Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Cannibalism: The Ancient Taboo in Modern Times

The Cannibal & the Court

The media has had a field day with Germany s first cannibalism case.

Armin Meiwes
Armin Meiwes

Armin Meiwes, a middle-aged computer technician, has wowed the court and the public with his bizarre confessions. He appeared relaxed and normal, despite the unusual nature of his crimes.

Meiwes has been charged with murder for sexual pleasure, which has a maximum sentence of 15 years. However, he claims that the man he killed in 2001, Bernd-Juergen Brandes, volunteered to be killed and eaten so there was no murder.

Here is how this unusual case began. Meiwes had advertised on the Internet for a well-built man who would consent to being killed and eaten. Meiwes says that there are over 400 cannibal web sites and chat rooms. Supposedly, more than 200 men responded favorably to his ad.

Brandes was one of them and they got together for dinner at Brandes home in Rotenburg. Its hard to say whether Brandes had planned to serve his penis that night or whether it came up as an idea once the two men were together.

Meiwes claimed that Brandes wanted to have Meiwes cut off his penis. Meiwes then cooked the penis and they ate it together.

At some point, Meiwes stabbed Brandes and dissected him, putting parts of his body in the freezer for future consumption. These events, at least in Meiwes mind, had enough entertainment value to record on his camcorder for future viewing.

Bernd-Juergen Brandes, victim
Bernd-Juergen Brandes, victim

Perhaps this hobby could have continued had a student not seen another of Meiwes advertisements on the Internet and alerted the police.

Bernd came to me of his own free will to end his life, Meiwes told the court in his trial, which began December 3, 2003. For him, it was a nice death.

Before his death Brandes consumed a large quantity of liquor and 20 or more sleeping pills.

The house where Brandes was killed
The house where Brandes was killed

Cannibalism may not be against the law in Germany, but it guarantees one a free mental examination. What the court found out after Meiwes psychiatric exam was very interesting. He claimed that watching horror films is what initiated the fantasies that he had as a child about eating people. Initially, he wanted to eat his school mates, he told the court.

The defense has been arguing that there was no murder because Brandes volunteered to be killed. The prosecution, however, feels that Meiwes hobbies are very dangerous and that he should be locked up permanently.

CNN reported today that the court in Kassel ruled had no "base motives" in the crime -- sparing him a murder conviction. He has been sentenced to eight and a half years in jail. Prosecutors will appeal the verdict. The case, which has no precedent in German law, may go to the supreme court.

Germany's Constitutional Court has thrown out an appeal on behalf of convicted cannibal Armin Meiwes, but there's another German cannibal making international news.

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