Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers

Mad Frenzy

Richard von Krafft-Ebing
Richard von Krafft-Ebing

In 1879, Richard von Krafft-Ebing, an alienist (psychiatrist) at the Feldhof Asylum, and a professor of psychiatry in Strasbourg, published A Textbook of Insanity, in which he categorized mental diseases.  Seven years later he produced a "vocabulary of perversion" in Psychopathia Sexualis with Especial Reference to the Antipathic Sexual Instinct: A Medico-Forensic Study.  This book offered 238 cases, including some men noted for their bestial appetites.

Book cover Psychopathia Sexualis
Book cover Psychopathia Sexualis

Vincenz Verzeni, 22, was imprisoned in 1872, accused of attempted murder and suspected in several actual ones.  His case began with the mutilation of a fourteen-year-old girl along a village path. Her intestines had been torn out and tossed some distance, a piece had been torn from her leg, and her mouth stuffed with dirt.  Another woman in the area was likewise violated, and a third nearly met the same fate but survived to finger Verzeni.

In accordance with medical beliefs at the time that viewed skull formation as diagnostically viable, Verzeni's skull was examined for evidence of physical abnormality and his cranium found to be both asymmetrical and larger than average.  Both of his ears were defective, and the right one was smaller than the left.  In addition, his penis was "greatly developed."  All of these signs indicated some degree of depravity to the researchers of that era.

When Verzeni finally confessed to his deeds, he admitted that the murders and mutilations sexually aroused him.  He especially enjoyed putting his hands around someone's neck.  If he climaxed before they died, he said, they were allowed to live.  Otherwise, they lost out.  From one corpse, he admitted, he'd sucked blood and from other bodies he had ripped out and carried off pieces because he derived a powerfully erotic sensation from them. Verzeni was held up as an example of supreme degeneracy.

Another man described in Krafft-Ebing's book was a 24-year-old vine-dresser who murdered a twelve-year-old girl, drank her blood, mutilated her genitals, and ate part of her heart.  When caught, he confessed quite indifferently to the deed, as if what he'd done mattered little when compared to his own needs.

"A great number of so-called lust murders," wrote Krafft-Ebing, "depend upon combined sexual hyperesthesia and parasthesia. As a result of this perverse coloring of the feelings, further acts of bestiality with the corpse may result."  He also pointed out that it was generally accepted among experts on serial sex crimes that white males committed most of the truly perverse acts.

Let's look at another such bestial case that actually advanced the cause of forensic science.  

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