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German serial killer Peter Kürten, known as the "Dusseldorf Vampire", murdered at least nine people before surrendering to police in 1931.
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Kürten was called up for military service following the start of World War I, but military discipline did not suit him, and he deserted from his barracks. He was jailed when captured, and remained in prison until 1921, his longest sentence to date, and his rage at this injustice intensified.
Following his release from prison, he moved to Altenburg, where he met and married a former prostitute,
who had been jailed for the murder of her fiancé. He spent the next four years living a life of relative normality and found work as a molder (his father's profession), even becoming active in the trade union.
This normality was short-lived, however, and Kürten found himself inexorably drawn to Dusseldorf, where his criminal tendencies escalated, from petty crimes to arson attacks, and then to sexual attacks, four of which are certainly attributable to him in the period up until early 1929. One unlucky victim, Maria Kuhn, survived repeated stabbing by Kürten that caused 24 individual wounds.
This crime escalation reached its peak in the killing of 9-year-old Rosa Ohliger, on February 9, 1929. She was stabbed 13 times by Kürten , who climaxed during the brutal attack, before he dumped her body under a hedge, then attempted to set fire to her remains to destroy the evidence.
Rosa was the first of a number of victims that included young girls, women and even men, over the next 15 months. A 45-year old mechanic named Scheer followed, five days later, the victim of multiple stab wounds. Kürten again returned to the scene of the crime to relive the moment, even speaking to detectives about the murder.
Sensationalist German press covered the attacks extensively, and when they discovered that investigators believed that the attacker might be drinking the blood of his victims, he was immortalized in print as the "Vampire of Dusseldorf." The search for the killer received a major setback, however, when a learning-disabled individual, named Stausberg, accused of similar crimes, inexplicably admitted to all of the so-called vampire killings. He was committed to an asylum, and the police were convinced that the case was solved.
By August 1929 it became apparent that their conviction was premature; a series of strangulations and stabbings occurred, culminating in the brutal fairground murder of foster sisters, 5-year old Gertrude Hamacher, and 14-year old Louise Lenzen. The next day Kürten assaulted another woman, Gertrude Schulte, who survived the attack, and gave police a description of her attacker as a pleasant-looking male, around 40 years old.
Attacks became more frequent, and were widely publicized, throwing the population of Dusseldorf into a panic as the victim count rocketed. Ida Reuter was raped and killed in September, and a servant girl named Elizabeth Dorrier was battered to death on October 12,1929. Two other victims, named Meurer and Wanders, were fortunate to survive brutal hammer attacks, but the very nondescript appearance of Kürten , as described by his victims, made it difficult to narrow down the list of potential suspects.
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