CANNIBALISM and Serial Murder
Throughout history, many cultures have sanctioned and ritualized the consumption of human flesh, but cannibalism is generally banned today, since its practice requires either homicide or desecration of corpses (a criminal offense in most American jurisdictions). Still,
as bizarre as it seems in modern society, cannibalism is not particularly rare among serial killers, particularly those driven by sexual or sadistic MOTIVES.
Indeed, it has always been so. In ancient Mexico, where Aztecs sacrificed and cannibalized an estimated 15,000 victims yearly, Emperor Moctezuma was said to prefer dining on the same young boys he chose to share his bed. Cannibal killer ALBERT FISH also preferred the
flesh of children, while California’s EDMUND KEMPER devoured parts of at least two female victims, later terming the act a means of “possessing” them forever. The “CHICAGO RIPPERS,” four young Satanists, habitually severed and devoured the breasts of women they abducted, raped, and killed.
Cannibalism is not always a sexual act. For some, it may be a survival technique. Millions starved to death in Russia during the 1930s while Josef Stalin communized the nation’s agricultural system, and the tragedy was repeated 20 years later under Mao Zedong in the
People’s Republic of China. In both countries, many cases of cannibalism were reported (including parents who devoured their own children), but authorities responded in very different ways. Soviet officials executed an unknown number of cannibals, while sentencing some 350 others to life imprisonment; Chinese leaders, on the other hand, sometimes applauded acts of homicide and cannibalism, especially where the victims were members of the “reactionary” old guard. In Russia, at least one case of serial murder and cannibalism was also reported from Leningrad during the long Nazi siege, but details are elusive thanks to Soviet censorship. (Perhaps significantly, Russian slayer ANDREI CHIKATILO blamed his own forays into cannibalism on childhood stories concerning his older brother, allegedly murdered and eaten during the famine of the 1930s.)
There is at least one case on record of serial murder and cannibalism committed as acts of revenge. Embittered at the murder of his wife by members of the Crow Indian tribe, trapper John Johnston waged a ruthless vendetta in the Colorado Rockies, killing scores of tribesmen and devouring their still-warm livers, raw, as a gesture of contempt. When Hollywood tackled his story a century later, handsome Robert Redford took the lead as Jeremiah Johnson, a romantic hero, with no trace of “Liver-eating Johnston” to be found on-screen.
Reports of cannibalism flourished in the 1990s, perhaps because of the subject’s sensational nature. In October 1997, Ugandan police arrested Ssande Sserwadda, accused by his wife of cannibalism. In custody, Sserwadda freely admitted the charge, reporting that he learned the practice from his parents. He told the court, “We are a family of cannibals, we always have been, and I feel queasy if I go too long without tasting human meat. But just because we like to eat human flesh, does that mean we’re bad people?” Sserwadda admitted eating seven corpses in the past year, then added that his brother “is the really greedy one. He’s eaten dozens.” Presuming that Sserwadda dined on corpses without committing murder, the court sentenced him to three years in prison. He shocked the judge by asking if he could take a human leg, introduced as evidence at trial in 2001, to prison with him for a snack. “It’s still got plenty of meat on it. It’s a shame to let it go to waste.” In Nigeria, authorities jailed two alleged cannibals at Lagos, in February 1999. The suspects, identified as Clifford Orji and Tahiru, lived beneath a local bridge and were accused by neighbors of supplying human organs to black-magic practitioners. Raiders found the pair grilling parts of a fresh corpse, and seized the flesh and various bones as evidence. A police spokesman accused Orji and Tahiru of murdering women, and claimed they preferred “young, fine girls with long hair.” No disposition for that case was available at press time, but new reports of widespread cannibalism emerged from the neighboring Congo region in 2003. There, dwindling tribes of pygmies complained to the United Nations that rural guerrillas regularly killed and devoured members of their race, driving their people toward extinction. Reports published in Europe, during August 2003, described mobile armies of “child soldiers” dragooned by their elders to fight in a long-running civil war, subsisting on flesh from their slain enemies as they prowled the countryside.
Modern Asia has no shortage of cannibalism reports. In January 2001, Western journalists revealed that human flesh (dubbed saram hoki) was sold in the marketplace at famine-blighted Hoeroung, North Korea. Films and photographs supported the claim, depicting parts of a dismembered child in one cooking pot. Reporter Carla Garapedian told the world, “All of the North Koreans we interviewed knew about it.” North Korean officials declined to comment. A year later, in March 2002, authorities in Hyderabad, India, alleged that members of “a nameless sect” consumed human flesh as part of a puja ritual designed to help them find hidden treasure. No charges were filed in that case, but several alleged cannibals were reportedly slain by their neighbors on suspicion of practicing evil magic.
Eastern Europe has produced its share of cannibals in recent years. Ilshat Kuzikov, a 37-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, Russia, was convicted in March 1997 of killing and devouring at least three male acquaintances since 1992. Officers who raided his home found dried ears hanging on the walls and soft-drink bottles filled with human blood. Four years later, in April 2001, authorities in Chisinau, Moldova, arrested two women for selling human organs in the city’s marketplace. A full-scale investigation was announced, but its results are presently unknown. Four Ukrainians were jailed at Kiev in July 2002, charged with killing a teenage girl and devouring her body. Police claimed that the prisoners, including three men and a woman, had killed at least six victims for their flesh. The latest kidnapping had also involved an abortive $3,000 ransom demand. Detectives found “several books on black magic” at one suspect’s home, suggesting that the murders sprang from Satanism. Once again, no disposition of the case has been reported.
Across the Atlantic, accused cannibal Dorangel Vargas was arrested by police in San Crist?bal, Venezuela, in February 1999. A former mental patient who was briefly held on similar charges in 1995, Vargas confessed to murdering and eating 10 men over the past two years. “Sure I eat people,” he told reporters. “Anyone can eat human flesh, but you have to wash and garnish it well to avoid diseases.” Notwithstanding those admissions and the reported discovery of human remains at his home, some observers defended Vargas as a hapless “scapegoat,” allegedly framed by illicit organ-traffickers. No judgment in the Vargas case had been announced by press time for this volume. On April 14, 2001, police in Kansas City, Kansas, charged 21-year-old Marc Sappington with murdering and cannibalizing three men over the past week. Dismembered remains of one victim, 16-year-old Alton Brown, were found in Sappington’s basement. Held in lieu of $2 million bond, Sappington was examined for psychiatric abnormalities by analysts who reported his fascination with Milwaukee cannibal-killer JEFFREY DAHMER. After being certified as sane, Sappington faced trial in July 2004. Jurors convicted him across the board, on three counts of murder plus one count each of kidnapping and aggravated burglary.
In 2004, European authorities announced their discovery of an Internet cannibal network that “links maneaters from Austria to America.” That revelation emerged from the murder trial of German defendant Armin Meiwes, a cannibal who advertised online for a “young well-built man who wants to be eaten” and thus met Bernd-Jurgen Brandes, whom he killed and devoured in 2001. Defense attorneys for Meiwes submitted that he should be freed because Brandes volunteered to be slain and consumed. Jurors convicted Meiwes on a reduced charge of manslaughter, sending him to prison for eight and a half years, but police were more concerned with evidence that two more victims may have been eaten in Europe. German criminologist Rudolf Egg told reporters, “There are several hundred people with cannibalistic tendencies in Germany alone, and many thousands around the world.” Inspector Isolde Stock announced that Meiwes’s e-mail correspondence with members of various “cannibal forums” would fill two large trucks if it were printed out. The haul included several thousand photos of nude men, downloaded from the prisoner’s computers, in addition to scenes of torture.