The thought of cannibalism is so revolting, many of us think that it's a subject confined to horror films and the annals of ancient history. But five recent flesh-crawling stories sadly remind us that this unthinkable act is still a part of contemporary society.
In late May, Rudy Eugene, 31, was shot and killed by Miami-Dade police after he reportedly refused to stop eating another man's face in Miami. A few days later, Alexander Kinyua, a 21-year-old Morgan State University student, reportedly admitted to killing his roommate, Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie, and then eating his heart and portions of his brain.
These and other equally gruesome stories have some people thinking about notorious figures from history, including Alfred Packer, a Colorado man charged with killing and eating the remains of five men in 1874. The men were all part of a mining party caught in the snow, but at the time, Packer admitted to eating the bodies to avoid starvation. He claimed another traveler hacked his companions to death with an axe.
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This serial killer and child rapist may have been the inspiration for the fictional Hannibal Lecter. Fish was executed in 1936 in connection with the kidnapping and murder of 10-year-old Grace Budd, after police traced a letter Fish wrote to the girl's parents in which he detailed killing and eating their daughter. Credit: AP
In November 1873, Pennsylvania-born Alferd Packer went on a gold-hunting expedition with 21 others in modern-day Colorado. He was accused of killing and eating five of his companions after the party became snowbound in the Rockies. Packer pleaded self-defense in his trial, but was eventually convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. The charges of cannibalism have never been confirmed.
Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted in 1992 of 15 different murders, many of which included elements of cannibalism. Dahmer, who frequently raped his victims both dead and alive, reportedly wanted to turn his victims into "zombies," eternally youthful boys who would be sexually submissive to him. Dahmer was finally apprehended after a potential victim in 1991 escaped and contacted authorities. When Dahmer's house was examined, police found several corpses in acid-filled vats, as well as an altar of candles and human skulls. In 1994, he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Wisconsin, where he had been serving fifteen consecutive life sentences.
Klara Mauerova and her mother, Barbara, were Czech members of the Grail Movement Cult who went on trial in 2008 for tortuing Klara's sons. The atrocities committed by the Mauerova women allegedly included partially skinning her 8-year-old and feeding his flesh to relatives. The women were caught when a neighbor's baby monitor picked up images of the young boy chained in the basement. Klara Mauerova is pictured at left, with blonde hair, and Barbara Skrlova is at left wearing glasses. Klara's children Jakub, 10, is pictured in the foreground in a life jacket and Ondrej is at back with blonde hair.
In 1981, this Japanese student was in Paris studying English literature when he shot and killed a female student, then consumed her corpse over two days. Sagawa was declared insane and deported. Japanese psychologists pronounced him sane but "evil," but officials found themselves unable to legally hold Sagawa when the French government failed to turn over his paperwork. Sagawa is currently free and living in Japan.
This German was looking for "the ultimate kick" when posted an a cannibal website in 2001, asking for "a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed." When he received a serious response, Meiews videotaped himself cutting off the voluntary victim's penis, which the two attempted to eat together. Meiws then killed the man and cannibalized the body, all on tape.
Singleton was <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Lurch" target="_hplink">sentenced to life in prison</a> for killing Tynisha Ysais while high on PCP. Authorities said teethmarks were found on Ysais' face and lungs. A witness said that, when police picked Singleton up, he was naked, covered in blood and screaming at the sky.
In May, 2012, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/29/rudy-eugene-identified-as-naked-cannibal-face-attack-miami_n_1552249.html" target="_hplink">Eugene was identified</a> by Miami police as the man who was fatally shot by authorities as he chewed another man's face. The 31-year-old from North Miami Beach has been arrested eight times since the age of 16, including for a battery charge that was later dropped.
Authorities say the Kenyan college student admitted to eating the heart of his roommate, 37-year-old Kujoe Bonsafo Agyei-Kodie. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/01/alexander-kinyua-ate-kujoe-agyei-kodie-cannibalism-facebook-maryland_n_1563586.html" target="_hplink">The AP reported</a> that months before the killing Kinyua ranted about "mass human sacrifices" on Facebook. He was also out on bail at the time of the alleged cannibalism for charges he beat a man on the college campus with a baseball bat.
In October 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 crashed in the Andes while carrying 45 passengers. More than a quarter of the passengers died on impact, and over the next 2 months, many more gradually died in the South American mountain range due to cold, injury and starvation. By the time the passengers were rescued in December -- known as the "Miracle of the Andes" -- only sixteen passengers remained alive. In order to survive, the remaining passengers had been forced to feed off the corpses of the others for sustenance.
In this television reproduction, Jorge da Silveira (L) and Isabel Pires are presented to the press by police authorities in Garanhuns, Pernanbuco, Brazil on April 13th, 2012. Jorge Beltrao Negromonte, his wife, Isabel Cristina Pires, and his mistress, Bruna Oliveira da Silva, were arrested in Sao Paolo and charged with allegedly killing two women, eating parts of their bodies and using their flesh to make the stuffed pastries known as empanadas for sale. The three allegedly confessed to the crimes and reportedly planned to kill another woman living in the nearby city of Lagoa do Ouro.
In May 1846, the 87-person Donner party set out from Missouri to California in a pioneering mission. The band took a route that had not been exhaustively traveled, and soon found themselves stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, where they established shelters. An enterprising group of 15 men and women set out on snowshoes to complete the journey, but the cold and rough terrain proved overpowering, and eight died. The remaining seven reportedly ate the flesh of their dead companions. The group that remained in the makeshift shelters also resorted to cannibalism of their dead. In total, 39 Donner Party members died. James F. Reed and his wife, Margret W. Keyes Reed, seen in this file photo taken in the 1850s, were survivors of the tragic Donner Party, who were stranded during a heavy winter in the Sierra Nevadas near Truckee, Calif. The Reed family was one of only two families who survived the ordeal intact.
The "Starving Time" of Jamestown, between 1609-1610, was marked by extreme famine largely caused by a harsh winter for the fledgling North American colony in modern-day Virginia. During this period, settlers were forced to succumb to cannibalism, and only 60 of the previous 500 Jamestown settlers survived. Captain James Smith ultimately imposed martial law in the colony to turn things around.
In January 2012, 35-year-old Connecticut resident Tyree Smith was arrested after allegedly killing Angel "Tun Tun" Gonzalez with an axe and then eating portions of his body. According to the warrant for his arrest, Smith said that the victim's eye "tasted like an oyster."
American explorer and <em>New York Times</em> reporter William Buehler Seabrook (1884 to 1945) claimed that on his travels to West Africa, a tribe called the Guere offered him the opportunity to taste human meat. Seabrook did not accept at the time, but later had a hospital intern in Paris get him a cut of a healthy but recently deceased person, which he cooked and wrote about eating. He reported that the flavor as being similar to "good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef."
The former Liberian President <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feedarticle/8629667" target="_hplink">was accused of ordering his men</a> to eat the flesh of their enemies. The accusation, which Taylor denied during his trial for war crimes, was leveled by former aide Joseph Marzah. The aide said Taylor reasoned that eating human flesh would "set an example for the people to be afraid."
David Bailey, the curator at the Museum of Western Colorado, which has a permanent exhibit dedicated to Packer, said the recent glut of cannibal stories has helped increase interest in the man, and a topic that is considered to be the ultimate taboo.
"We're getting a lot of school kids asking about him," Bailey told The Huffington Post. "Last time it was this big was [in 2001] with the movie 'Hannibal.' But it comes in waves."
Packer spent 15 years in jail for manslaughter before being released on parole in 1901, and has become something of a cult figure in Colorado, especially at the University of Colorado at Boulder, which named -- of all things -- the cafeteria after him and has an annual festival in his honor.
Packer died in 1907, but Bailey said he believes the story lives on because it represents the worst of humankind.
"Cannibalism really is the darkest fear of all humans," he said. "I think the reason Packer is popular is because there is the distance of time -- it happened in 1873 -- and that allows people to feel comfortable making jokes like 'Packer liked finger foods and open-faced sandwiches' more than, say, [jokes about] Jeffrey Dahmer."
Packer ate his victims in order to survive, but most cannibal cases throughout history have been more about institutionalized rituals, according to G. Richard Scott, an anthropology professor at the University of Nevada-Reno.
"People come up with all types of rationalizations for things," Scott said. "In the South Pacific -- where it's still the most common -- the women supposedly goad their husbands to get human flesh because the taste is preferable to pork."
"I remember seeing an article there where they explained how to cut up a human carcass into the sirloin, the round," he said.
Scott said that other cultures, such as the ancient Aztecs, have ritualized cannibalism as a form of social control, and said he's heard that cannibalism still may be common in the Congo region of Africa.
"I've heard about pygmies being eaten," he said. "They have rebel armies who do some bad things."