"The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am happy about that. I will always look at the world through the eyes of a cannibal." Issei Sagawa
I can't think of a culture with a greater sense of morbid fascination than the Japanese. Dispenser machines filled with soiled schoolgirl's panties, deadly sushi, live-eel butt ramming porno flicks...there simply isn't a single low to which they haven't stooped at one point or another. Please understand I mean this in the most affectionate manner. There's something to be said for a culture so unabashedly perverse. I mean, how can you not admire a culture that makes an avowed murdering cannibal a top television and tabloid celebrity?
Such is the case of Issei Sagawa, the self proclaimed "Godfather of Cannibals". While studying at France's illustrious Sorbonne, Sagawa became enamored of a fellow student, a petite beauty named Renee Hartevelt. Sagawa invited Hartevelt up to his apartment to read some poetry, and over the course of the evening, Sagawa decided that his desire for Hartevelt went far beyond mere sexual attraction. As she sat on his bed, reading from the book of German poetry, Sagawa realized that what he truly desired was to eat her.
In his best-selling account of the murder, In The Fog, Sagawa writes: "My passion is so great. I want to eat her. If I do she will be mine forever. There is no escape from this desire."
Sagawa on TV - A Celebrity
Hartevelt returned to his apartment the next evening. In the
interim, Sagawa had prepared a tape recorder to capture her words as she read
the poetry and a rifle with which to kill Hartevelt. As Hartevelt began to read
from the book once again, Sagawa shot her in the back of the neck with the rifle
from across the room, killing her instantly. It is here that Sagawa's descent
into cannibalism began.
Not entirely sure how to proceed with eating a person, Sagawa decided to start with the rear-end. (Why is it that cannibalism always starts with the ass? The Peruvian footballers who crashed in the Andes did the same thing...just curious.) He grabbed a sturdy knife from the kitchen and proceeded to cut into the dead girl's flesh." Suddenly a lot of sallow fat oozes from the wound. It reminds me of Indian corn. It continues to ooze. It is strange. Finally I find the red meat under the sallow fat. I scoop it out and put it in my mouth. I chew. It has no smell and no taste. It melts in my mouth like a perfect piece of tuna. I look in her eyes and say: 'You are delicious.' "
Sagawa spent the remainder of the evening cutting off portions of Hartvelt's body and cooking them, trying various parts of the body to see how they tasted. He roasted her hip and ate it at his dinner table with salt and mustard, using her underwear for a napkin, declaring it "...a very high quality meat.". He baked one of her breasts in the oven, but wasn't too thrilled, saying it was too greasy. He proceeded to photograph her remains and have sexual intercourse with the body, eventually falling asleep. The next day, he continued his feast, trying out various other parts of her anatomy, eventually saving the parts he liked and putting them in the fridge. After rendering Renee Hartevelt into a butcher shop's window display, he placed her various body parts in a series of suitcases. Two days later, witnesses saw an asian man dumping two large suitcases in a Paris park. The police were called, and upon opening the suitcases, they found the decaying remains of Renee Hartevelt. The suitcases were eventually traced to Sagawa, and the authorities obtained a search warrant for his apartment. Upon entering his flat, the police found Hartevelt's lips, her left breast, and both buttocks in the refrigerator. Sagawa was promptly arrested for the murder of Renee Hartevelt.
Issei Sagawa, in a 1985 French television interview, describing how he killed
and dismembered Renee Hartevelt.
Sagawa was placed under psychiatric care at the Henri Colin psych-ward in Villejuif to be assessed for his competency to stand trial. Three separate psychiatrists examined him, and it was determined he could not be cured of his deviant fantasies. The cost of maintaining Sagawa in a French asylum for the remainder of his life was exuberant , and in 1985 it was decided to deport him back to his home country of Japan. When he arrived in Tokyo, he was swarmed with media and journalists wanting to see the famed cannibal killer for themselves. He was quickly transferred to the Matsuzawa hospital in Tokyo, where hospital superintendent Tsuguo Kanego declared, 'I think he is sane and guilty...he should be in prison'.
Thanks to some wheedling by his father, a prominent Japanese industrialist, Sagawa was released, a free man, on August 12th, 1986. The authorities, for some reason, did not seek to further seek prosecution against Sagawa. He had literally gotten away with murder.
Like most cannibals (Jeffrey Dahmer being the most obvious example), Sagawa
quickly became a celebrity. However, rather than being treated like human-swine,
Sagawa managed to pull of a rather bizarre form of fame...he was notoriously
willing to admit his crime, and even took some pride in it. A year after his
release, Sagawa wrote the aforementioned book (now out of print) 'In The Fog' in
which he describes, in meticulous detail, the murder, rape, and consumption of
Renee Hartevelt. This served to only fan the flames of his fame higher and
higher. Eventually he found himself doing speaking gigs on various Japanese
television shows, mainly guest spots on talk shows wanting to speak with the
famed cannibal who 'got away with it'. His fame doesn't stop at eating women or
writing about eating women, either. Sagawa, who is now 51, has taken up
painting. Many of his paintings focus on women's asses (no surprise there), but
like all serial killer art, it has a fame that far outdistances its quality of
production. The Rolling Stones wrote a song about Sagawa, the aptly titled 'Too
Much Blood'. He has even appeared in several 'pink movies', Japanese soft-core
porn with an artistic slant. By all accounts, Sagawa is a friendly, cheerful
fellow who is more than willing to discuss his crime, especially when it puts
money in his pocket. Recently, he's even tried his hand at penning a manga
re-telling of the murder, a self-illustrated volume entitled Manga Sagawa-san,
published by Okura Shuppan. "My parents wouldn't let me read comics when I was
young," Sagawa said in a recent article from Japan Today regarding the book. "To
this day, I have never read the more famous ones. So a comic illustrator friend
had to teach me everything, from which pens to use to how to segment the story
into frames...Actually, you know, I have a lot of female fans. The ones who
didn't follow the incident at the time it happened regard me as something of a
Only time will tell if Sagawa will kill again. I suspect not, as he seems to enjoy the fame garnered from the killing as much, or more, than the killing itself did. Still, I can't say I'd be comfortable having the guy over for dinner. After all, Issei Sagawa is the "Godfather of Cannibals".