What is it about a full moon that sends shivers down the spine? In 16th century Rhineland (now known as Germany), one man was accused of being possessed by its nocturnal glow and leading a double life as a bloodthirsty werewolf.
Peter Stumpp – also known as Peter Stube, Peter Stubbe, or Peter Stumpf – was a farmer from the village of Bedburg in the late 1500s. A widower with two children, one boy and one girl, Stumpp was well respected in his Rhenish community due to his neighborly demeanor and considerable wealth.
Yet according to legend, a monster lurked within – one you’d never want knocking at your door.
The story of Peter Stumpp can be traced back to an from 1590, which chronicles the grisly case. It stated that the first sign of problems came in the form of slaughtered livestock. But sheep and cattle weren’t just turning up dead in the fields … instead, their carcasses were torn apart and entrails strewn across the ground.
Locals were terrified by the deaths. With religious war and the Black Death raging across Europe, danger seemed to be everywhere.
Then children started vanishing. Women also disappeared. Some of their bodies were recovered in mutilated heaps, while others were never seen again.
Could wolves be behind the slaughter? The villagers decided it was something else entirely – a werewolf driven mad by the glare of the full moon.
Their suspicions led them to Peter Stumpp.
No one can give a definitive reason why he was pinpointed for the killings. Some researchers suggest Stumpp was a Protestant in a region recently conquered by Catholic forces, and his trial was a thinly veiled ploy to reestablish Catholic dominance. Others think he actually was a serial killer, who was finally caught.
Regardless of motive, authorities dragged Stumpp from his home and strapped him to the rack for interrogation. Under torture, the farmer made a truly disturbing confession: He was the one who had washed Bedburg in a wave of blood. He claimed the Devil had given him a magic belt, one that allowed him to transform into a ravenous wolf with razor-sharp teeth and eyes that flashed like fire in the night.
In addition to the livestock, Peter confessed to killing 13 children and two pregnant women. The little ones were strangled, beaten, and torn apart.
With the female victims, however, Stumpp took things one disturbing step further. After murdering each woman, Stumpp claimed he ripped the fetuses right from the womb and “ate their hearts panting hot and raw.”
Authorities found Stumpp guilty of murder, black magic, and cannibalism. They sentenced him to death. To stamp out the evil completely, they also condemned Stumpp’s girlfriend and his daughter – with whom Stumpp was accused of having an incestuous relationship.
On October 31, 1589, Peter Stumpp, his daughter, and his partner were brutally executed. Stumpp was stretched on a wheel where his flesh was torn from his bones with burning pincers. His legs and arms were broken with an axe so he could never return from the grave. While the accused howled in pain, his daughter and partner were burned alive at the stake.
Finally, Stumpp was beheaded. The wheel upon which he was broken was strung up as a warning, with the likeness of the farmer and a wolf attached to its top.
Whether Peter Stumpp truly deserved his fate as the Werewolf of Bedburg is lost to time. After his execution, calm reportedly returned to the region – though certainly no one ever looked at a full moon the same way again.