Tales of men changing into wolves goes back to antiquity, but legends of werewolves reached a peak in medieval Europe, where wolves were a real menace and Christianity appropriated older legends to warn against dealing with the devil. In this context, the village of Bedburg, Germany, was terrorized by an unseen assailant for twenty-five years, starting in the mid-1560s. Cattle, and later women and children, were ripped apart by what the villagers assumed to be a wolf. It was a particularly vicious and persistent wolf. Or was it?
In 1589, a group of men chased a wolf away from attacking a child, and the wolf disappeared. In his place, there was a townsman by the name of Peter Stumpp. We don't have a detailed description of what was actually observed, but Stumpp was branded as a werewolf. He confessed under torture, understandably, and admitted to a lifetime of heinous crimes including murder, cannibalism, incest, and dealing with the devil -plus anything else his torturers wanted to hear. Stumpp's execution was designed to be particularly painful and gruesome.
Stumpp's notoriety spread across Europe, but 600 years later, the documentation of the werewolf of Bedburg is scant. Read what we know about the werewolf's attacks and the judgment meted out against Peter Stumpp at Amusing Planet.
See also: Another German werewolf and the werewolves of Ireland.