Kürten, Peter

Kürten, Peter (1883–1931)

(pop culture)

Often cited as a real vampire, Peter Kürten—the so-called Düsseldorf Vampire—was a serial killer who operated in Germany from 1929 to 1930. He was born in Mulheim, Germany, one of ten children, the son of an alcoholic, brutal father. He lived part of his youthful years with the town dogcatcher and found enjoyment killing the unclaimed dogs. Kürten was only nine when he first killed a person. He pushed a playmate into the water and then repeated the act with a second boy who attempted to save the first.

His next known attempt at homicide was eight years later when he tried to rape and kill a young woman. He was sent to jail for four years for his unsuccessful effort. He lived on the streets after his release from prison, but a year later was back in jail for a series of thefts and burglaries. He would later claim to have killed two of his prisonmates by poisoning. In 1913 back on the street in Düsseldorf, he killed again. He murdered a ten-year-old girl.

He cut her throat with a knife and reportedly experienced an orgasm as the blood spurted out.

It was not until 1929 that Kürten began the series of crimes that were to earn him his place in criminal history. In February of that year, he attempted the murder of one woman and succeeded in the murder of two children, one male and one female, all by stabbing. His attempts at murder, often unsuccessful, baffled the police. Their mistaken conclusions about the crimes caused a mentally ill man to be convicted of the murder of the boy Kürten had actually killed.

That summer, he was more successful, killing nine people in August alone. He continued his killing through the winter of 1929–30. In May he attempted the strangling death of a young woman and then inexplicably stopped and let her go.

She identified him, and he was arrested. During his crime spree, he had thoroughly confused the police by continually changing his method of killing.

Any doubt about his guilt was only removed when he began his confession and accurately related the circumstances of each crime. He was convicted and executed by decapitation on July 2, 1931.

Kürten was certainly not a vampire in any traditional sense. Superficially, he demonstrated a vampiric trait in his obsession with blood, but he was like neither the vampire of folklore nor that of the modern literary and cinematic tradition. His history of vampire-like crime fits more properly into the history of serial murder. Kürten’s life inspired two movies, M (1931) and Le Vampire de Düsseldorf (1964). More recently, Anthony Neilson authored a fictional account of Kürten entitled Normal: The Düsseldorf Ripper (1991), which was adapted by Czech director Julius Sevcik to the screen as Angels Gone (2009).


Glut, Donald F. True Vampires of History. New York: H C Publishers, 1971. 191 pp.
Godwin, George. Peter Kürten: A Study in Sadism. London: Heineman Medical Books, 1938, 1945. 58 pp. Rept. “Kürten—The Vampire of Düsseldorf.” In Monsters of Weimar. London: Nemesis Books, 1993, pp. 159–289.
Volta, Ornella. The Vampire. New York: Award Books, 1962. 153 pp.
Wagner, Margaret Seaton. The Monster of Dusseldorf: The Life and Trial of Peter Kurten. London: Faber & Faber, 1932.