The Writings of Ingrid Pitt

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Ingrid's Obituary

The Dusseldorf Vampire

Peter Kurten earned his soubriquet, The Dusseldorf Vampire, the hard way and when finally sent to be beheaded asked the Executioner if he thought he would be able to hear the blood gurgling out of his body after he had lost his head.
Peter Kurten - the Dusseldorf Vampire

Peter Kurten - the Dusseldorf Vampire

On a cool morning in July 1931, two men stood in the centre of an enclosed courtyard surrounded by formally attired officials. The taller of the two wore a tight fitting suit and tie with a fringed hat which covered his face. He shifted from foot to foot as the prison Governor read out the sentence of the court. Beside him the smaller man looked perfectly at ease. He peered around myopically at the assembled notaries and found it amusing that none of them would look him in the eye. He shifted his gaze to the man beside him and went on tiptoe so that he could speak to him without interrupting the ceremony in his honour. “ Have you done this before?” he asked in a friendly voice. The big man shied away, startled by the unexpected question. He nodded and looked at his inquisitor warily. The small man gave a nod of satisfaction and again leaned in close. “Do you think,” he asked. “That after you have cut off my head I will still be able to think? Even for a few seconds? I’d love to hear the gurgle of the blood rushing from my neck. It would be the pleasure of all pleasures.”

Peter Kurten was the youngest of thirteen children. The runt of the pack. He was small and initially weak and was often the target for his drunken father’s ill-tempered attacks. As he grew older he learned to keep out of the way, to become virtually invisible. His only friend was the local Pest Control Officer - or as he was known more magnificently in those pre-PC days, The Rat Catcher. The village in which they lived was called Cologne-Mulheim. Brought up in a violent household and spurned as a playmate by the other boys of the village he could make no comparisons. He assumed that a raging, drunken beast of a father who regularly beat his wife and sexually assaulted his children was the norm. More and more he turned for companionship to his friend the Rat Catcher. He was excited by the way the dogs hunted down the squealing rats and tore them to pieces. Before he reached his teens he was in trouble with the police. When he was 14 his father was sent to prison for incest. This removed the only barrier to complete anti-social behaviour. He began hanging around the local slaughterhouse and became sexually excited at the sight of blood. Gerda lived in the same road as the Kurtens. The Kurten family were generally regarded as being too low-class even in that neighbourhood. Soon Gerda and Peter were walking out. One day Peter persuaded Gerda to enter the Grafenberger Wald on the outskirts of the town. As soon as he was off the road he threw himself on her. She tried to fight him off but was no match for the wiry teenager. He gripped her throat in his strong fingers but before he could choke her a couple of men, who had heard her cries, appeared. Kurten run off into the woods. He decided to stay there until the hue and cry had died down. Later he told the police that this was the happiest time of his life. He became expert at trapping animals and eating their bodies while the warm blood still pumped in their veins.

Even his wild woodland life palled after a while and he cautiously went back to the village. He was surprised to find that Gerda had been too embarrassed to report his attack on her. Completely wild now, and experiencing a sense of invulnerability, he threw himself into a life of violence and petty crime. It didn’t last long. Picked up for a violent robbery which left the victim badly scarred, he spent three years in solitary confinement. It gave him plenty of time to think about what he would do in the future. He realised that getting a reputation as a man of violence was only going to present a problem when he finally got back on the streets. He needed to reinvent himself. The day came when he stood outside the prison gates and a new life opened up before him. He went straight to the barber and had a respectable haircut. That night he broke into a couple of men’s outfitters and gathered together a respectable wardrobe. Now, a small, well dressed, quietly spoken man by day, he spent his nights causing mayhem throughout the town. He had added fire to his penchant for blood and liked nothing better than, after performing a violent crime, to set a house or shop on fire. He got a real kick out of standing anonymously in the crowd and watching the grieving family and the futile efforts of the firemen to quench the blaze he had started. His luck ran out when he was recognised watching a burning building and he was again given a prison sentence. He managed to avoid this by electing to join the army. Within 24 hours of donning the uniform he was on the run. His freedom didn’t last long. In the military prison his gaolers took great delight in beating their undersized prisoner. Kurten survived by withdrawing into himself and fantasising what he would do to his tormenters once he was set free. That day came in April 1913.

He went to live with another convict he had met in prison. For months he refused to budge from the house while the ravages of prison gradually faded. He found his first victim on his first foray into the world he knew so well. A hostelry in Cologne-Manheim. He broke into the pub to steal some much needed cash. When he found himself in the bedroom of the landlord’s 13 year old daughter, Christine Klein, he couldn’t miss the opportunity. He clamped his hand around her throat, dragged her from her bed ripped her nightdress off and with a practised stroke of his sharp knife, slit her throat. As she lie on the floor dying, the pool of blood spreading across the bare boards of her bedroom, Kurten stood and masturbated over her naked body. It was everything he had dreamed of during his time in prison. The hue and cry that resulted from his hideous crime also excited him. He sat in the bar and discussed it in detail with the other drinkers. Main suspect was the girl’s father. A handkerchief had been found in the blood with the initials PK in the corner Peter Klein. Kurtens interest in the murder soon gave way to more speculation about his future exploits. He decided that he needed more respectability. So he married. His wife took him for what he was. Quiet, undemonstrative, conservative and softly spoken.

It was now 1929 and Germany was in the grip of a terrible Depression. Money was practically worthless and work was unavailable. Having secured his place in the respectability stakes by his marriage, Kurten now set out on a blood fest which to this day is remembered with horror. Kurten wanted more than just the gurgling blood and cries of pain from his victims. He wanted to become one with them The only way to do this was to drink their blood. His favourite weapon was a pair of long bladed tailor’s scissors. The first time he used them set the pattern for the future. He saw Rudolf Sheer walking in the park. When they came to a stand of trees Kurten rushed at Sheer, took him by surprise and wrestled him into the shelter of the little coppice. Viciously he stabbed the sharp scissor blades into the helpless man’s throat and then crouched over him lapping up the warm blood as Sheer died. The newspaper headlines named him. The Dusseldorf Vampire. He was a celebrity. His next victim was a housemaid on her afternoon off. She was taken in by his immaculate suit and mild, friendly manner. She told the other members of staff that she had met a ‘gentleman’. She saw the other side of him on her next day off. As they walked down a quiet lane Kurten suddenly threw her into a ditch, leapt on her and ripped out her throat. The severed artery excited him and he drank deeply from the welling blood. Kurten now only lived for that cathartic moment when his victims lay dying and he could take his fill of their blood. He took lodgings in Flehe, a suburb of Dusseldorf. In a nearby park an Agricultural Show was in full swing. Kurten liked to circle his intended victims like a prowling wolf. He spotted a couple of young girls, Gertrude (14) and her young sister, Louise (5). When they left he followed and overtook them in the lane. He told Gertrude that he had lost his cigarettes and asked her if she would mind running back to the fair and buying him some more. This was in the days before mothers routinely warned their off-spring about talking to strangers. Obligingly Gertrude run off on her errand leaving her baby sister in Kurten’s tender care. As soon as Gertrude was out of sight Kurten threw the baby into the ditch and in a frenzied attack bit huge chunks from her tender body. When Gertrude returned the madman dragged her into the woods. She tried to scream but was silence by a terrible thrust of Kurten’s scissors. He left the children buried under some branches and returned to his room. Next day he returned to the brightly lit hunting ground and picked out another potential victim. Another Gertrude! Kurten introduced himself and chatted amicably before suggesting that they should meet the following day. It was a lovely evening and Kurten proposed a walk. He brought up the subject that was occupying the front pages of all the newspapers. The Vampire of Dusseldorf! He said that he thought the first murder must have been in the woods through which they were walking. He persuaded her if might be fun to look around to see what they could see. As soon as they were in the woods Kurten whipped out his scissors and stabbed her in the throat. She was stronger than he expected and she was able to fight him off and stagger away. blood streaming from the vicious wound in her neck. Kurten ran after her, stabbing at her in a frantic need to stop her screams. Her screams saved her. Some men walking passed came to see what was happening. Kurten ran off. For the first time the police had a surviving witness who could give a description of her attacker. It didn’t seem to do much good. Kurten still kept up his murderous attacks.

The police thought up a stunt which they hoped might bring him to book. They acquired a coffin and a shop window mannequin. They enlisted the help of the press and staged a meeting at which they promised to unveil the Vampire of Dusseldorf. It was a sell-out. One of the most interested spectators was Peter Kurten. The coffin was placed in a prominent position in the hall and detectives stood in vantage points where they could monitor the reaction of the onlookers in the crowd. An Inspector did the warm-up. Detailed the mayhem that the vampire had caused, then, at the height of his oratory, the lid of the coffin crashed open and the spring mounted mannequin, covered in gore, lurched upright. The shock effect was more than the detectives required. They were lucky to escape with their lives as the panic stricken voyeurs headed for the exits. Only Kurten enjoyed the theatricality of the macabre affair. It kept him in the headlines and his fame spread wider. Kurten redoubled his efforts to provide what the headline writers wanted. Then he made a move which has never been satisfactorily explained.

He met a woman called Maria, took her back to the flat he kept away from his marital home, and cooked her a meal. She promised to meet him the following evening near the Grafenberger Wald, the site of his first murder. Once he had enticed her into the woods he dropped his friendly mask and attacked her. She struggled but was on the losing end. Kurten pulled out his deadly scissors and was about to plunge them into her neck when he stopped and pushed himself away. He sat and looked at her for a few minutes and then asked her if she knew where he had taken her for the meal the previous evening. She still had her wits about her and confessed that she had no idea where it was. Kurten thought a while and then got to his feet and put the deadly scissors away. He warned her against going to the police and turned and walked off. Maria needed no bidding to run. Straight to the police station. There she blurted out the lurid details of her ordeal in Grafenberger Wald. Including a description of the scissors which were known to be the murderer’s weapon of choice.

Kurten wandered the woods all night. Next morning he sent a message to his wife to meet him in a cafe. There he revealed his terrible secret to his uncomprehending wife. He told her that she must go to the police but before she told them what he had told her she must make sure that by giving them the information she would be eligible for the award that was on his head. Terrified and bemused the poor women did as she was told. Kurten stayed at the cafe, ordered more coffee and a meat platter and calmly waited for the police. The trial that followed was a media circus. Kurten preserved his quiet, courteous demeanour throughout and happily filled in the blanks that the police still had in his extraordinary story. The Jury took nine days to come to a verdict. Guilty on each of the murders for which he was tried. Peter Kurten maintained his air of quiet interest throughout the trial and verdict. During the days leading up to the execution he gave interviews to anyone who could gain access to his cell. His main worry seemed to be that his wife was given the reward for his capture. Before he was led out into the courtyard of Kingelputz Prison he thanked everyone for their help and walked calmly out into the sunlight for the last time.

Whether he did survive long enough to hear the blood running from his severed neck we will never know.


The Writings of Ingrid Pitt