By his own admission, 39-year-old Robert Berdella was a strange
character. The owner of Bob's Bizarre Bazaar in Kansas City, Missouri, Berdella
carried business cards that advertised that he had "poison" in his head. Around
the house, he showed a milder side, helping his Hyde Park neighbors establish a
local community crime watch program.
His strange behavior on the job was written off as so much advertising hype -- until the afternoon of April 2, 1988. That day, a neighbor of Berdella's stepped outside to find a naked stranger crouching on his porch. The 22-year-old wore nothing but a dog collar, buckled around his neck, and he blurted out a tale of sexual abuse that sent Berdella's neighbor racing for the telephone, to call police. According to the victim, he had been held captive in Berdella's home the past five days, subjected to repeated sexual assaults before he finally clambered through a second-story window and escaped. Detectives picked Berdella up and searched his home for evidence. In doing so, they opened up a grim Pandora's box of horror. In the house, police discovered some 200 photographs of naked men, the subjects bound and clearly suffering from cruel abuse. Torture devices were also seized in the raid, along with a pair of human skulls, occult literature, and a Satanic ritual robe. That weekend, deputies unearthed bone fragments and another human head in Berdella's yard.
On April 4, 1988, Robert Berdella was arraigned on seven counts of sodomy, one count of felonious restraint, and one count of first degree assault. Bail was initially set at $500,000, revoked the next day, when officers testified that one of the men in Berdella's photographs -- trussed up and hanging by his heels -- appeared to be dead. While excavation continued on Berdella's property and prosecutor's contemplated murder charges, homicide investigators started checking out their list of missing persons dating back to 1984. A bargained guilty plea on one count of murder consigned Berdella to prison for life, but authorities suspected him in at least seven other deaths. On December 19, 1988, Berdella pled guilty to first-degree murder in the death of victim Robert Sheldon, and to four counts of second-degree murder involving additional male victims. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment during which he died due to heart attack.