The infamous “Kobe Cannibal,” who admitted to killing and eating his friend Renée Hartevelt never spent a day in prison and says he still craves human flesh!
Issei Sagawa murdered, dismembered, and devoured Renée Hartevelt in 1981; he was fulfilling a dream 32 years in the making. Yet despite the horrific act four decades ago, Sagawa has been free to walk the streets to this day.
Sagawa, was born in Kobe, Japan. Yes, that Kobe, where the special beef comes from, but Sagawa’s tastes ran to something a little more exotic.
He was studying comparative literature in Paris at the time of his despicable crime. He was arrested almost immediately after murdering Hartevelt and sentenced to a psychiatric hospital. But after his extradition to Japan, he was able to check himself out of a different psychiatric hospital due to a legal loophole — and has remained free ever since.
While never spending any time behind bars for Hartevelt’s inhuman killing, he has made a living off of her death, and as “The Kobe Cannibal,” he’s even become something of a celebrity in Japan. He has appeared on numerous talk shows and written manga novels that graphically depict killing and eating Hartevelt. He has even starred in soft-core porn reenactments where he actually has bitten actors.
And throughout his life, he has been chillingly unrepentant. When he discusses his crime, it’s as if he believes it’s the most natural thing in the world. And most disturbingly, he says his taste for human flesh remains, and he plans to do it again!
The Urge Was Always There
Sagawa was born on April 26, 1949, and for as long as he can remember, he says that he has possessed cannibalistic urges and a fascination with eating human flesh. He remembered with fondness his uncle dressing up as a monster and lowering him and his brother into a stew pot for eating.
He was drawn to fairy tales that involved humans being eaten, and his favorite was Hansel and Gretel. He even recalls noticing classmates’ thighs in the first grade and thinking, “Mmm, that looks delicious.”
He blames the media’s representation of Western women like Grace Kelly for sparking his cannibalistic fantasies, equating it with what most people would call sexual desire. Where other people dreamed of sleeping with these beautiful women, Sagawa dreamed of eating them!
The Kobe Cannibal says the reasons behind his cannibalistic tendencies can’t be explained to or even grasped by anyone who doesn’t share his exact urges.
But to him, it is “simply a fetish,” like any other obsessive attraction. For example, if a normal man fancied a girl, he’d naturally feel a desire to see her as often as possible, to be close to her, to smell her and kiss her, right? To me, eating is just an extension of that. Frankly, I can’t fathom why everyone doesn’t feel this urge to eat, to consume, other people,” he said in a recent interview.
He maintains, to this day, however, that he never thought of killing them, only “gnawing on their flesh.”
Although Sagawa did once attempt to see a psychiatrist for his urges at age 15, he found it unhelpful and retreated further into his isolated psyche. Then, in 1981, after repressing his desires for 32 years, he finally acted on them.
Issei Sagawa had moved to Paris to study literature at the Sorbonne, a public research university. Once there, he said, his cannibalistic urges took over.
“Almost every night, I would bring a prostitute home and then try to shoot them from behind,” he wrote in his book, In the Fog. “It became less about wanting to eat them, but more an obsession with the idea that I simply had to carry out this ‘ritual’ of killing a girl no matter what.”
Eventually, he found the perfect victim and meal.
His Dream Turns Into a Nightmare Death for Renee
Renée Hartevelt was a Dutch student studying with Sagawa at the Sorbonne. Over time, Sagawa struck up a friendship with her, occasionally inviting her to his home for dinner. Little did she know that at some point, she was to be the main course!
He attempted to kill her once, unsuccessfully, before actually murdering her. The first time the gun misfired when her back was turned. Though most would take this as a sign to give up, it only pushed Sagawa further down his rabbit hole.
“[It] made me even more hysterical, and I knew that I simply had to kill her,” he said.
The very next night, he did. This time the gun fired, and Hartevelt was killed instantly. Sagawa only felt a moment of remorse before he became elated.
“I thought about calling an ambulance,” he recalled. “But then I thought, ‘Hang on, don’t be stupid. You’ve been dreaming about this for 32 years, and now it’s actually happening!'”
Immediately after killing her while her body was still warm, he raped her corpse and then began butchering her like a cow.
“The first thing I did was cut into her buttock. No matter how deep I cut, all I saw was the fat beneath the skin. It looked like corn, and it took a while to actually reach the red meat,” Sagawa recalled.
“The moment I saw the meat, I tore a chunk off with my fingers and threw it into my mouth. It was truly a historical moment for me.”
Ultimately, he said his only regret was that he hadn’t eaten her while she was still alive.
“What I truly wished was to eat her living flesh,” he said. “Nobody believes me, but my ultimate intention was to eat her, not necessarily to kill her.”
Two days after killing Hartevelt, Sagawa disposed of what remained of her body. He had eaten or frozen most of her pelvic region, so he put her legs, torso, and head into two suitcases and hailed a cab.
The taxi dropped him off at the Bois de Boulogne park, which had a secluded lake inside it. He had planned to drop the suitcases into the lake, but several people noticed the suitcases dripping blood and notified the French police.
When police found Sagawa and questioned him, his response was a simple and honest admission of guilt, “I killed her to eat her flesh,” he said.
A Miscarriage of Justice
Sagawa awaited his trial for two years in a French prison. When it was finally time for him to be tried, a French judge declared him legally insane and unfit to stand trial, dropping the charges and ordering him to be held indefinitely in a mental institution.
He was later deported back to Japan, where he was supposed to spend the rest of his days in a Japanese mental hospital. But he didn’t.
Because the charges in France had been dropped, the court documents were sealed and couldn’t be released to Japanese authorities. Therefore, the Japanese had no case against Issei Sagawa and no choice but to let him walk free.
And on Aug. 12, 1986, Issei Sagawa checked himself out of the Matsuzawa Psychiatric Hospital in Tokyo. He has been free ever since.
Today, Issei Sagawa walks the streets of Tokyo, where he lives, free to do as he pleases. A terrifying thought when he full well admits that his cannibalistic urges are as strong as they ever have been.
“The desire to eat people becomes so intense around June when women start wearing less and showing more skin,” he said. “Just today, I saw a girl with a really nice derrière on my way to the train station. When I see things like that, I think about wanting to eat someone again before I die.”
“What I’m saying is, I can’t bear the thought of leaving this life without ever tasting that derrière that I saw this morning, or her thighs,” he continued. “I want to eat them again while I’m alive, so that I can at least be satisfied when I die.”
He’s even planned out how he will do it.
“I think either sukiyaki or shabu shabu [lightly boiled thin slices] is the best way to go, in order to really savor the natural flavor of the meat.”