Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bob Berdella: The Kansas City Butcher

Criminal Intent

Despite rumors, Berdella insisted to police and later in a media interview that he had not been involved in devil worship and had fed no human flesh or bones to his dogs. (Hickey notes in Serial Killers and Their Victims that there was evidence otherwise regarding the satanic activity.)

Berdella in court
Berdella in court

On December 19, Berdella returned to court to officially plead guilty to five more murders. To four of them, he pleaded to second-degree murder, but for Robert Sheldon he accepted the charge of first-degree murder. It was not made clear why prosecutors had made this distinction.

But ensconcing Berdella in prison was not the end of the story. The media kept tabs on him and when he complained that roaches invaded his prison cell, one local disc jockey urged listeners to mail more roaches to him. Berdella insisted that reporters had him all wrong; he was human, a good person, despite his terrible acts. To show this, he set up a fund for the families of his victims worth about $50,000 from the sale of his assets, but for one family, that wasn't good enough. If he wasn't going to get the death penalty, he was going to be punished in civil court.

Coroner and forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht entered the case in 1992 as part of the civil litigation in a wrongful death suit. He writes about it in Mortal Evidence. The attorneys who hired him represented the family of Todd Stoops and they were suing for a substantial payment.

Todd Stoops was 23 at the time of his death on July 1, 1986. Berdella had used tranquilizer drugs to immobilize his victims and the legal question posed was about his actual intent: Had Berdella wanted merely to torture his victims, with death the unfortunate and unintended result, or had he known all along that the final act would be murder? None of the victims' bodies had been found, so all of the details had been gleaned from Berdella's confessions and diaries.

"Obviously," says Wecht, "this was a very frustrating situation for a scientist."

The family sued both Berdella and the insurance company, Economy Fire and Casualty, which held the homeowner's policy on Berdella's house, for the sum of $1 billion. Clearly, Berdella had killed the young man there, and they felt entitled to payment from his estate. In the end, the jury decided not on $1 billion but $5 billion. The figure was stunning. It was the largest jury award ever handed down in a wrongful death suit.

Berdella did not have that kind of money, so the clear target had been the insurance company. However, their policy covered accidental deaths, not intentional murder. Thus, Wecht was to review the evidence that Berdella had never intended outright murder.


This ends the quiz. What follows are the case's closure and an analysis of sexual sadism.


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