Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex Slaves: The Psychology of Mastery

Bizarre Bob

Robert Berdella
Robert Berdella

Robert Berdella held at least seven men, one after another, in his Missouri home, tied to a bed. He drugged them and when they revived, he tortured them and took their photographs. He also kept a journal about the torment he caused, but one victim managed to free himself on Easter weekend in 1988 and jump from a second-story window, getting the police to arrest Berdella and search his property.

"Chuck," the only survivor, described how he'd gone with Berdella to his home and had found himself unclothed on a bed, tied spread-eagle to the bed posts. He had no idea how much time had passed, but he knew he'd been drugged, and as he lost consciousness again, he was unaware that Bob had placed a dog collar around his neck to hold him more firmly in place for the next time he awoke.

When Chuck revived again, Berdella got some substance with a strong odor and used a Q-tip to dab it into Chuck's eyes. It stung badly, but he had no choice but to endure whatever the man dreamed up. He was tied up. But the eye treatment was nothing compared to what came next.

Berdella attached an electrical device to Chuck's testicles and thigh, and sent a strong jolt of electricity through the wires. The pain in Chuck's entire body snapped through him as he gave a muffled scream of agony. Fortunately for him, Berdella had a job operating his "Bizarre Bazaar," so he eventually left Chuck alone long enough for him to free himself from the restraints and jump from the window.

Jerry Howell
Jerry Howell

As the police investigated, reports Wecht and Saitz, they realized that three years earlier, Berdella had been investigated over the disappearance of two young men, Jerry Howell, who went missing in July 1984, and James Ferris, who vanished in September 1985. A man named Todd Stoops had informed police that he had seen both men with Berdella, and eventually he, too, disappeared. There had been no evidence at the time linking Berdella to these men, but now the tables had turned. Human remains found in the backyard were difficult for Berdella to explain.

James Ferris
James Ferris

He agreed to confess in exchange for a life sentence, and in a small conference room in the basement of the Kansas City jail, he started talking. He had killed six men, he said, and had tortured them all. Berdella considered influences that might have been factors, and among them was the film, The Collector, that he had seen as a teenager, because it had offered him a framework for feelings he was having about controlling other people for sexual purposes.

Ironically, Berdella had participated in the neighborhood Crime Watch and had supposedly been assisting troubled young men. In fact, his greatest pleasure had derived from holding men in his prison and torturing them. He didn't mean for them to die, but eventually the ordeal had overcome them. Once gone, they meant nothing to him, so he dismembered them and placed most of their parts in the trash. They'd been easy to lure, easy to control, and easy to be rid of without undue suspicion. That's often true of others who get trapped and forced into sexual slavery.

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