Everybody and everything has a history. No matter how small one person or thing might be in this world, it will always leave a mark. A monstrous serial killer with a horrifying history left a tremendous mark on our world today. Whether it is that he contributed to monster culture or even to horror films in cinema. This notorious man was named Peter Kürten. In order to understand Kürten, one must look at what caused him to become the killer that he was and what mark he left on the world.
Many questions arise about this troubled and mysterious man. One can only discover who he is as a person and his impact by diving into his history. Peter Kürten, or the vampire of Düsseldorf, is most commonly known as a German serial killer who committed a series of murders and sexual assaults in the town of Düsseldorf. He is estimated to have about 68 bodies, but was only convicted of 7 counts of attempted murder and 9 counts of murder. After his rein, he was decapitated in the year 1931. He was a sexual sadist and necrophilia. Many events in his adolescent life where crucial in making him who he is today.
Peter Kurten was born into extreme deprivation and poverty in Köln-Mulheim, a suburb of Cologne, Germany on May 26, 1883. The eldest of 13 children, his father was an alcoholic with sadistic tendencies, who brutalized both wife and children, in the one room apartment that they all shared, for the duration of Kürten’s childhood. As young as the age of nine, he had murdered two classmates. This happened when one of the children was pushed into the water and followed by the second kid, diving to his fellow friend’s rescue. Peter then held them both down under the water until they took their last breaths. Fortunately for Peter, the incident was ruled out to be a tragic accident, even though it wasn’t, and Peter proceeded with his life.
Another surprising characteristic in Peter Kurten’s life was his bestiality. According to Merriam Webster, bestiality is known as “sexual relations between a human being and a lower animal”. This beast was sparked in Peter Kürten when he befriended a man in the same building, who was a dog catcher. They formed an unhealthy relationship which lead to and was crucial in provoking his bestial fetishes. Peter learned about the gruesome activity of bestiality which he then carried on later in his life. Soon it will also lead to the cannibalistic and vampire aspect of him.
As Kürten grew up and began to sexually develop, he expanded to bestiality with sheep, goats, and other farm animals. It was discovered that he found particular pleasure in stabbing the animals during intercourse. By 1899, at the age of 16, Kürten had progressed to petty crime, and ran away from home to escape the continuing violence. Shortly after his departure, his father was arrested for incestuous relations with Kürten’s 13-year old sister, and he was jailed for three years. On top of Peter dealing with these irresistible impulsions, he had to cope with the absence of a father figure in his life.
Clearly one can see the unbearable circumstances that occurred in Kurten’s life and the nature of the habitat in which he lived in. This all eventually led to his acts of arson, attempted murder, and other misdemeanors. Before escalating to murdering his victims directly, Kürten set a series of fires. He told police he set the fires because he found them sexually stimulating, and also because he hoped they might burn sleeping homeless men alive, an idea he found sexually thrilling. According to Harrison Tenpas, Kürten said, “When my desire for injuring people awoke, the love of setting fire to things awoke as well.” Later profilers would say that Kürten’s desire to start fires – and later, to murder – were manifestations of his desire for control after his unstable and chaotic childhood.
All of his commits had one thing in common, in which they were all committed in a sadistic and tedious manner, like arson for example. He even sucked the blood of his victims, which earned him the name vampire. This cannibalistic idea was then prolonged by films like Silence of The Lambs, Hannibal Rising, and Buffalo Bill, which revolved around the idea of cannibalism. In proceeds to his father before him who was sadistically abusive. This affected Peter’s mental health and contributed to his actions. In fact, peter grew a liking for solitary confinement, and while in there he developed hate for society. Being in solitary confinement enabled his sadistic and brutal actions. Aligned with this is one of seven of Jeffery Cohen’s monster theories. He writes “monsters are our children” (20). This thesis implies that we produce the monsters in our society. Peter was brought into this world by our society and was created and nurtured into the monster he was due to his father’s abuse and the harsh circumstances in which he lived in. According to Geoff Andrew “With each successive sentence, Kurten’s rage against society, and his capacity for depravity, increased.” This serves to show how even being in prison behind bars fueled him and created him.
His sadistic and horrifying murders inflicted undeniable fear on the town of Düsseldorf. Fritz Lang, a producer at the time, made a movie about Kürten when the murders where going on. The 1931 movie was originally called “Murderers Among Us”, but due to the Nazi party, it was shortened to “M”, which is also the 13th letter in the alphabet which stands for bad luck. The movie focused in the idea of an unknown murderer among the town of Düsseldorf whom preyed on little girls which he then lured in with candy and proceeded to sexually assault, kill, and perform cannibalistic acts with. The movie was horrifying more so because the director left it up to the imagination of the viewer to visualize the horror. No blood or actual violence was shown in the video. This man not only contributed to this iconic example of German expressionism but was also glorified in cinema.
According to Geoff Andrew, M is “not only a piercingly astute psychological study of a man who suffers awful remorse for the crimes his uncontrollable urges force him to commit but also – and just as illuminatingly – an examination of how society might respond to the revelation that it is harboring, somewhere, a child-killer”. This quote also serves to emphasize Jeffery Cohen’s theory of monsters. Lang, who co-wrote the script with his wife, Thea Von Harbor
, and whose research for the film included meeting a number of serial killers including the ‘Düsseldorf Vampire’ Peter Kürten , never shies away from the terrible nature or the equally terrible consequences of Beckert’s murders, but at the same time he refuses to demonize him: as played, brilliantly, by Peter Lorre, the killer is never less than human.
Interestingly enough, Peter Kürten and his gruesome actions are glorified. Like Jeffery Cohen says, “the monster is really a kind of desire”, and “the monster also attracts” (16). Peter Kürten made his mark in history, as his decapitated head is on display in the “Ripley’s believe it or not” museum in Wisconsin dells, Wisconsin. Peter Kürten would have probably like this if he was still alive today, as h
e enjoyed attention. He was known to write to the newspaper press anonymously. According to Geoff Andrew, “before Kürten was killed, he asked ‘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’”. After being told that that may be possible, Kürten surmised that it would be “the pleasure to end all pleasures”.
In conclusion, we see how Peter Kürten came up in his harsh and chaotic childhood. It is evident that he was troubled throughout his life. His abusive household and unhealthy friendships led him to become a paraphilic serial killer who inflicted fear on a whole town. He was a major inspiration in horror films in cinema at the time and up to this days specifically due to his cannibalistic nature. Pe
ter’s actions lead to his grave mark on history, or in other words, his literal mummified head out on display in a museum.
“Bestiality.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/bestiality.
This tells the definition of bestiality. It is credible because it is a secured organization and online dictionary. I will use this to quote and define the term bestiality because I talk about it in my essay and it is not a very well-known term and has many definitions.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome, editor. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. NED – New edition ed., University of Minnesota Press, 1996. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctttsq4d.
This is a journal on monster theory. The author talks about what makes a monster a monster. I will use this as one of the base scholarly sources as backup and basis of my essay. I will use quotes from this source. I will also use this to help me come to a conclusion in my essay. This source is credible because it is a scholarly source from jstor that was presented to us in class.https://www.ranker.com/list/facts-about-peter-kurten-the-vampire-of-dusseldorf/harrison-tenpas
“Peter Kurten.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 29 Aug. 2016, www.biography.com/people/peter-kurten-17169742.
This source is an entire biography of peter Kurten. It is credible because it is a sight with many biographies on people. Also, it is linked to other sources, so they use other sources and have backup links. I will use this to learn and quote thinks about peter.
Tenpas, Harrison. “Peter Kurten: The Cannibal Who Would Stab Animals to Death as He Had Sex with Them.” Ranker, http://www.ranker.com/list/facts-about-peter-kurten-the-vampire-of-dusseldorf/harrison-tenpas.
This is an informative list of facts of peter. I will use this because he is my serial killer. It includes interesting facts. It is credible because the author is a journalist.