A ghastly tale of cannibalism grips Germany

New York Times, via The International Herald Tribune, Dec. 19, 2002
Mark Landler, NYT

BERLIN – Germany has been seized by a national mood of morbid fascination since last week, when prosecutors arrested a man in a ghoulish case that involved the Internet, homicide and cannibalism.

The story has dominated the newspapers here for days, eclipsing daily reports about the dismal economy, the political travails of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and even crippling strikes by transportation workers.

The facts of the case are beyond lurid, according to the news release from the state prosecutor in Kassel, a central German city not far from where the crime took place. In keeping with standard German practice in homicide cases, the full names of those involved were not revealed.

A 43-year-old microchip designer, identified as Bernd Juergen B., sold his car and responded to an Internet advertisement, described by German newspapers as saying: “Wanted: well-built man for slaughter.”

B. is believed to have presented himself at a dilapidated half-timbered house in the river town of Rotenburg an der Fulda that is the home of the suspect, a 41-year-old software technician identified as Armin M.

M. surgically removed the victim’s genitals, according to a prosecutor’s statement, which said the two men then ate them. Later, M. stabbed B. to death as a video camera recorded the event. He carved up the victim and stored parts of the body in a freezer for occasional consumption, burying other parts in his garden.

News coverage of the grotesque details has reflected most people’s reaction of numb, almost uncomprehending, shock.

“It is all so unreal,” said the Munich paper, Suddeutsche Zeitung. “So haunting that one thinks such a case would only happen in the movies, perhaps in America, but not in Germany, not in Rotenburg.”

Suddeutsche and other papers have focused on the psychology of cannibalism and the role of the Internet in connecting people from the fringes of society. Bild, a tabloid, has reveled in the gory details, with an odd foray into analysis.

Franz Josef Wagner, a Bild columnist, put part of the blame on Hollywood, which he said had turned a cannibal into a box-office franchise with the “Silence of the Lambs” and its sequels. “The cult star of the film world in 2002 was Hannibal Lecter, who ate a human brain to the music of Vivaldi,” he wrote.

Psychologists and experts on violent crime dismiss such explanations, saying cannibalism is rooted in basic human pathologies that have little to do with national boundaries or popular culture.

Much about the case remains shrouded in mystery. Prosecutors are not certain that the victim’s killing was consensual, as the suspect claims. They believe it occurred in the spring of 2001, shortly after B. disappeared. Prosecutors are scrutinizing his videos for more clues.

The police arrested M. after he recently posted another advertisement on the Internet seeking more volunteers. He is to be charged with murder. The prosecutor said the suspect was fit to stand trial, which some legal experts question.

“It’s a twice-in-a-century case,” said Lorenz Boellinger, a professor of criminal law at the University of Bremen. “It’s very, very rare, and it attracts such attention because it breaks the ultimate taboo.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 19, 2002.
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