12 'Real' Werewolf Cases Throughout History

The story of the Wolf of Ansbach, Germany, 1685. Wikimedia Commons

The Wolf of Ansbach

From tales of men who claimed to be able to turn into wolves we come to what seems, with hindsight, to have been a real wolf. The Wolf of Ansbach operated in the area around the modern Bavarian city of the same name in 1685, before being executed in a manner befitting a convicted human criminal. Operating alone (which is very rare for a wolf), this lupine menace began by taking an unusual amount of the livestock being grazed in the countryside. Soon it began to turn its attention to those tending the animals, mostly women and children in Ansbach.

The number of peasants the wolf killed is unknown, but its depredations were such that, during a period when people lived cheek-by-jowl with wolves and occasionally lost their lives to the creatures, fear spread through the region. Just recently, the cruel and merciless Bürgermeister (chief magistrate) of Ansbach had died, and his death was unlamented. It was soon rumoured that the evil magistrate had returned from the grave as a werewolf, and was seeking revenge on those who cared so little for his death. Soon there was a concerted effort to slay the creature and banish the late, lycanthropic Bürgermeister.

The great mob found the troublesome (were)wolf, and tirelessly pursued it with hounds across the country. Wolves have impressive stamina, but eventually the Wolf of Ansbach needed a rest, and so it leaped down a nearby well. The dogs stood baying above the well, leading their masters to the trapped beast, which of course had no means of escaping. It was slain with a variety of weapons, including cudgels and pitchforks (every angry peasant mob needs the latter). Surprisingly, though, the wolf did not resume its human form upon being beaten, which ran contrary to accepted werewolf-lore, and remained lupine.

Either from embarrassment, or unwavering faith in the true nature of the animal, the wolf was then treated as if it were human. Triumphantly parading the corpse through Ansbach, the mob first cut off the beast’s muzzle, and dressed it in human clothing. A wig was placed on its head, and a beard upon its chin, and so it came to resemble the deceased Bürgermeister. Finally, the (fortunately dead) wolf was hung from a gibbet for all to see, a common practice for human criminals whose bodies served as a warning to would-be wrongdoers (or werewolves in this case).