Cannibalism: A history of horror

From the survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 to ‘the cannibal who walked free’, a history of...

April 26, 2011

The Donner Party

In what has become possibly one of the most famous stories of survival cannibalism, members of The Donner Party resorted to eating human flesh during an arduous journey across America. In the winter of 1846, a group of pioneers set out for California in a wagon train. Stranded in the Sierra Nevada during winter, the party quickly ran out of food. Forty-eight of the 87 members of the party survived to reach California.

Albert Fish

Fish was an American serial killer who was suspected of committing at least five murders during his lifetime. He confessed to three murders, and told police he had stabbed two other people. Among other things, Fish was addicted to self-harm and used to hear voices. In 1933 he was arrested for the murder of a young girl, Grace Budd. He said he had eaten her after he had killed her. In 1935, a jury found him sane and guilty of Budd’s murder, and he was
sentenced to death. He was executed by electric chair in 1936.

Ed Gein

This is the man who provided the inspiration for both the main character in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and also the character Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. But Ed Gein was real. A murderer, necrophiliac and cannibal, Gein was obsessed with the idea of becoming a woman, and stitched a full body suit made of human skin that he would wear in what has been called a bizarre transvestite ritual. He also stored the organs of his victims, which he would later eat. Gein was arrested in 1957 and died in a mental institution in 1984.

The survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

In a classic case of survival cannibalism, the passengers on board a chartered flight carrying 45 people including  a rugby team, crashed in the Andes mountains on Friday 13th in October 1972. Once their meagre supplies ran out, survivors were forced to eat the flesh of their dead companions in order to survive. The crash site was not discovered by the authorities until two months after the incident, by which time only sixteen people were left alive. At least two movies and several books deal with this incident.

Jeffrey Dahmer

Dahmer was a notorious American sex offender and serial killer responsible for murdering 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. His murders involved rape, torture, dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism. Arrested in 1991, Dahmer was eventually sentenced to 957 years in prison. On November 28, 1994, he was beaten to death by an inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution, where he was being held.

Issei Sagawa

Often referred to as ‘the cannibal who walked free,’ Sagawa murdered and cannibalised a Dutch woman named Renée Hartevelt in 1981 while he was a student in France. He was caught attempting to dispose of the body and was found unfit to stand trial on grounds of insanity. He was committed to a mental institution, but after being extradited to Japan, was released on a technicality. Sagawa is currently a free man, and has written several books, done a stint as a restaurant reviewer and is often called on TV as a guest commentator.

Armin Meiwes

“I am looking for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.” That is what German national Armin Meiwes posted on a websites like Cannibal Cafe and Flesh and Bone in 2001. One man responded and the two got to work. Meiwes set up a slaughterhouse in his home, and stored parts of his victim’s body in his freezer, which he proceeded to consume over the next ten months. The entire slaughter was duly recorded on videotape. Meiwes was arrested in 2002, and was convicted of manslaughter in 2004. He is currently serving a life sentence. He also claims that human flesh tastes like pork.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, April 24th, 2011.


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Fahad Raza | 10 years ago | Reply That's freaky
Siddique Humayun | 10 years ago | Reply Meiwis and the "Volunteer" is one of the most bizarre incidents to have taken in human history. The details of their act are unimaginable. And I don't know why Sagawa is still a freeman, on top of it, a minor celebrity. :/ On another note, the Korowai clan of Papua are perhaps the only people that are suspected of ritual cannibalism to this day.
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