Okay so maybe not the FIRST witch hunter, but probably the most famous if for one reason: He wrote the book on witch hunting. LITERALLY. I’ll get to that.
Kramer was born in Selestat, Alsace circa 1430 CE and from a very young age showed a great deal of interest in the church and it’s works. He joined the Dominican Order of Monks at a markedly young age (though how young is not known) and became the Prior of the Order in his hometown while still quite young. Sometime in his 40’s he was appointed as Inquistor of Tyrol, Salzburg, Bohemia, and Moravia, and his charisma and passion in the pulpit drew the attention of the Holy Father and has been associated with one Jacob Sprenger (a man worthy of his own article) to collaborate on the inquisition of witchcraft and sorcery. These guys are both credited with contributing to the book now known as the “Malleus Maleficarum” or very literally “The Hammer of Witches.”
Most of that you could have gotten from the Wikipedia page, but here is where Kramer’s story gets interesting. When Kramer brought the Maleficarum before the top theologians in the Inquisition, it was condemned for being too unethical and for not remaining consistent with Catholic demonology. I am going to say that again.
Heinrich Kramer wrote a book recommending practices that were too unethical for the INQUISITION!
Kramer wasn’t excommunicated for that, though, they just shot him down for widespread endorsement. He was eventually summoned to Venice to preach to the masses his message of hate which apparently was quite well received amongst the Venicians. Around 1500, several neo-Christian movements were condemned as heretical in the eyes of the Catholic Church and Kramer was fully empowered to move against them.
A quick aside about 15th century Venice: For a long time, Venice was the hedonist capital of the world. While Christian on paper, they accepted trade from the “Moors”, allowed Jewish moneychangers within the city (a HUGE no no in 15th century Europe) and even supported the pursuit of alchemy in an effort to turn lead into gold. There was a Catholic friar who had ties with the Middle East and his express purpose was to ransom slaves captured in raids back to the Europeon families.
So, to sum up. Here is a guy who was deeply influenced not only by the church but the cultural heritage of 15th century Germany from a very young age. His hatred of witchcraft was so strong (very likely due to those influences) that he justified torture, dismemberment and death in the name of God to root out that which he saw as evil. His methods were considered so beyond the pale awful that even the Catholic Inquisition told him to chill the heck out, and eventually the only place that would take him was Venice, the Las Vegas of 15th century Europe. So ultimately… a charismatic German has a meteoric rise to power and is strongly disliked by his peers and contemporaries. Sound familiar?