As a young boy, Peter Kurten learned very early that violence, suffering, and the sight of blood gave him a special kind of pleasure when he learned to torture dogs with the local dogcatcher. In his teenage years he would sneak into neighbor’s barns to stab their pigs and sheep. He would also frequently steal and set fire to things throughout his life. While enjoyable, however, it wasn’t always enough. Eventually Kurten moved on to people, taking pleasure in the occasional strangling of women, or attacking random people on the streets with an axe blow to the back of their heads.
But it wasn’t until a particularly brutal string of murders in Dusseldorf in 1929, beginning with the discovery of a child stabbed to death and burned, that Kurten’s actions finally came to light. He was arrested the following year and confessed to nearly 70 crimes over his lifetime, including the Dusseldorf murders. The detail that he enjoying drinking the blood from the gurgling wounds of his victims earned him the nickname The Dusseldorf Vampire.
After his beheading in 1931, Kurten’s head was preserved and sliced open so his brain could be studied in hopes of finding some defect to account for the killer’s perverse sadism.
Nothing unusual was found.
Peter Kurten worked at a foundry most of his life – you can still see the scar on his scalp where a piece of iron fell on him, causing him headaches for years. Following his arrest in 1930, Kurten’s coworkers described him as vain, saying that after work he changed his clothes “carefully and thoughtfully,” spending too much time at the mirror fixing his hair. Even while in prison for previous offenses, Kurten admitted he put great effort into maintaining his neat and tidy appearance.
One woman fortunate enough to have survived an attack from Kurten, Margarete Schafe, said he completely changed as he wrapped his hands around her throat, bit her, and pulled her hair out in handfuls.
“He looked like the very devil,” she said.
Knowing he would soon be arrested, Kurten spent his last day of freedom having lunch, getting a haircut (as seen in his mugshot above) and wandering around the park for a few hours before meeting with his wife that afternoon, where she was waiting with the Dusseldorf police to take him into custody.
For being dead almost 90 years, Kurten still isn’t looking too bad. He would probably enjoy the sight of his mummified head spinning around day after day for the enjoyment and/or horror of families on vacation in Wisconsin Dells.