I am always fascinated by the popularity of serial killers. Everyone will know at least the name of one serial killer. The one thing that isn’t clear is who actually first coined the term serial killer, it is either, FBI Special agent Robert Ressler, criminologist Ernst Gennat or journalist John Brophy.
One might be forgiven to think that Jack the Ripper was the first serial killer, but there have been quite a few before him. We often associate serial killers with the US or UK, but there have been many of them across the globe.
Peter Stumpp was a German farmer and alleged serial killer, accused of werewolfery, witchcraft and cannibalism. He was known as ‘the Werewolf of Bedburg’.
The most comprehensive source on the case is a 16-page pamphlet published in London in 1590, the translation of a German print of which no copies have survived. The English pamphlet, of which two copies exist (one in the British Museum and one in the Lambeth Library), was rediscovered by occultist Montague Summers in 1920. It describes Stumpp’s life, alleged crimes and the trial, and includes many statements from neighbours and witnesses on the crimes.Summers reprints the entire pamphlet, including a woodcut
The Werewolf of Bedburg
From George Bores, 1590:
… Thus continuing his devilish and damnable deeds within the compass of a few years, he had murdered thirteen young children, and two goodly young women big with child, tearing the children out of their wombs, in most bloody and savage sort, and after ate their hearts panting hot and raw, which he accounted dainty morsels and best agreeing to his appetite.
Moreover, he used many times to kill lambs and kids and such like beasts, feeding on the same most usually raw and bloody, as if he had been a natural wolf indeed, so that all men mistrusted nothing less than this his devilish sorcery…”
The sources in Peter Stumpp vary, and around 1590 a pamphlet of 16 pages has been published in London as a translation of a German print, however, no copies of the original have survived. The document describes Stumpp’s live and all alleged crimes as well as his trial. Stumpp was born at the village of Epprath near the country-town of Bedburg in the Electorate of Cologne. Unfortunately, his exact birthdate is unknown as the local church registers were destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War. It is believed that the name “Stump” or “Stumpf” may have been given him as a reference to the fact that his left hand had been cut off leaving only a stump, in German “Stumpf” and it was alleged that as the ‘werewolf’ had its left forepaw cut off, then the same injury proved the guilt of the man. Stumpp’s name is also spelled as Peter Stube, Peter Stub, Peter Stubbe, Peter Stübbe or Peter Stumpf, and other aliases include such names as Abal Griswold, Abil Griswold, and Ubel Griswold. It is assumed that Stumpp was a farmer in his rural community and he possibly was a widower with two children. According to the judiciary at the time, Peter Stumpp committed at least 16 murders, rapes and incest over a period of 25 years in Epprath and Bedburg in the Rhineland in the guise of a werewolf. He was also accused of sorcery and living with a “she-devil”.
There were whisperings of a wolf-like creature roaming the countryside killing both humans and livestock. The creature was described as “greedy… strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like unto brands of fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body and mighty paws.”
People were soon traveling from town to town only in large, heavily armed bands. Travelers would sometimes stumble on victims’ remains in the fields, raising the level of terror even higher. When a child would go missing, the parents would immediately assume all was lost and that the wolf had taken another victim. Although every effort was made to try and kill the creature, it eluded capture for several years until 1589 when a group of men tracking the wolf with their hounds encircled it.
When they moved in for the kill, the wolf was nowhere to be seen. They instead found Stubbe. There seems to be some confusion as to whether they actually saw him transform back from being a wolf or if he just happened to be traveling through the woods at this inopportune moment. Either way, under the threat of torture he confessed to the murders of 13 children, two pregnant women and one man.
The execution of Stumpp, on 31 October 1589, alongside his daughter Beele (Sybil) and mistress, Katherine, is one of the most brutal on record: he was put to a wheel, where “flesh was torn from his body”, in ten places, with red-hot pincers, followed by his arms and legs. Then his limbs were broken with the blunt side of an axe head to prevent him from returning from the grave, before he was beheaded and his body burned on a pyre. His daughter and mistress had already been flayed and strangled, and were burned along with Stumpp’s body. As a warning against similar behavior, local authorities erected a pole with the torture wheel and the figure of a wolf on it, and at the very top they placed Peter Stumpp’s severed head.
Strangely enough, the most modern source on the medieval life and times of Peter Stumpp, otherwise known as the Werewolf of Bedburg, can be found in the lyrics of the rock band Macabre, a group of American troubadours who specialize in the obscure genre of “murder metal.” Paring down the meat of the story to bare bones, their song works in harmony with history yet offers little in the way of understanding. That heartier version can only be found in time-worn sources from the past, all of which provide a feast of gruesome details on the world’s most famous werewolf.
Over 400 years ago
The people were terrorized
Around Bedburg and Cologne
In the German countryside
According to the pamphlet
Published at that time
A man named Peter Stumpp
Committed atrocious crimes
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