Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Cannibal Celebrity: Issei Sagawa

No Trial, Just Fame

When the police arrived at his apartment two days after the murder with a search warrant, Sagawa let them in. They opened the refrigerator and found pieces of a female body inside, including lips. Sagawa freely confessed to what he had done, adding that he had a history of mental illness. In fact, his descriptions were so detailed and salacious that a judge decided he was not competent to stand trial: he was clearly delusional. Sagawa received a sentence of incarceration for an indefinite period in the Paul Guiraud asylum. Three psychiatrists who evaluated him said that he'd never be cured.

Issei Sagawa escorted to the plane to Japan by French police (AP/Wide World)
Issei Sagawa escorted to the plane to
Japan by French police (AP/Wide World)

According to Brian King, who edited Lustmord, while in the hospital, Sagawa corresponded with several members of the Japanese literati, who sent him books about other cannibals. "I realized I was not so unusual," was his comment. He also said that he'd learned how to go about such a crime without getting arrested.

It pays to be rich, and his father, Akira Sagawa, president of Kurita Water Industries in Tokyo, eventually worked out a deal in 1984 to have Sagawa transferred to the Matsuzawa psychiatric hospital in Japan. The superintendent there believed that he was sane and ought to be in prison. There Sagawa remained for only 15 months before he was granted his freedom in August 1985, again, thanks to his father and very much against the advice of the superintendent. After killing a woman and consuming her remains, Sagawa was able to go freely about in society only five years after the crime. He was even granted a passport to go to Germany.

What made the situation worse was how he reveled in what he did and was only too happy to tell people about it on television talk shows. He even agreed to appear in several Japanese pornographic films, and he wrote four novels. The one in which he described the details of his murder sold over 200,000 copies. Thanks to his father, he'd gotten away with murder, and he was quite proud of it.

Sagawa poses with his art
Sagawa poses with his art

Now Sagawa enjoys being the focus of tabloid media, granting interviews and making videos to indulge the voyeuristic curiosity of those who want to get closer to someone who has eaten human flesh. He apparently finds the attention amusing and does not feel that he did anything wrong. "The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism," he stated, "and I am happy about that."

The Rolling Stones wrote and recorded a song about Sagawa's gory deed, calling it, "Too Much Blood," and Sagawa tried his hand at a comic book version of the story. He also wrote a weekly column for a tabloid publication, edited an anthology of cannibal fantasies, and was featured on the cover of a Japanese gourmet magazine. Under an assumed name, he even managed to get women to pose nude for him.

On his web site, he offers excerpts from his rendition of his crime and discusses why cannibalism is not such a horrific act. For those who want to see his art, he shows examples of his paintings — mostly of the fleshy buttocks of white females.

In a magazine article, he said that he now envisions being eaten himself by a young Western woman, because, he insists, only an act like that will save him.


We're Following
Slender Man stabbing, Waukesha, Wisconsin
Gilberto Valle 'Cannibal Cop'