On 11 June 1981, 25-year-old Dutch woman Renée Hartevelt set off from her Paris apartment to meet her classmate, a Japanese man who was also pursuing his PhD at the Sorbonne University. 32-year-old Issei Sagawa had invited Hartevelt over to his place to discuss a poetry assignment over dinner. And while the woman suspected Sagawa might have a thing for her, she had no idea that he was fantasising about a different kind of meal throughout the night—a deadly meal that he had been dreaming of for the past 32 years.
Complimenting Hartevelt’s German recitations, Sagawa asked her to record some pieces into his tape machine for him as allegedly recommended by his professor. When she took a seat at the dining table and started reading the piece, the man stood behind her, raised a 22 calibre rifle and shot her in the back of the head. The bullet wasn’t powerful enough to punch an exit wound, and instead ricocheted off the inside of Hartevelt’s skull—killing her instantly.
Sagawa only felt a moment of remorse before he became elated. “I thought about calling an ambulance,” he recalled in his statements to the police. “But then I thought, ‘Hang on, don’t be stupid. You’ve been dreaming about this for 32 years and now it’s actually happening!’”
In the immediate aftermath, Sagawa raped Hartevelt’s corpse and began cutting her open. “The first thing I did was cut into her buttock. No matter how deep I cut, all I saw was the fat beneath the skin. It looked like corn, and it took a while to actually reach the red meat,” he said. “The moment I saw the meat, I tore a chunk off with my fingers and threw it into my mouth. It was truly a historical moment for me.”
Two days later, Sagawa stuffed Hartevelt’s remains—her legs, torso, and head—into two suitcases and hailed a cab to a secluded lake at the Bois de Boulogne park. When he headed towards the lake after being dropped off, several witnesses noticed a trail of blood dripping from the suitcases and notified the French police, who quickly apprehended him.
“I killed her to eat her flesh,” Sagawa confessed on the spot. Ultimately, his only regret was that he hadn’t eaten his victim while she was alive. “What I truly wished was to eat her living flesh,” he said. “Nobody believes me, but my ultimate intention was to eat her, not necessarily to kill her.”
Born on 26 April 1949, Sagawa has had cannibalistic urges and a fascination with eating human flesh for as long as he can remember. As a child, his father and uncle used to play a game with him and his younger brother—where they used to dress up as giants who wanted to eat humans. Sagawa later sought refuge in fairy tales that involved cannibalistic narratives, with his favourite being Hansel and Gretel.
He also blames the media’s representation of women like Grace Kelly for sparking his fantasies. “It’s simply a fetish,” he said. “For example, if a normal man fancied a girl, he’d naturally feel a desire to see her as often as possible, to be close to her, to smell her and kiss her, right? To me, eating is just an extension of that. Frankly, I can’t fathom why everyone doesn’t feel this urge to eat, to consume, other people.”
After waiting two years for his trial in a French prison, the 32-year-old was declared unfit and legally insane as judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere dropped the charges and ordered him to be held indefinitely in a mental institution. He was then deported back to Japan, where he was supposed to spend the rest of his days in a mental hospital… but he didn’t.
“Because the charges in France had been dropped, the court documents were sealed and couldn’t be released to Japanese authorities,” All That’s Interesting noted. “Therefore, the Japanese had no case against Issei Sagawa and no choice but to let him walk free.”
As of today, the 73-year-old cannibal walks the streets of Tokyo, where he lives, free to do as he pleases. Sagawa has also capitalised on his fantasy by writing restaurant reviews, weekly columns in magazines, appearing on cooking shows (where he obviously plated raw meat), publishing over 20 books and manga (with the title of one being Extremely Intimate Fantasies of Beautiful Girls) and editing an anthology about cannibalism.
What’s more is that he was even cast in a low-budget adult film, where he pretended to eat a woman’s buttocks. I literally cannot make this up.
And it seems like spending time in prison and a care institute hasn’t quenched his thirst either. “The desire to eat people becomes so intense around June when women start wearing less and showing more skin,” he said. “Just today, I saw a girl with a really nice derrière on my way to the train station. When I see things like that, I think about wanting to eat someone again before I die.”
Heck, he’s even sketched his plan of action to carry out the crime in question: “I think either sukiyaki or shabu shabu [lightly boiled thin slices] is the best way to go, in order to really savour the natural flavour of the meat.”