CANNIBALISM SERIAL KILLER
Ever since the Stone Age, human beings have indulged in cannibalism, either for dietary or ritual reasons. The prehistoric hominids known as Homo erectus enjoyed supping on the brains of their fellow cavemen. Aborigines throughout the world, from New Zealand to North America, routinely devoured the hearts of enemy warriors as a way of absorbing their courage. Ceremonial cannibalism was a central feature of the Aztec religion. And Fijians consumed human flesh (which they called puaka balava or “long pig”) just because they liked its taste.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, however, cannibalism is regarded with such intense abhorrence that when faced with a choice between eating other humans or starving to death, some people have opted for the latter. (This was the case, for example, with several survivors of the famous 1972 plane crash that stranded a party of young Uruguayans in the high Andes.) As a result, of all the horrors associated with serial killers, cannibalism strikes many people as the worst. When Thomas Harris, author of The Silence of the Lambs, set out to create the most monstrous serial killer imaginable, the result was Dr. Lecter, aka “Hannibal the Cannibal,” whose idea of a gourmet meal is human liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti on the side.
In point of fact, however, real-life cannibal killers are relatively few and far between. For reasons that can only be surmised, Germany has produced a disproportionately high percentage of twentieth-century people eaters. During the social chaos of the 1920s, the hideously depraved Fritz Haarmann slaughtered as many as fifty young boys, dined on their flesh, then sold the leftovers as black-market beef. His equally degenerate countryman Georg Grossmann also supplemented his income by peddling human flesh, though his preferred victims were plump young females, whose meat he made into sausages. Yet another postwar German cannibal was Karl Denke, an innkeeper who killed and consumed at least thirty of his lodgers.
At about the same time in America, the sadomasochistic madman Albert Fish was roaming the country, preying on small boys and girls. He was finally executed for the abduction-murder of a pretty twelve-year-old named Grace Budd, parts of whose body he made into a stew. In recent years, the “Milwaukee Monster,” Jeffrey Dahmer, has served as a grotesque reminder that the forbidden urge to consume human flesh may still lurk beneath the surface of supposedly civilized life.
Appalling as they were, Dahmer’s crimes were outstripped by the Russian “Mad Beast,” Andrei Chikatilo, who—with a confirmed body count of fifty-two victims—holds the record as the worst serial killer of modern times. Among his countless atrocities, Chikatilo devoured the genitals of some of his victims—a practice that left him (according to his captors) with a telltale case of bizarre halitosis.
A cannibalistic contemporary of Chikatilo and Dahmer was Arthur Shawcross, whose wildly sadistic tendencies first found free play in the jungles of Vietnam, where (according to his own account) he raped, slaughtered, and cannibalized two peasant women during an army combat mission. Shawcross’s subsequent career of psychopathic violence included the murder of a ten-year-old boy whose genitals he devoured, and the strangulation of a string of prostitutes whose bodies he dumped in the woods in upstate New York. Occasionally, he would sneak back to the body weeks after the murder, then cut out and eat pieces of the decomposing corpse (a particularly abhorrent form of cannibalism technically known as necrophagy).
During the past twenty-five years or so, there have been a number of appalling cannibal killers who might well have become full-fledged serial murderers if they hadn’t been arrested after committing a single atrocity. These include Albert Fentress, a former schoolteacher in Poughkeepsie, New York, who, in the summer of 1979, lured an eighteen-year-old boy into his basement, cut off and ate the victim’s penis, then shot him to death; Issei Sagawa, a Japanese national living in Paris who, in 1981, killed his girlfriend, had sex with her corpse, then dismembered and ate parts of her body; Daniel Rakowitz, who likewise murdered and dismembered his girlfriend, then boiled her into a soup which he allegedly served to homeless people on New York’s Lower East Side in 1989; and Peter Bryan, a British schizophrenic arrested in 2004 after killing a friend and frying his brain for consumption.
Most bizarre of all is undoubtedly Armin Meiwes, a middle-aged German computer technician who, in 2001, advertised for a victim willing to be slaughtered and consumed (see Ads). When a forty-three-year-old man named Bernd-J?rgen Brandes showed up in response to this Internet posting, Meiwes—with Brandes’s full approval—sliced off the latter’s penis. The two men then shared a meal of the severed organ. Brandes was then stabbed to death, dismembered, and frozen for future consumption.
Meiwes was arrested shortly thereafter. Since Germany has no laws against cannibalism, he was charged with murder “for sexual satisfaction” and “disturbing the peace of the dead.” His attorney at his 2004 trial attempted to argue that since Brandes consented (indeed, eagerly cooperated) in his own death, the case should be classified as a mercy killing. The court was not convinced. Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to eight and a half years in prison, though in April 2005, prosecutors—objecting to the leniency of the sentence—won an appeal for a retrial.
Despite Meiwes’s claim that he had gotten his cannibalistic urges out of his system—“I had my big kick and I don’t need to do it again,” he declared—there is reason to doubt his word. Certainly, if he had chosen to indulge his unnatural appetites a second time, he would have had a varied menu to choose from. At his trial, a state police inspector testified that Meiwes’s computer files showed that his ad had drawn responses from 204 applicants looking to be his next meal.
In the realm of serial-killer cinema, cannibalism features prominently in Tobe Hooper’s splatter classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, about a family of deranged good ol’ boys who turn unwary teens into barbeque. Like Psycho and The Silence of the Lambs, Hooper’s movie was inspired by the crimes of Edward Gein. Ostensibly, investigators found unmistakable signs of cannibalism in Gein’s horror house—a human heart in a frying pan, a refrigerator stocked with paper-wrapped body parts. This allegation, however, was just one of many hysterical rumors that floated around in the wake of his crimes. Though Ghoulish Gein committed all sorts of unspeakable acts, cannibalism was apparently not one of them. He did, however, enjoy eating baked beans from a bowl made out of a human cranium.