Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Peter Kürten: The Vampire of Dusseldorf


As is invariably the case with serial crime, the capture of the killer happened almost by chance. On the 14th May 1930 an unemployed domestic servant named Maria Budlick left the cathedral city of Köln in search of work in nearby Düsseldorf. On the platform at Düsseldorf station she was accosted by a man who offered to show her the way to a girls' hostel. They followed the brightly-lit streets for a while, but when he started leading her towards the park she suddenly remembered the newspaper stories of the murderer and refused to go any farther. The man insisted and it was while they were arguing that a second man appeared and inquired as to whether everything was all right. Clearly both upset and intimidated by the newcomer's arrival, the man from the railway station soon slunk away and Fraulein Budlick was left alone with her rescuer, one Peter Kürten.

"The girl told me that she was out of work and had nowhere to go. She agreed to come with me to my room on the Mettmanner Strasse and then she suddenly said she did not want sexual intercourse and asked me whether I could find her somewhere else to sleep."

The pair went by tram to Worringerplatz and walked deep into the Grafenberger Woods. Here Kürten seized Budlick with one hand by the neck and asked whether he could have her.

"I thought that under the circumstances she would agree and my opinion was right. Afterwards I took her back to the tram, but I did not accompany her right to it because I was afraid she might inform the police officer who was standing there. I had no intention of killing Budlick as she had offered no resistance."

Kürten was remarkably calm and collected throughout the ordeal and made sure that no one on the tram saw him deposit the young girl at the station.

"I did not think that Budlick would be able to find her way back to my apartment in the rather obscure Mettmanner Strasse. So much the more was I surprised when on Wednesday, the 21st of May, I saw her again in my house."

Contrary to the opinion of Kürten, Fraulein Budlick had indeed remembered the address, vividly recalling the nameplate 'Mettmanner Strasse' under the flickering gaslight. Most crucially, however, Maria wrote of her encounter in a letter of the 17th May to one Frau Bruckner. The letter never reached its intended recipient. It was misdirected and opened by a Frau Brugmann, who took one look at the contents and called the police.

Maria Budlick was immediately located and questioned extensively. After a long time and considerable hesitation she led Chief Inspector Gennat into the hallway of number 71 Mettmanner Strasse. The landlady ushered into an empty room, which Budlick immediately recognised and it was soon established that a man by the name of Peter Kürten occupied the premises. While at the house, Fraulein Budlick encountered even more conclusive proof when her attacker entered the house and began climbing the stairs towards her. He looked briefly startled, but carried on to his room and shut the door behind him. A few moments later he left the house with his hat pulled down over his eyes, passed the two plainclothes men standing in the street and disappeared round a corner.

Upon realisation of his inevitable capture, Kürten chose to explain the Budlick case to his wife. As the attempt at sexual intercourse could be considered as rape; along with his previous convictions, Kürten ascertained that it could be enough to ensure fifteen years penal servitude.

"Throughout the night I walked about. On Thursday, the 22nd of May, I saw my wife in the morning in the flat and so fetched my things away in a bag and rented a room in the Adlerstrasse. I slept quietly until Friday morning."

Up to this point, nothing linked Kürten with the attacks of the 'Vampire'. His only crime was suspected rape, but he knew now that there was no longer any hope of concealing his identity. Peter Kürten described the consequent events of Friday 23rd May in writing.

"Today, the 23rd, in the morning, I told my wife that I was also responsible for the Schulte affair, adding my usual remark that it would mean ten years' or more separation for us — probably forever. At that, my wife was inconsolable. She spoke of unemployment, lack of means and starvation in old age. She raved that I should take my life, then she would do the same, since her future was completely without hope. Then, in the late afternoon, I told my wife that I could help her."

Peter proceeded to tell his wife that he was the infamous 'Düsseldorf Vampire' and disclosed every murder to her. Kürten then hinted that a high reward had been offered for the discovery of the criminal and that she could get hold of that prize if she would report the confession and denounce him to the police.

"Of course, it wasn't easy for me to convince her that this ought not to be considered as treason, but that, on the contrary, she was doing a good deed to humanity as well as to justice. It was not until late in the evening that she promised to carry out my request, and also that she would not commit suicide. It was 11 o'clock when we separated. Back in my lodging, I went to bed and fell asleep at once."

On May 24th 1930, Frau Kürten told the story to the police, adding that she had arranged to meet her husband outside St. Rochus church at 3 o'clock that afternoon. By that time the whole area had been surrounded and four officers rushed forward with loaded revolvers the moment Peter Kürten appeared. The man smiled and offered no resistance.

"There is no need to be afraid," he said.

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