Peter Stumpp (died 1589) was a German farmer and allegedly a serial killer and cannibal, also known as the Werewolf of Bedburg.
The most comprehensive source on the case is a pamphlet of 16 pages published in London in 1590, obviously the translation of a German print of which no copies have survived. The English pamphlet, of which two copies exist, was rediscovered by occultist Montague Summers in 1920. It describes Stumpp’s life and alleged crimes and the trial, and includes many statements from neighbors and witnesses of the crimes.
Additional information is provided by the diaries of Hermann von Weinsberg, a Cologne alderman, and by a number of illustrated broadsheets, which, however, were printed in southern Germany and were probably based on the German version of the London pamphlet. The original documents seem to have been lost during the wars that swept over the Rhineland in the centuries that followed.
Peter Stumpp, whose name is also spelt as Peter Stube, Pe(e)ter Stubbe, Peter Stübbe or Peter Stumpf, was born at the village of Epprath near the country-town of Bedburg in the Electorate of Cologne. His date of birth is not known, as the local church registers were destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War (17th c.). He was a wealthy farmer and obviously an influential member of the rural community. In the 1580s he seems to have been a widower with two children – a girl called Beele (Sybil), who seems to have been over fifteen, and a son of an unknown age. In the years before his trial he had an intimate relationship with a distant relative called Katharina Trump (also spelt “Trumpen” or “Trompen”).
In 1589, Stumpp had one of the most lurid and famous werewolf trials in history. After being stretched on the rack, he confessed to having practiced black magic since he was twelve years old. He claimed that the devil had given him a magical belt, which enabled him to metamorphose into “the likeness of a greedy, devouring wolf, strong and mighty, with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body, and mighty paws.” Removing his belt, he said, made him transform back to his human form.
For twenty-five years, Stumpp had allegedly been a “insatiable bloodsucker” who gorged on the flesh of goats, lambs, and sheep, as well as men, women, and children. Being threatened with torture he confessed to killing and eating fourteen children, two pregnant women, and their fetuses. One of the fourteen children was his own son, whose brain he was reported to have devoured.
Not only was Stumpp accused of being a serial murderer and cannibal, but also of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter, who was sentenced to die with him, and he coupled with a distant relative, which was also considered to be incestuous according to the law. In addition to this he confessed to having had intercourse with a succubus sent to him by the Devil.
Trial and execution
His execution is one of the most brutal on record: He was put to the wheel, where flesh was torn from his body with red-hot pincers, followed by his arms and legs. Then his limbs were broken with a hammer to prevent him from returning from the grave, before he was beheaded and burned on a pyre. His daughter Sybil (Beell) and his mistress Katharina Trump had already been strangled and were burned along with Stumpp’s body. The sources do not say for what crimes they, too, were sentenced to death.
It is impossible to determine whether Stumpp really committed the crimes of which he was accused. He may have been a serial murderer, though there are a number of details in the London pamphlet that are inconsistent with the historical facts.
The years in which Stumpp was supposed to have committed most of his crimes (1582-1589) were marked by internal wars in the Electorate of Cologne after the abortive introduction of Protestantism by the former Archbishop Gebhard Truchsess von Waldheim. He had been supported by Adolf Count of Neuenahr, who was also the lord of Bedburg. Stumpp was most certainly a convert to Protestantism. The war brought the invasion of armies of either side, the assaults by marauding soldiers and eventually an outbreak of the plague. Murder and violence were the rule When the Protestants were defeated in 1587, Bedburg Castle became the headquarters of Catholic mercenaries under the command of the new lord of Bedburg, Werner Count of Salm-Reifferscheidt-Dyck, who was a staunch Catholic determined to re-establish the Roman faith. So it is not inconceivable that the werewolf trial was but a barely concealed political trial, with the help of which the new lord of Bedburg planned to bully the Protestants of the territory back into Catholicism. If it had only been just another execution of a werewolf and a couple of witches, as sprang up around this time in various parts of Germany, the attendance of members of the high aristocracy – maybe including the new Archbishop and Elector of Cologne – would be surprising. Furthermore, the trial remained a singular event, nor did the judges refer to the new paradigma of werewolfism (explaining the animal transformation as an infernal delusion).