Japanese Cannibal Issei Sagawa might be the most terrifying cannibal killer of all time. Sagawa murdered his friend, mutilated her, ate her, and raped her corpse over several days. But what makes him the most terrifying cannibal is the fact that even after all this, he’s free to walk the streets, and it is unlikely that his desires have changed.

Issei Sagawa

Sagawa has even published a book on the pleasure of cannibalism and even tried to make his crime into a comic book. Sagawa remains a minor celebrity, appearing in talk shows as a guest and relating the account of his crime.

So how does a man who flaunts his crime publically not in jail? Well, the story of Issei Sagawa is a long and twisted one, and it all started with a dream.

Cannibalism and Issei Sagawa’s Dream

Unlike most of the criminals, Sagawa says that his obsession with human flesh began when he was just a child. In the first grade he noticed his classmate’s thighs and thought, “Mmm, that looks delicious.”

Issei Sagawa

Sagawa was born prematurely, he was small enough that he could fit in the palm of his father’s hand. Even when he peaked puberty, he was a skinny man of barely five feet. Growing up he always felt that he was an undesirable person and theorized that his self-hatred might have contributed to his fascination with cannibalism.

He blamed the media’s representation of women like Grace Kelly for encouraging his cannibalistic fantasies, while other people dreamed of bedding beautiful women, Issei Sagawa dreamed of eating them.

Issei Sagawa practiced a lot to stop his urges to consume human flesh, but they only grew more. He never acted upon his desires but eventually, his desire became more sexualized.

“When I saw this woman in the street I wondered if I could eat her,” said Sagawa.

Once Sagawa followed a woman to her home and climbed into her apartment, luckily for him the woman was asleep. He had no plans further, he climbed into her apartment and started searching the room for something to kill the woman, so he could eat her. He spotted an umbrella in the corner and thought that it might be up to the task of stabbing her, but the woman woke up and screamed seeing him there, and Sagawa fled.

After the incident, Issei Sagawa went to a psychiatrist and confessed his desires. The psychiatrist categorized him as highly dangerous, Sagawa’s father who was a wealthy man, constructed a cover-up story and sent Issei Sagawa to a school overseas.

In 1977, Sagawa at the age of 27 said that his cannibalistic urges took over. “Almost every night I would bring a prostitute home and then try to shoot them, but for some reason, my fingers froze up, and I couldn’t pull the trigger…” he said, “It became less about wanting to eat them but more an obsession with the idea I simply had to carry out this ‘ritual’ of killing a girl no matter what.”

Meeting With Renee Hartevelt

Issei Sagawa began studying at the University of Paris, Sorbonne in 1981. Even though Sagawa was far away from home, he had not forgotten how close he once came to fulfilling his fantasy in Tokyo.

Crime scene photos of Issei Sagawa's meal
Crime scene photos of Issei Sagawa’s meal

During his time at University, Sagawa encountered another tall, blonde woman named Renee. She was a 25-year-old Dutch student who was studying for a Ph.D. in French Literature, and Issei Sagawa decided that he must devise a way to get close to her.

Sagawa’s father was a rich man who gave him a healthy amount of wages, he used the money to employ Renee as his private German tutor. Over time Renee and Sagawa developed a friendship, and it remained the same way. Sagawa had made romantic advances on Renee before but she insisted they stay only friends because she didn’t like him in a sexual way.

Sagawa considered himself, weak and ugly and claims that he wanted to absorb Renee’s energy, as she had all the characters she lacked.

On one fateful night, Issei Sagawa invited Renee to his home for dinner. At some point, he gained her trust. Sagawa then gave Renee a German poem to read and said he wanted to record her fluent reading. But he had other plans, as Renee was reading the poem, he took out his .22 caliber rifle and shot Renee in the back of her neck.

Before shooting her in the back, he attempted to kill her once, but his gun misfired when her back was turned. While others might run away or give up, Sagawa stayed there and shot again and killed her.

Sagawa was puzzled and thought of calling the ambulance but if he did he had to go to prison, and on the other hand, he would be truly insane to give up a chance to live out his life long fantasy of eating human flesh.

“I thought about calling an ambulance, 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.'”

Sagawa soon started to act on his desires, he undressed Renee, and the first piece of human meat he tasted was the nipple of Renne’s left breast and the tip of her nose. Sagawa tried to bite on her body but was unable to as his teeth weren’t sharp enough to cut through her body.

Sagawa then decided to eat her right buttock but found it difficult to pierce her flesh with his teeth. So he went out, got a butcher knife to cut her.

“It looked like corn, and it took a while to reach the red meat. 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… Human skin is so tough I ended up with a sore jaw.”

Sagawa said that his only regret was that he hadn’t eaten her while she was alive.

“What I truly wished was to eat her living flesh. Nobody believes me, but my ultimate intention was to eat her living flesh.”

Sagaw continued to eat a different part of Renee’s body, mutilated her corpse and had sex with it late into the night, while he listened to the poem recording which Renee was reading when he killed her.

Two days after killing Renee Hartevelt, Sagawa knew it was time to get rid of the body. He decomposed her body but chopped off the lips and some other pieces of the corpse to eat later.

Sagawa planned to dispose Renne’s remaining corpse in a lake. He put her corpse into two suitcases and hailed a cab. The cab dropped him at the Bois De oulogne park which had a lake inside it. Sagawa left the suitcases there and came back home to enjoy the remaining part of the corpse. But people at the park noticed the suitcases dripping blood and notified the police.

Temporary Arrest of Issei Sagawa

When police found Issei Sagawa and questioned him, he simply replied “I killed her to eat her flesh.”

Issei Sagawa court

Sagawa’s wealthy father provided a lawyer for his defense, and he waited for his trial for two years in a French Prison. When it was finally time for Sagawa to be tried, he was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French Judge, Jean Louis Bruguier, who dropped his charges and ordered him to be held indefinitely in a mental institution.

Sagawa’s account of the killing was published in Japan under the title In The Fog. His subsequent publicity likely contributed to the French authorities’ decision to deport him back to Japan, where he would spend the rest of his days in a Japanese mental hospital.

Issei Sagawa was immediately committed to Matsuzawa Hospital in Tokyo. Where his examining psychologists declared him sane and found sexual perversion as his sole motivation for murdering his friend, Renee Hartvvelt.

Since the charges against Sagawa in France had been dropped, the court documents were sealed, they weren’t released to Japanese authorities, and without the criminal paperwork from his crime’s country of origin, Sagawa only stayed for 15 months and checked himself out on August of 1985.

Just 5 years after killing and eating his friend, Issei Sagwa was a free man.

Issei Sagawa Now?

After his releases, Sagawa was invited to be a guest speaker on many talk shows. He has written books about the murder he committed and several other books too.

Issei Sagawa now

But now Sagawa can no longer find publishers for his writings and struggles to find employment. A French-language nearly accepted him, but employees protested, and he was rejected.

His desire to eat human flesh remains to this day, “The desire to eat people becomes so intense around June when women start wearing less and showing more skin… 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 something before I die. So yes, I do still harbor these desires, and I specifically want to eat a Japanese woman this time.”

“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.”

Issei Sagawa lives as a freelance today artist today. To this day he wishes that people should understand that cannibalism isn’t such an abominable thing.

Sagawa recently published his 20th book, it’s entitled Gokushiteki Bijyogenso [Extremely Intimate Fantasies of Beautiful Girls]. It portrays my feelings toward women without necessarily focusing on cannibalism, through pictures and words. I hope that people who read it will at least stop thinking of me as a monster.

Most unlikely, he is a monster.

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