If you are squeamish, easily offended or find talk of serial killers unsavoury then please skip over this article, as we look at five of the most infamous real life cannibals.
by Lucille Pope on April 30, 2016
Warning/disclaimer: We stated it at the top, but here it is again, because after all this is a site about food, and just so that nobody can complain: If you are squeamish, of a nervous disposition or have lost someone close to you due to a serial killer or cannibal, you probably aren’t going to want to read this article!
Now that the obligatory warning is out of the way…
Having identified the hardest movie chefs we could think of, another one of Pandora’s boxes opened which has left us contemplating which of our fellow human beings are most infamous for the unusual choice of meats they chose to serve with their two veg.
A couple of fictional cannibals popped up in our admiration for the movie chefs which prompted some rather uncomfortable research. The following list contains the top five real life cannibals who literally turned stomachs (halfway through cooking) and provoked horrified reactions from this writer, which could only be relieved with the quaffing of a few glasses of vino!
The most taboo of all taboos for human beings has to be cannibalism, and yet many people have a fascination (including myself) with the concept of cannibalism, the psychology surrounding it, and the lives of those who practise it. There are many historical instances of cannibalism where tragedy or war has directly led to or influenced the consumption of human flesh. One famous example is the case of the Uruguayan rugby team and friends whose plane crashed in the Andes in 1972, as depicted in the film Alive. There are also various indigenous cultures and tribes where cannibalism was traditionally practised.
All of the cannibals on this list are slightly different, cultures where cannibalism is a part of life or cases prompted by disaster have been excluded. These are people who willingly murdered with the intention of cooking and eating their victims. These ghoulish cannibals committed their heinous acts whilst living within (and completely ignoring) the laws and rules of Western society.
The main issue with this being that in most cases, to be able to consume human flesh, a fellow person would need to be liberated of their life. Whilst the eating of human flesh is surprisingly not explicitly against the law in most places, killing someone of course is.
This little quirk of the law brings us to an interesting case from Germany, which didn’t quite make it into my top five, but definitely deserves an honourable mention. It raises the question: Is it wrong to kill and/or eat someone if they willingly consent and want you to do so?
Just for the sheer distressing willingness of his victim, we have to mention Armin Meiwes.
Armin was born in the German town of Kassel and had a lonely childhood. His father abandoned the family when Armin was eight years old and they never saw him again. Meiwes, by his absent father’s account, had been a well-behaved little boy but had a dark obsession with the story of Hansel and Gretel, particularly the fattening up of Hansel to cook and eat him. *Warning Bells?!*
At age 12 Armin apparently began to fantasise about eating his friends. He wanted them to become part of him and stay with him forever, a very sad endgame for a lonely only child.
After his mothers death in 1999, Armin discovered the internet, and this was his gateway into very specific chat rooms focusing on cannibalism.
In a nutshell, all of the years spent thinking about Hansel, and being so desperately lonely culminated in his now infamous deed.
In 2000 he posted a message online that read:
I am looking for a young, well-built man aged 18 to 30 to slaughter.
Several men responded, but only one would ultimately fulfil the request; Bernd-Jürgen Brandes.
The two of them had quite the wild night, starting with the attempted consumption of Bernd-Jürgen’s family standard and jewels, and ending with his “merciful” killing after a protracted period of suffering. Armin dismembered Bernd-Jürgen, stored the flesh in his freezer and consumed the flesh over a 10 month period. They had of course videotaped the whole thing which, was very useful in evidence when Armin eventually arrested and was tried. Grim!
And now – with no further waffling or asides the list of those with less willing victims:
aka The Gray Man, The Werewolf, The Brooklyn Vampire and The Boogey Man.
This chap was a real beast. Following a pretty harrowing childhood, a 20 year old Albert Fish arrived in New York City in 1890. Fish confessed that at this point he became a rent boy. Almost a decade later in 1898, his mother arranged a marriage for him with a woman nine years his junior. They had six children. Amongst his other developing psychosis, Albert soon developed a growing obsession with cannibalism. Apparently, he often prepared himself a dinner consisting only of raw meat and occasionally serving it to his children.
He had a collection of “tools of hell” (a butchers grade knife, a bone crunching saw, and a meat cleaver), which he would use to torture, mutilate, and dismember young children. He claimed to have a child he’d either abused or eaten in every state in the United States, but was only ever actually convicted of eight murders. His most infamous victim was Grace Budd, who’s various body parts he cooked with onions and carrots (a popular combination it would seem). He also wrote a letter to Grace’s mother telling her exactly what he had done with her little girl.
You may look for this letter yourself with a quick Google….he was incredibly unwell this man, and met his end via the electric chair!
Edward Theodore Gein was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin on August 27, 1906. The son of a meek alcoholic father and an overly zealous religious mother. Edward grew up alongside Henry, his older brother, and never left home or dated women. This was probably at least partially influenced by the fact that his mother often preached about the sins of lust and fleshy desires.
Edward adored and was obsessed with his fanatically religious mother, and after her death he became increasingly deranged and eventually began skulking around cemeteries to unearth recently buried female corpses. He robbed graves, removing body parts, practising unsavoury carnal acts with corpses, and experimenting with taxidermy. Eventually, in 1954, Edward turned from grave robbing to murder, an undertaking he (unfortunately for him) executed in a sloppy fashion. The police charged him with the murders of two women in 1957.
He was confined in various criminal psychiatric institutions, including the Central State Hospital in Wisconsin and the Mendota Mental Health Institute, where he died of cancer related complications on July 26, 1984, at age 77.
Ed Gein inspired several well known film characters, including Norman Bates (Psycho), Jamie Gumb (The Silence of the Lambs) and Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
aka The Milwaukee Cannibal and The Milwaukee Monster
Jeffrey Dahmer was an incredibly disturbed individual. Over a period of 13 years he murdered his way through 17 people in the most twisted and sadistic ways, involving both cannibalism and necrophilia. His kill rate was increasing rapidly at the time when he was caught, found sane by a court and sentenced to 957 years in prison in 1992.
A few years later, Dahmer met his maker in prison at the hands of one Christopher Scarver. Scarver beat to death both the cannibalistic serial killer and another inmate, Jesse Anderson, in 1994. Scarver later said that he “despised Dahmer” because he would create severed limbs out of prison food to taunt the other inmates.
It’s a bit beyond the scope of this article to even begin to scratch the surface of the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer. This Crime Museum article: Jeffrey Dahmer tells you all you need to know.
aka Metal Fang and Kolya the Maneater
Worryingly reminiscent of Hannibal Lecter as portrayed to great disturbing effect by Mads Mikkelsen in the recent series Hannibal, Nikolai Dzhumagaliev killed 7 people. He would throw parties for his friends and served the meat as “well-cooked ethnic cuisine”.
Yes dear reader, he had FRIENDS! His dinner guests presumably admired his culinary skills but didn’t know they were eating “long pig”. Amongst other oddities he also had his teeth replaced with metal fangs. Dzhumagaliev prided himself on trying to rid the world of prostitutes – a questionable but convenient ulterior motive for many serial killers and cannibals.
Nikolai was eventually caught when two drunks he had invited over to his house found a human head and intestines whilst raiding his fridge! Always check the fridge guys!
Dzhumagaliev was found to be insane and was committed to a mental institution. He escaped in 1989 while being transported between prison facilities and eventually re-captured in 1991. It isn’t clear what happened to him but is it rumoured that in the mid-2000’s, Doctors at the clinic said that he was cured and could be released. There you go!
Issei Sagawa became notorious in his native Japan in 1981 after killing and eating a Dutch exchange student named Renee Hartevelt while living in France. He invited Hartevelt to his apartment in Paris to read and study poetry. Sadly for her, he shot her in the neck, had carnal relations with her corpse and then spent two days carving up and eating her body. He said that he hoped that by eating the beautiful young woman he absorb some of her healthy vitality. He was arrested after being caught in the act of dumping her body in a lake in the Bois de Boulogne.
Sagawa was initially imprisoned in France for the crime and later extradited to Japan and committed to Matsuzawa hospital. Psychologists who assessed him declared him sane and declared that sexual perversion was his ONLY motivation for the murder. Because charges in France had been dropped the court documents were sealed and the Japanese authorities had no access to them. This meant that Sagawa could not legally be detained in Japan.
He checked himself out of the hospital on August 12, 1986, and has remained free. Wikipedia lists his various occupations as public speaking, commentating, acting and writing.
That is the end of my ghoulishly fascinating, if deeply unsettling list – any other infamous nibblers worth a mention?