The Werewolf of Bedburg

Woodcut print of Peter Stubbe's execution.

Woodcut print of Peter Stubbe’s execution.

As the Cologne War raged in the Electorate of Cologne from 1583 to 1588, the rural town of Bedburg was plagued with a streak of mysterious murders and animal mutilations. Children who went missing soon turned up dead in the fields, and people began to report seeing a strange wolf-like creature.

In one of the few incidents that left a survivor, the monstrous wolf attacked a group of children playing in a meadow. The wolf carried off one of the little girls, but the children’s cries attracted the attention of some near-by cows suckling their calves. Fearing for the lives of their young, the cows with their sharp horns came running to the rescue, and the wolf dropped the girl and took off.

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After years of trying to search and trap the beast, some hunters stumbled upon it and let their dogs loose to chase it. When the hunters caught up with their dogs, however, they found that they had caught something entirely different. It was not a wolf, but a local farmer named Peter Stubbe.

The hunters were terribly confused. Peter Stubbe was a wealthy and well-respected man in their community. At first, they were afraid that their captive was the Devil. They went to Stubbe’s house to see if he was there, and when they discovered that Stubbe was missing, were then assured that they had the right man. They turned him over to the authorities, and Stubbe was tortured on the rack until he made a confession.

Stubbe admitted that he was the wolf that had been terrorizing the town. He said that he could transform into a wolf by putting on a magical belt that the Devil had given him when he was 12-years-old. His list of crimes was vast and gut-wrenching. Besides killing lambs and eating their raw flesh, he admitted to murdering 13 young children and 2 pregnant women. He even tore the fetuses out of the women’s wombs, and “ate their hearts panting hot and raw.”

If this wasn’t horrific enough, Stubbe also said he regularly committed incest with his teenage daughter Beele. They had a little boy, but Stubbe killed him and ate his brain. His mistress, a tall and beautiful woman named Katherine Trompin, participated in the bloodshed as well. Beele and Trompin were arrested and charged as accomplices, and the three were sentenced to death on October 28th, 1589.

Three days later, Trompin and Beele were burned at the stake. Stubbe was first laid on the wheel, and then had flesh pulled off his body in 10 different places with hot burning pincers. After that, his arms and legs were broken with a wooden axe, and then he had his head chopped off. As a final punishment, his body was burned and his head was placed on a pike.

More woodcuts of Peter Stubbe.

More woodcuts of Peter Stubbe.

Most of what he know about Stubbe (whose name has also been given as Stumpp, Stumpf, and Stube) comes from a London pamphlet that was printed in June 1590. The pamphlet, which takes the claims of Stubbe being a werewolf seriously, was translated from a now lost German source. While we don’t exactly know how true the pamphlet is, Stubbe was certainly a real person, and his case was mentioned in the diaries of a local city councilor named Hermann von Weinsberg.

There is the possibility that Stubbe was innocent, a victim of religious prejudice. The Cologne War was a conflict fought between Catholics and Protestants, and even though the war was over by the time Stubbe was caught, tensions remained high. In a region that was overwhelmingly Catholic, Stubbe was Protestant. If he really was the killer, he probably suffered from schizophrenia. The reports of a werewolf might have stemmed from hysteria, or Stubbe possibly wore a wolf’s skin while committing his crimes. In any event, the authorities never found the magical belt he claimed to have possessed.

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