For as long as he can remember, Issei Sagawa claims he has had the desire to eat attractive Western looking women. A fantasy, Sagawa says, that spiraled out of control and eventually found himself no longer able to suppress.
Sagawa had been studying at a Tokyo university when he encountered his first attempted victim. She was a leggy blonde German woman, and he was certain she had lived in the same apartment complex as his grandmother. Sagawa broke into the woman’s second story apartment window and found the woman asleep in the nude. He grabbed an umbrella and intended to knock the woman unconscious, then use a knife from her kitchen to slice off pieces of her flesh and consume it.
The plan did not go as well as Sagawa had hoped. Feeling Sagawa climb on top of her, the startled woman screamed for help. Sagawa fled the scene, but was later identified and charged with attempted rape. Sagawa was forced to undergo a mental evaluation, but at no time did Sagawa mention his cannibalistic desires. His father was able to pay the woman a settlement and Sagawa never saw any jail time for the offense.
In 1977 Sagawa began attending graduate courses at the Sorbonne University in Paris. His obsession with cannibalism was beginning to become out of control during this time, later describing the consumption of female flesh as an “obligation.” While still attending the Parisian university, Sagawa took a brief cruise to Greece where he met a butcher and his wife. The man was able to describe to Sagawa step-by-step procedures on butchering animals, a lesson Sagawa wouldn’t soon forget.
A Dutch student by the name of Renee Hartevelt had attended classes with Sagawa. He found himself often fantasizing about Renee and how her milky white thigh meat would feel like heaven between his teeth. Unlike his last attempt, however, Sagawa developed a foolproof plan.
He told Renee that one of his Professors had asked him for a recording of a German poem. Sagawa wanted Renee to recite the poem for him and he would record it. Renee agreed and met Sagawa at his apartment. She began to read a poem Sagawa had picked out, unaware that he was pointing a rifle at her back. He shot Renee in the neck, killing her instantly.
Sagawa immediately went for the right side of her buttocks, but had difficulty chewing off her flesh. Sagawa attempted to use a kitchen knife, but still found it difficult to cut through the fat in order to get to the muscle tissue. Sagawa went to a store and purchased a large, curved meat knife and reflected on the conversation he had with the butcher he had met on his Greek cruise. Sagawa claims he later sent a thank you letter to the butcher for imparting his knowledge on him, but says he never received a response.
Sagawa placed Renee’s corpse in his bed where he continued to consume and have sex with her for several days, before placing favorable leftovers in his refrigerator. It was the hottest month of the year in Paris and it didn’t take long for Renee’s body to begin the decomposition process. Flies began to gather in Sagawa’s apartment and he realized that he needed to dispose of the body.
Sagawa purchased two suitcases to place what was left of Renee’s body. He dismembered the woman, wrapped her body parts in sheets and placed them into the bags. He then called a cab to take him to a nearby lake at Bois de Boulogne. The driver arrived and offered to help with Sagawa’s bags, jokingly asking him if he had a body in the bags due to the weight. Sagawa nervously laughed off the driver’s question and told him they contained books.
Having arrived at the beach, though it was 8PM it was still light out and the beach still hosted a number of sunbathers. Sagawa felt as if everyone was staring as he lugged his heavy bags containing parts of Renee’s body to an area isolated from the rest of the beach. He pushed the bags down a slope and momentarily stared at the sunset before hearing a scream. A man had Sagawa’s bag and asked if it belonged to him. Sagawa said it wasn’t, prompting the man to peek inside the suitcase. The bloody sheet inside was all he needed to see. The man cried, “murderer!” to Sagawa as he calmly walked away from the scene. He was arrested four days later.
In spite of the serious charges Sagawa had been facing, he says he felt a great deal of relief at the time of his arrest. He said he felt like for the first time in his life he could finally tell everyone the truth about his dark fantasies.
Sagawa was ordered to undergo evaluations from three different psychiatrists before he could stand trial for the murder of Renee Hartevelt. He was determined to be criminally insane and sentenced to a psychiatric ward for criminal offenders. The French public had expressed outraged over the fact that Sagawa would be housed and treated for his mental disturbances at their own expense and demanded he be deported back to his native Japan.
Once Sagawa had been extradited to Japan, psychiatrists there determined that he was not insane, as the French doctors who diagnosed his condition had suggested, but had been suffering from a personality disorder. The Japanese psychiatric hospital insisted that Sagawa stand trial, but the officials in France refused to cooperate with the Japanese courts. They considered the matter closed and denied Japanese officials access to any materials necessary to establish a case against Sagawa. The hospital had no choice but to allow the murderer and cannibal to sign for his own release.
Sagawa is now 65-years-old. Through the years he has made considerable profit from his crime, writing over 20 books, including a graphic novel, and a number of articles and essays on the subject. Additionally, Sagawa regularly makes television appearances and has even starred in pornographic videos.