Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Places

4315 Charlotte Street, Kansas City, Mo.: Robert Berdella, Butcher

Berdella Home
Berdella Home

When a parking meter attendant told police he saw a naked man wearing a dog collar jump from a second story window, it was clear that something strange was going on at 4315 Charlotte Street. Chris Bryson's eyes were swollen and his face and arms were scarred. It was Easter weekend, 1988, in Kansas City, Mo., when Bryson told police his strange tale.

He had met Robert Berdella on March 29 and went home with him. Once there, Berdella hit Bryson over the head, and injected him with something. When Bryson came to, he found himself tied up. Berdella not only sexually assaulted the drugged and bound young man, he committed torturous experiments on him, rubbing a painful liquid in his eyes, jolting his genitals with electric currents, and injecting his throat with drain cleaner. Berdella photographed the whole ordeal—and showed Bryson the photos of other young men he'd tortured, warning him that those who did not obey died.

Chris Bryson
Chris Bryson

The police's initial search of the house supported Bryson's story—and unearthed surprising and gruesome discoveries. In Berdella's bedroom they found two human skulls, envelopes containing human teeth and a bag of human vertebrae, along with extensive notes on the crimes and a collection of videotapes and photographs showing other abused young men, including one who appeared to be dead. They found several articles about local missing persons, too, as well as the driver's license of a missing man. There were also some unusual masks, and many books on occult practices. Outside, the searchers unearthed a body.

A second search warrant permitted investigators to search Berdella's place of business, a novelty shop in a flea market across town, Bob's Bazaar Bizarre. Records showed that Berdella had a short list of drug-related arrests and that he had actually been the subject of another investigation in 1985, due to his connections to two missing men, Jerry Howell, 19, and James Ferris, 25.

Robert Berdella
Robert Berdella

That there were 20 different men in Berdella's perverse Polaroids but only a single body found initially perplexed police. Still, they identified the remains they had found, and Berdella quickly pleaded guilty to the murder of Larry Pearson. Then, he agreed to make a full confession if he were spared the death penalty and if his house not seized.

The death of Jerry Howell, his first victim, was accidental, Berdella told investigators. He dismembered the body, and left it on the curb for trash pick-up. Next, he subdued Robert Sheldon; when he was afraid another visitor might discover him, Berdella killed Sheldon. Walter Ferris, Todd Stoops, and Larry Pearson followed in grisly succession.

Berdella spent the rest of his life in prison and died there of a heart attack in 1992.

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