Details You Didn't Know About Serial Killer Peter Kurten

Serial murders are a dark piece of human history that stretch as far back as paper and ink have been able to record the demented stories of our shared heritage. Some of us study these crimes and their perpetrators, finding interest in the deranged, perhaps because they symbolize the worst of our kind and the worst we could possibly become. They terrify us, intrigue us, and titillate us all at once, begging questions about our own morality from the veiled demons hiding in our minds, and setting them at ease, once we're convinced we'd never be mentally capable of committing these crimes ourselves. Crimes at least one killer believed they'd earned the right to carry out.

Peter Kurten, also known as the Düsseldorf Vampire, was a German-born serial killer who committed his murders, as well as a number of other crimes, in his birth country. Kurten operated in the early 20th century and became the prime example of the time's sexual-sadist-type murderer. His crimes were atrocious, and he's believed to have murdered at least 11 people, but given how forensic methods were comparatively undeveloped nearly 100 years ago, it's hard to say if those numbers are accurate.

The killer was prolific not only as a serial murderer but as a troubled criminal in a broader sense of the word, who blamed his actions on a life that was a recipe for making almost anyone violently deranged. Here are the details.

Kurten was abused as a child

Childhood abuse is a common background factor among many of these types of killers, and Kurten's abuse isn't special in that respect. It does, however, seem to be special in reaching the depths of the types of abuse he suffered as a kid. According to Britannica, Kurten and his 12 siblings lived under the same roof with a father who had a passion for alcohol and a need to do awful things to his children. He abused them both physically and sexually until he was finally arrested for attempting to molest Kurten's teenage sister. The father's sexual abuse wasn't limited to that single incident, of course. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton says Kurten's father would force his children to watch while he performed sexual acts with their mother. It also mentions that Kurten likely molested his sisters as well, his psychosexual deviance acted on early in his life.

The abuse when he was young would become the excuse he'd use for his actions after he was finally caught for his murders. Immediately after his arrest, he confessed to his crimes, as Serial Killer Documentaries (posted on YouTube) points out, saying that he murdered his victims as revenge on the world for the terrible things he faced as a child. He showed no remorse and, instead, believed the world owed him the lives of his victims.

As a child, he killed other children

You'd think if someone had been caught for their first murder when they were still a young child, they'd be taken off the streets before they wracked up anywhere near the body count Peter Kurten did by the end of his career. The Düsseldorf Vampire killed two victims when he was just a child, and for some reason, nobody thought, "Hey, this kid might have a problem." No, they pulled a "boys will be boys" and allowed Kurten to develop into an even more sadistic psychopath.

According to Michael Newton's Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, Kurten was having some summer fun, playing in the Rhine river on a raft, like kids do, with his pal, when the soon-to-be murderer pushed his friend into the water. A different boy swam out from the bank to try to get the drowning child's head above water. Kurten pushed him under the water as well and then maneuvered the pair under the raft. They both drowned. The young killer was nine years old, and the authorities, likely not believing a mere child could harbor homicidal urges, assumed it was accidental, so they let the whole horrific event blow over. Had they linked this act with the robbery and other criminal proclivities Kurten would start showing just a few years later, they might have gotten the serial killer off the streets and prevented the deaths of several more innocent victims.

He used animals to learn how to torture and kill

The compulsion to torture or kill animals at a young age is another of those common signs that factor into serial killers' twisted origin stories. In fact, it's one part of three in the Macdonald Triad, which was once thought to be a predictive model for these kinds of psychopaths, along with arson and bed wetting, according to Healthline. For most who present this trait, it seems to develop naturally, guided by their own internal dark compass, but for Kurten, his actions towards animals were learned behaviors. Of course, there's nothing to suggest Kurten wouldn't have developed these impulses on his own, but he didn't have to.

Serial Killer Documentaries points out that Kurten had developed a friendship with a dog-catcher from the area who taught the boy everything he needed to know about torturing and killing animals, but Kurten soon branched out into other deranged form of animal abuse. Along with the torture and killing, Kurten, according to All That's Interesting, had a thing for beastiality in his teens. He was known to take out his sexual frustration on every type of farm animal under the sun, including sheep, goats, and pigs. He particularly enjoyed stabbing them to death while he was engaged sexually with them, according to The Serial Killer Encyclopedia, and only gave up the act when a local farmer caught him in the act.

He was also an arsonist

We're unsure if young Peter Kurten was a bed-wetter, but he certainly has the other two elements of the Macdonald Triad: He abused and killed animals, and he liked to play with fire. All That's Interesting says Kurten's arson compulsions didn't begin in childhood; rather, they started after he ran away from the German army when he was still a young man. He'd been drafted, and, honestly, burning things down on his own time sounded like more fun than doing whatever official burning down the German army was doing in the years following the turn of the 20th century. He began setting buildings ablaze and catching a dose of excitement as he watched the emergency crews rein in his handiwork.

Shortly after his desertion, Kurten was arrested for arson and thrown in jail until 1913. The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers points out that this wasn't anywhere near his first rodeo, but it may have been his worst. This stint, or so Kurten admitted, was filled with various types of torture at the hands of his guards that supposedly started the dark thoughts that in turn led to his killing spree, but Kurten had already drowned two boys and strangled a girl more than five years before his arrest. Add in the mess of barnyard grossness, and it's safe to say the Düsseldorf Vampire was probably messed up long before his incarceration.

Five psychologists deemed him to be sane

Despite the number of crimes the Düsseldorf Vampire committed throughout his life, the age at which his violent tendencies manifested, the sexually sadistic nature of his killings, and a lifetime of fluctuating between a prison cell and the outside world, psychiatric experts weren't convinced Peter Kurten was mentally ill. Quite the opposite, in fact. As Serial Killer Documentaries details, the authorities ordered a psychological assessment on Kurten after his final arrest, since he had all sorts of not-so-healthy things to say about his trade. It was the first analysis ever done of a psychosexual killer. It's true that psychology as a science was relatively new, but perhaps these doctors should've been mentally evaluated themselves. Five different experts who assessed Kurten decided he was of sound mind at the time he killed his victims. All this went down while he was confessing to fantasies filled with sex, blood, flame, and death. Perfectly sane.

Now, being deemed "sane" didn't help Kurten in any way, shape, or form. Had the experts of the time believed he was severely mentally ill, the killer may have been locked away in a sanatorium. "Sane," contextually, meant Kurten was of the right mind to receive the full punishment of the law, which, as All That's Interesting says, in this case, was execution by guillotine on July 2, 1931. He wasn't quite 50 years old when his life-long reign of horror finally came to an end with the single stroke of a heavy blade.