apartment with the attempt to steal. Seeing nothing of interest, he came upon the girl asleep in her bed. After strangling her to unconsciousness he molested her, and then he slit her throat watching the blood stream out. He would later say he “derived sexual pleasure from watching the blood flow” (Chitolie, 1997). Although dropping his embroidered handkerchief with the initials PK at the scene of the crime, blame was cast on the young girl’s uncle. The next day Kurten returned to the scene, stopping at a café next door for a beer. Listening to the talk about the murder he later commented “all the horror and indignation did him good” (Gilbert, 1999). (It should be noted her that later at his trial Kurten would confess to the earlier killings of three other individuals. Two were his childhood friends that he confessed to drowning at the young age of 5. Another occurred around the age of 17. As he was having intercourse with a young woman in the woods he attempted to experiment with strangulation. Since no body was ever found, it is assumed she survived). During this year of 1913, he also attacked two other individuals with an ax, both dying from their wounds.
From 1913 to 1921 he spent in prison and began to blame society for his life predicaments. He also began to fantasize about committing…“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” (Gilbert, 1999). Soon the two combined and he began to fantasize about revenging himself onto society through the brutal killings of the innocent.
After his release in 1921 he moved to Altenburg, became a factory worker and become involved in the trade unions. He attended church often and in 1925 was married, to a former prostitute. In 1925, they moved back to Dusseldorf and once again he took up crime, again stealing, but now also setting fires. The fires filled the sexual need in him and this continued til 1929, when his violent tendencies overtook him and he killed again.
This time his murderous tendencies were almost frenzied. In February a woman was stabbed 24 times with a pair of scissors, surprisingly she survived the attack. 10 days later a man was stabbed 20 times in the back and head, his body left on the side of the road. In March the burned body of a 9-year-old girl was found, having been stabbed 13 times and then molested. Kurten having returned to the scene to burn the body admitted “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” (Gilbert, 1999). Kurten would visit other crime scenes often, once even speaking to a detective who was investigating the death of the man left on the side of the road. In August he attacked two women and a man, all suffering knife wounds to the back, they survived.
Later that same month Kurten strangled and slit the throat of 5-year-old Gertrud Hamacher, then stabbed and decapitated 13-year-old Luise Lenzen, both on their way
home from a fair. That same night he attempted to rape Gertrude Schultz, who after being stabbed managed to escape. She was the first individual to give a good description of Kurten. However, he continued on his rampage, beating to death three more women, and attacking two others with a hammer. The last of Kurten’s murders occurred in November, involving the disappearance of 5-year-old Gertrud Alberman. Days later a letter was sent to a local newspaper giving the location of the body. The body was found, having been strangled and stabbed 36 times with a pair of scissors.
In May of 1930 Kurten raped and consequently let go a young woman he had met at a nearby train station. He reasoned that she had not attempted to fight him, and because she could not remember where he lived, he took her to the train station and walked away. The woman wrote a letter to a friend to tell her of the horrible incident, but since it was undeliverable, the letter was opened by a postal worker. The police were notified immediately. They questioned the young woman and then she led them to the Kurten’s home. Kurten alluded police for a few days, in which he confessed his crimes to his wife and begged her to go to the police so she may receive the reward money for his capture. On the 24th of May 1930 Kurten was finally arrested, offering no resistance.
Once arrested Professor Karl Berg, a German psychologist, interviewed him and later wrote a book of the accounts in “The Sadist”. Kurten confessed to 79 murders/attempted murders, although during his trial he was only charged with 9 murders
and 7 attempted murders. During the trial the one thing that stood out was the appearance of the man known as “The Vampire of Dusseldorf” and “The Monster of
Dusseldorf”. “Dressed in an immaculate suit and with sleek, neatly parted hair, Kurten had the look of a prim and proper businessman” (Gilbert, 1999). He was also said to be “well-build, clean-shaven and fresh complexioned” (1999). Yet even more astonishing was his lack of remorse for the atrocities he committed. “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” (1999). Kurten received the death penalty for each of the 9 murders and on July 2nd 1931 he was executed by guillotine. His last wish was to know “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” (1999).
Overall, I would say this individual learned most of his behaviour through his role model, his father, whom he learned from for 9 years. Although he may have inherited some mental disability from his father (what mental problems there were in the family was never mentioned) he mostly learned his behaviour from his father. His development probably began at birth and was fully developed by early childhood. Having been born
into poverty, being abused by his father, and watching the rape of his mother had to have had serious repercussions in his mental capacity as well as moral development. Then watching his brothers and sisters also be born into that situation and having seen them abused and molested may also have served to desensitize him to the cruelty of the situation. Most importantly, as his crimes were largely sexual in nature, one would have to speculate that as he sexually matured the only role model he had was a rapist and child molester. The other role model he had was into bestiality and torture, so the combination of everything apparently led him to have no feelings towards anyone, his only goal was sexual release which unfortunately had to be violent in nature. His victims were men, women, children and animals, apparently he saw no difference and that allowed him to kill all of them indiscriminately.
The severity of the killings, however, would lead one to believe he did in fact rationalize the murders as a way of paying back society for the wrongs he experienced in prison. What actually happened to him in prison was also never mentioned, but one can only imagine. Somewhere along the way he had to have developed such a hatred for his life, his situation, his imprisonment, that it all came out in the violent stabbings and beatings. It is clear he had no morals, was never able to develop or learn morals, so he was able to commit any crime and rationalize them. Frustration for being poor may have been a reason he stole or poverty may have been a rationalization. He killed because society made him do it, although his sexual need was probably the biggest driving force. Kurten was described as a lust killer and also narcissistic. He was very clean, put
together, and seemed to take pride in his appearance. The fact that he let his last victim go probably was due to the fact that he believed he was invincible and no one could catch him. I think as far as serial killers go Peter Kurten fits into every characteristic. Child abuse, poor background, his father, his neighbor, the living conditions, pretty much every aspect never gave him a chance at a normal life. Although to say that is the reason behind his killings is questionable, as he chose to externalize all of his problems and blame everyone else. Ultimately he got what he deserved, swift and capital punishment, as I do not believe Peter Kurten to be redeemable or fit for rehabilitation. At first when I began reading about his life I was shocked, but having by now read much worse crimes I wasn’t in disbelief. However, in remembering the time period I had to realize how unusual these crimes were and truly appalling. More specifically, Kurten didn’t have the “copycat” thing going on, he committed all of these crimes straight from his imagination and fantasies. Now, it seems like all current crimes have been done before, and that criminals are merely copying each other (although that’s a bad way to put it). In viewing his crimes from the time period of the early 1920’s, it would be hard to believe anyone didn’t blame his upbringing and social surroundings for his actions. However, like all serial killers there must have been something in him, something that truly made him a “monster”.
Chitolie, R. (1997). Peter Kurten (The Dusseldorf Vampire). The World Wide Serial