It could have been the wind. They hoped it was, but the next time they heard it they knew they were
wrong. That long, sad cry was the sound of a lone wolf howling at a full moon. Nervously people in
the small German village of Bedburg double-checked the latches on their doors and windows, then
rushed back to the warmth and security of their fireplaces. To those people on that night in 1589, the
cry was the sound of death ... one they had heard for the past 12 years.
Every spring this lone wolf returned to their part of the Rhine Valley and stayed until the first snows
of winter came. Every year, at this time, it would kill more villagers. At first it had only been a
nuisance to the farmers, attacking a few of their sheep and cattle. In time it began to turn on people as
well and over the years had left a bloody trail of corpses behind. During its seasons of attacks, the
bodies of at least a dozen children and two women had been discovered in the forest outside the
village as well as the bodies of nine men found with their throats ripped open.
The villagers knew this was no ordinary wolf because it behaved in such an odd way. For some
unaccountable reason it ate only the bodies of the women and children it killed, not those of the men.
Also, it only attacked during the time of the full moon and then only during the warmer months of the
year. This was especially peculiar because wolves usually turn into man-killers only in the winter,
when there are fewer animals around to eat. Finally, after each attack the animal disappeared without
leaving a trace - no tracks, no animal droppings, none of the usual signs.
In 1589, after years of frustration, a hunting party of villagers and their dogs finally picked up the
fresh scent of the wolf not far from the mangled remains of its latest victim. It was already October
and the men knew time was running short. If they didn't get the animal now it would be gone with the
first signs of winter, only to return the following spring.
This time they were lucky. The dogs were able to keep on the scent and eventually trapped the animal
in a steep ravine. The hunters got ready for the kill, moving slowly in an ever shrinking circle on the
cornered wolf. When they got ready to strike, they saw something that first stunned, then bewildered
Instead of a wolf they found a man scrambling around on all fours, snarling and clawing back at the
dogs and their owners. He was a local woodcutter named Peter Stumpe who had lived in Bedburg for
years. Now he was barely recognizable. He had the strength of ten men and it took at least that many
to tie him up and drag him off to the nearby city of Cologne, where he would go on trial for the wolflike
killings of Bedburg's citizens.
A squat, husky man, Stumpe did have a reputation around the village for bizarre behavior. Still, it had
never occurred to anyone that it could have been a human being who committed those savage killings,
much less that it was Peter Stumpe. And no one could have been prouder of such vicious crimes than
During his trial he eagerly described in bloody detail how he killed his victims and he claimed what
helped him to do it was a magic wolf pelt given him by the Devil. He said when he put it on during a full moon it turned him into a vicious wolf and gave him the urge to kill women and children for food
and any men he felt had offended him, for revenge.
Peter Stumpe was no werewolf in the horror movie sense. No claws sprouted from
his fingertips, hair did not cover his body, and none of his teeth turned to fangs. He was the victim of
lycanthropy, a bizarre kind of mental illness in which the sufferer believes the full moon has the
power to turn him into a bloodthirsty wolf. During most of the sixteenth and part of the seventeenth
century, it was a serious problem in Europe. During that time there were about 30,000 cases of attacks
by individuals who thought somehow the moon had turned them into wolves.
In fact the word lunatic itself comes from luna, the Latin word for moon, because of the belief that
anyone who was crazy was somehow under the control of the moon This is probably the most well
known of all moon legends and is the basis for bits of horror folklore such as the werewolf.
For years scientists dismissed all this talk about the moon driving people crazy as a lot of superstition.
It didn't make any sense to them that a huge hunk of dead rock, circling this planet at a distance of
more than 200,000 miles in space, could have anything to do with people on earth being crazy or sane.
At the same time no one bothered to check and see if there could be any truth to this ancient belief.
Finally, in 1951, Dr. E. Beamer-Maxwell, a psychiatrist, decided to settle the question once and for
all. She figured that if the full moon did drive people mad, then more people would be sent to mental
hospitals during that phase of the moon than any other time of the month. As a simple test, she
checked back through ten years of admission records at the hospital where she worked. As a result of
her search, she found there was a big jump in the number of mental patients not once a month, but
twice a month. These two times always coincided with the two main phases of the moon, when it is
full and when there is a new moon, that is, when the moon disappears completely from the night sky.
Other equally skeptical scientists copied her experiment in attempts to prove her wrong but in every
case they got the same results. It began to look as if that old belief about the moon's causing insanity
had some truth to it after all.
An even more disturbing discovery was made in 1972 by a Florida psychiatrist who found a link
between the moon and murder. As a young intern working with mental patients, Dr. Arnold Lieber
had heard stories about the moon driving people mad and he himself had noticed strange outbursts
among mental patients during both full and new moons. He never forgot this and years later he
decided to see if there was any connection between the moon and the ultimate act of insanity, the
murder of one human being by another.
He and psychologist Carolyn Sherin decided to do a little scientific detective work by going over 14
years of crime records in Miami. They carefully noted when each murder took place and fed all this
information into a computer. The computer did a month-by-month breakdown of murders and then
drew them on a graph as up and down waves. Lieber noticed a steady pattern from one month to the
next. The number of murders always shot up during full and new moons then settled back down again.
It's not only the human mind that is sensitive to the powers of the moon; the body is as well.
Old-fashioned doctors would never operate on a patient during the time of a full moon if they could
avoid it. The reason offered was that people bled more at this time than any other time of the month.
For years doctors either followed this belief or ignored it completely, performing operations when
they felt like it. Finally, in the 1950s one doctor did what no one else had done. He decided to find out
if this was just another superstition or was based on fact. For two years he kept careful records of all
the operations he did, making special note when there was heavy bleeding. Then he went back over
the records looking for a bleeding pattern and found it. In four out of five cases the operations with the
greatest blood loss were always done at the same time of the month - when the moon was full.
Another bit of folklore doctors have also discovered to be true is that more people are born during the
full moon. The most elaborate investigation to support this idea was one in which doctors went over
the records of more than half a million births; month after month they found the greatest number of
babies were always born within 24 hours of a full moon.
As a matter of fact, every living thing seems to respond to the mysterious force of the moon.