Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers

The Wolf-Girdle

Around the middle of the sixteenth century, the town of Bedburg, near Cologne, experienced a long bout of inexplicable murders.  Guilley, Blundell, Steiger, and numerous other authors offer descriptions of the tale from a 1590 chapbook.  Over the course of twenty-five years, from time to time a savagely mutilated body would be discovered.  These victims had in common a disagreement with an otherwise unassuming man by the name of Peter Stubb (Stump, Stumpf, or Stubbe).  But young girls who did not know him also had met such a fate.  During one period, dismembered limbs were found on a regular basis out in the fields and the townspeople feared a marauding wolf.  Some authors indicate that Stubb actually did these things, while others believe that he was merely the victim of a system that needed a scapegoat.  It's impossible to know the truth.

As the story goes, the authorities used hounds to track down the beast in 1589, only to discover, according to the illustrated chapbook, Stubb removing his wolf-hair girdle and transforming back into a man.  He was caught and "voluntarily" offered a rack-inspired confession, describing a string of atrocities from incest to murder to cannibalism.  Ordered to produce his girdle, he said he'd abandoned it.  People were sent to find it, but could not locate it, so authorities assumed that Satan had come along and picked it up to use it again on some other hapless soul.

The murders of some thirteen or fourteen children were attributed to Stubb, as well as attacks on two pregnant women that ended with fetuses torn from them as they died.  Apparently Stubb implicated his mistress, Katherine Trompin, and his daughter, Beell, in his crimes, and they supposedly "knew" that he had feasted on the brains of his son (the product of incest with his daughter).  Stubb declared this "a most savory and dainty delicious" repast.  He'd also raped children, he stated, and had torn out their hearts to consume while still hot and beating. 

Stubb was tried with his mistress and daughter as a "pack," and all three were convicted of murder.  He was further tortured on a wheel with heated pinchers, his flesh pulled off, and his limbs broken with wooden hatchet blows.  Then he was decapitated and his head displayed as a lesson to others while his body was burnt on a pyre.  His mistress and daughter, forced to watch his fate, were burned there as well.  The rack on which he'd been tortured was broken into sixteen pieces, each representing a victim, and displayed for the community.

By 1603, some 600 alleged shape-shifters had been likewise burned.  Although voices were raised in opposition from influential places, the trials and tortures continued. In fact, as late as 1764, the blood-sucking Beast of Le Gevaudon started a three-year panic in France.  Reportedly, it was a large wolf that could walk erect and it attacked women and children.  A posse killed it with a silver bullet.

The Beast of Le Gevaudon
The Beast of Le Gevaudon

Several women, too, had confessed to participating in rituals in which they killed children, animals, and other women.  After Francois Secretain admitted that she'd had illicit relations with the demon, in the shape of a black man, she was executed.

But the times changed and the Church lost ground to medicine and science.  Eventually lycanthropy became one of the disorders studied by the alienists.  Jean Grenier had more or less led the way, and eventually all such cases were considered more appropriate for psychiatry than the stake.

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