Issei Sagawa, a Japanese cannibal, may be the most terrifying cannibal killer of all time. Over the course of several days, Sagawa murdered, mutilated, ate, and raped his friend’s corpse. But what makes him the most terrifying cannibal is that, despite everything, he’s still free to roam the streets, and it’s unlikely that his desires have changed.

Issei Sagawa

Sagawa even wrote a book about the pleasures of cannibalism and attempted to turn his crime into a comic book. Sagawa is still a minor celebrity, appearing as a guest on talk shows and recounting his crime.

So, how does a man who brags about his crime avoid being imprisoned? Issei Sagawa’s story is long and twisted, and it all started with a dream.

Cannibalism and Issei Sagawa’s Dream

Sagawa, unlike the majority of the criminals, claims that his obsession with human flesh began when he was a child. He noticed his classmate’s thighs in first grade and thought, “Mmm, that looks delicious.”

Issei Sagawa

Sagawa was born prematurely, small enough to fit in the palm of his father’s hand. Even when he reached puberty, he was a skinny five-foot-tall man. Growing up, he always felt like an undesirable person, and he suspected that his self-hatred contributed to his fascination with cannibalism.

He blamed the media’s portrayal of women like Grace Kelly for encouraging his cannibalistic fantasies; while others fantasized about bedding beautiful women, Issei Sagawa fantasized about eating them.

Issei Sagawa worked hard to suppress his cravings for human flesh, but they only grew stronger. He never acted on his desires, but they became more sexualized over time.

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

Sagawa once followed a woman home and climbed into her apartment; luckily for him, the woman was sleeping. He had no other plans, so he entered her apartment and began searching the room for something to kill the woman so he could eat her. He noticed an umbrella in the corner and thought it might be suitable for stabbing her, but the woman awoke and screamed when she saw him, and Sagawa fled.

Issei Sagawa went to see a psychiatrist after the incident and confessed his desires. After the psychiatrist classified him as highly dangerous, Sagawa’s wealthy father concocted a cover-up story and sent Issei Sagawa to a school abroad.

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

In 1981, Issei Sagawa enrolled at the University of Paris, Sorbonne. Even though Sagawa was far from home, he remembered how close he had come 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 met Renee, another tall, blonde woman. She was a 25-year-old Dutch student pursuing a Ph.D. in French Literature, and Issei Sagawa decided he had to find a way to approach her.

Sagawa’s father was a wealthy man who paid him well; he used the money to hire Renee as his private German tutor. Renee and Sagawa became friends over time, and it remained that way. Sagawa had previously made romantic advances on Renee, but she insisted on remaining friends because she didn’t like him sexually.

Sagawa saw himself as weak and ugly, and claims that he wanted to absorb Renee’s energy because she possessed all of the characteristics she lacked.

Issei Sagawa invited Renee to his home for dinner one fateful night. He eventually gained her trust. Sagawa then handed Renee a German poem to read and told her he wanted to record her flawless performance. But he had other plans; while Renee was reading the poem, he pulled out his.22 caliber rifle and shot her in the back of the neck.

He tried to kill her once before shooting her in the back, but his gun misfired when her back was turned. While others might have fled or given up, Sagawa remained and shot her again, killing her.

Sagawa was perplexed and considered calling an ambulance, but if he did, he would have to go to prison, and on the other hand, he would be truly insane to forego the opportunity to live out his lifelong 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 began to act on his desires, undressing Renee and tasting the nipple of Renne’s left breast and the tip of her nose for the first time. Sagawa attempted to bite her body but was unable to do so because his teeth were not sharp enough to cut through her skin.

Sagawa then decided to eat her right buttock, but he struggled to pierce her skin with his teeth. So he went outside and got a butcher knife to sever 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 different parts of Renee’s body, mutilated her corpse, and had sex with it late into the night, all while listening to the poem recording Renee was reading when he murdered her.

Sagawa knew it was time to dispose of Renee Hartevelt’s body two days after killing her. He decomposed her body but kept her lips and some other body parts to eat later.

Sagawa intended to dispose of Renne’s body in a lake. He loaded her body into two suitcases and called a cab. The cab dropped him off at the Bois de Oulogne park, which contained a lake. Sagawa left the suitcases there and returned home to enjoy the rest of the corpse. People in the park, however, noticed the bloodied suitcases and called the cops.

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 in a French prison for two years. When it came time for Sagawa to stand trial, he was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by French Judge Jean Louis Bruguier, who dropped his charges and ordered him to be held in a mental institution indefinitely.

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 admitted to Tokyo’s Matsuzawa Hospital. His examining psychologists declared him sane and determined that his sole motivation for murdering his friend, Renee Hartvvelt, was sexual perversion.

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

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

Issei Sagawa Now?

Following his release, Sagawa was invited to appear as a guest speaker on numerous talk shows. He has written several books, including one about the murder he committed.

Issei Sagawa now

However, Sagawa is no longer able to find publishers for his writings and is struggling to find work. He was almost accepted by a French-language school, but employees objected, and he was turned down.

His desire to consume human flesh persists to this day. “Around June, when women start wearing less and showing more skin, the desire to eat people becomes extremely strong… On my way to the train station, I noticed a girl with a really nice derrière. When I see things like that, I get the urge to eat something before I die. So, yes, I still have these desires, and this time I’d like to eat a Japanese woman.”

“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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