And I thought that modern-day cannibalism was just something that Hollywood had concocted to titillate us and relieve us of our boredom. Shows what I know.
Oh, sure… I was aware of people like the Donner Party (1846-47) who were snowbound in the Sierra Nevada and the Stella Maris College Rugby Team (1972) who were stranded on a mountaintop in the Andes mountains. In both cases, some of the unfortunates resorted to cannibalism to survive, eating those who had succumbed to starvation and sickness. Extreme measures in an emergency situation. Not what they would normally choose.
And then there are those primitive tribes in the far reaches of the “uncivilized” world where the practice of eating the flesh of departed ancestors or enemies survives as a kind of “communion.” One of the most famous cases of this kind of cannibalism is the death of 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller, Nelson Rockefeller’s son, who was killed and ritualistically consumed by the Asmat tribe along the coast of southwest New Guinea.
Cannibalism is perhaps the ultimate cultural taboo in the civilized world. So what kind of sicko today and in the recent past eats other human beings for pleasure?
These examples demonstrate it’s not some distant savage crime or a far-fetched tale for harrowing entertainment–it’s something that still goes on around the world, and fairly regularly too.
1842 – 1907
Packer was an American gold prospector who, in 1874, left with five others for an expedition in the Colorado mountains. Two months later Packer returned from the expedition alone. When questioned of the whereabouts of the men that had been with him, Packer said that he killed them in self defense and was forced to eat their remains in order to survive the elements. His story was not believed. He hid from justice for 9 years before he was captured and soon after signed two separate confessions. He was tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Packer won a retrial and was eventually sentenced to 40 years in prison for manslaughter. Amazingly he was granted parole because sufficient doubt remained about his innocence.
RUF was a revolutionary group that fought a failed eleven-year war in Sierra Leone. It was a long bloody campaign to topple the central government. These insurgents terrorized rural Sierra Leone in an effort to control the nation’s diamond mines. Aided by factions of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, these groups committed horrific atrocities which included forcing children to become soldiers, amputations of limbs, and cannibalism of enemies, which included peacekeepers and United Nations personnel. Their motives for eating their enemies were to receive “strength” from eating human flesh and as a tool for intimidation. The exact number of victims is unknown. The three most senior surviving leaders, Issa Sesay, Morris Kallon and Augustine Gbao, were convicted in February 2009 of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Sagawa was a Japanese student completing an English Literature degree in Paris. In 1981 he met and then shot a Dutch co-ed named Renée Hartevelt. After her death, he proceeded to cannibalize her over the next two days. Sagawa was eventually arrested by French authorities but deemed unfit for trial due to insanity and was deported. In one of the worst examples of injustice in legal history, a paperwork error allowed Sagawa to simply check himself out of a mental institution after a little more than a year of confinement. He is now a free man living in Japan. He has become a minor celebrity in Japan and has made a living through the public’s interest in his crime.
Chikatilo was a Ukrainian born serial killer and rapist. He was nicknamed the Butcher of Rostov, the Red Ripper, and the Rostov Ripper. While in custody, Chikatilo confessed to a total of 56 murders of women and children. He befriended, killed, and ate his victims. He admitted that his motives were solely for sexual gratification. Chikatilo was tried for 53 of these killings in April 1992. He was convicted and sentenced to death for 52 murders in October 1992 and subsequently executed in February 1994.
(1978 – )
The Mauerovas are a family of cult members and cannibals from the Czech Republic. Over an 8-month period in 2007, relatives and fellow cult members participated in acts of cannibalism against two brothers. Seven-year-old Ondrej and his nine-year-old brother Jakub were locked and chained in the cellar for months by their 31-year-old mother Klara. Ondrej was kept in captivity as relatives hacked off pieces of his flesh to eat. He was beaten and gagged to stop him screaming. The two boys told how their mother and relatives had stubbed cigarettes out on their bare skin, whipped them with belts and tried to drown them. By a remarkable chain of events, the truth about the Mauerova family was discovered on May 10, 2007 when horrific images on a baby monitor (which they had installed in their house to view the crimes from the comfort of her kitchen) where picked up by a neighbor who had the exact same monitor. A total of six people were eventually convicted.
By most accounts Meiwes was a depraved and pathetic individual from Roteburg, Germany. It took 29 years and 430 e-mail contacts to make his dream come true. Looking for a willing volunteer, Meiwes posted an advertisement on the website The Cannibal Cafe (a website for a restaurant located in Canada) in 2001. Meiwes’s post stated that he was “looking for a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed”. Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes, an engineer from Berlin, then answered the advertisement. Many other people responded to the advertisement, but backed out; Meiwes did not attempt to force them to do anything against their will. The two men met on Christmas Day. After Meiwes and the victim jointly attempted to eat the victim’s severed penis, Meiwes killed his victim and proceeded to eat a large amount of his flesh. Meiwes was arrested after revealing details of his crime. He is currently serving a life sentence in a German prison.
Two brothers previously jailed for cannibalism and then released, have been arrested again after police discovered a child’s severed head at their home in a remote village in northwest Pakistan. Mohammed Arif Ali was arrested early Monday after neighbors alerted police to a “foul smell” coming from his house in the village of Kahawar Khan in the Bhakkar district of Punjab. When they went to investigate, they discovered the decapitated head of an infant next to a burning stove. The head, examined at a hospital in the nearby village of Darya Khan, looked to be around five days old. Police said both men confessed to eating human flesh. They are said to have eaten over 100 corpses. The brothers were released from prison last year after serving a two-year jail term for similar offenses–they admitted dismembering a woman’s body they had stolen from a graveyard in Darya Khan where they lived at the time. With no explicit law on cannibalism in Pakistan, the two men were convicted of desecrating a dead body and other public order offenses in a case that provoked widespread revulsion across Pakistan.
(1955 – )
The first Australian woman to be sentenced to a natural life term without parole, Katherine Knight had a history of violence in relationships. She mashed the dentures of one of her ex-husbands and slashed the throat of another husband’s eight-week-old puppy before his eyes. A heated relationship with John Charles Thomas Price became public knowledge with an “Apprehended Violence Order” that Price had filed against Knight. She stabbed Mr. Price 37 times with a butcher’s knife before skinning him and hanging his hide from a meat hook in their lounge room back in 2000. She then decapitated the man and put his head in a pot on the stove, baked flesh from his buttocks, and cooked vegetables and gravy as side dishes to serve to Mr. Price’s children. Police found the macabre cannibalistic dinner before the children arrived home.
(1990 – )
In 2012, a Japanese man had his genitals removed and then seasoned them before cooking them for five paying dinner party guests. Mao Sugiyama, 22, who is asexual, had voluntarily undergone surgery to have them removed. However, the illustrator took his frozen penis and scrotum home from the hospital and organized a grim party. He charged guests around $250 per person to eat his severed genitalia in Tokyo, Japan. They were garnished with mushrooms and parsley. He cooked the genitalia himself as he was supervised by a chef. In a Tweet, he offered to cook his penis for a guest for 100,000 yen. However, he ultimately decided to split the “meal” between six guests. In total, around 70 people attended the event in the Suginami ward in Tokyo. While five people tucked into Mao Sugiyama’s genitalia, the rest of them ate beef or crocodile. The people who ate his genitalia were a 30-year-old couple, a 22-year-old woman, a 32-year-old man, and Shigenobu Matsuzawa, 29, an event planner.
(1978 – )
January Jones, who plays Betty Draper Francis on AMC’s “Mad Men,” probably wouldn’t admit to cannibalism, but after the birth of her son, she disclosed in an interview with People magazine that she had joined in the trend to dehydrate her placenta and have it capsulated into vitamin pills. Says Ms. Jones: “It’s something I was very hesitant about, but we’re the only mammals who don’t ingest our own placentas.” Jones has taken the capsules every day since right after she had her son, and also anytime she feels tired or down. Jones insists, “I suggest it to all moms!”
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