While studying at France’s illustrious Sorbonne, Japanese expatriate Issei Sagawa became enamored of a fellow student, a petite beauty named Renee Hartevelt. Sagawa invited Hartevelt up to his apartment to read some poetry, and over the course of the evening, Sagawa decided that his desire for Hartevelt went far beyond mere sexual attraction. As she sat on his bed, reading from the book of German poetry, Sagawa realized that what he truly desired was to eat her – and not in the metaphorical sense. In his best-selling account of the murder, In The Fog, Sagawa writes: “My passion is so great. I want to eat her. If I do she will be mine forever. There is no escape from this desire.”
Hartevelt returned to his apartment the next evening. In the interim, Sagawa had prepared a tape recorder to capture her words as she read the poetry and a rifle with which to kill Hartevelt. As Hartevelt began to read from the book once again, Sagawa shot her in the back of the neck with the rifle from across the room, killing her instantly. It is here that Sagawa’s descent into cannibalism began.
Not entirely sure how to proceed with eating a person, Sagawa decided to start with the rear-end (which is only sensible). He grabbed a sturdy knife from the kitchen and proceeded to cut into the dead girl’s flesh.”Suddenly a lot of sallow fat oozes from the wound. It reminds me of Indian corn. It continues to ooze. It is strange. Finally I find the red meat under the sallow fat. I scoop it out and put it in my mouth. I chew. It has no smell and no taste. It melts in my mouth like a perfect piece of tuna. I look in her eyes and say: ‘You are delicious.’ ”
Sagawa spent the remainder of the evening cutting off portions of Hartvelt’s body and cooking them, trying various parts of the body to see how they tasted. He roasted her hip and ate it at his dinner table with salt and mustard, using her underwear for a napkin, declaring it “…a very high quality meat.”. He baked one of her breasts in the oven, but wasn’t too thrilled, saying it was too greasy. He proceeded to photograph her remains and have sexual intercourse with the body, eventually falling asleep. The next day, he continued his feast, trying out various other parts of her anatomy, eventually saving the parts he liked and putting them in the fridge. After rendering Renee Hartevelt into a butcher shop’s window display, he placed her various body parts in a series of suitcases. Two days later, witnesses saw an asian man dumping two large suitcases in a Paris park. The police were called, and upon opening the suitcases, they found the decaying remains of Renee Hartevelt. The suitcases were eventually traced to Sagawa, and the authorities obtained a search warrant for his apartment. Upon entering his flat, the police found Hartevelt’s lips, her left breast, and both buttocks in the refrigerator. Sagawa was promptly arrested for the murder of Renee Hartevelt.
Sagawa was placed under psychiatric care at the Henri Colin psychiatric ward in Villejuif to be asessed for his competency to stand trial. Three separate psychiatrists examined him, and it was determined he could not be cured of his deviant fantasies. The cost of maintining Sagawa in a French asylum for the remainder of his life was exhorbitant, and in 1985 it was decided to deport him back to his home country of Japan. When he arrived in Tokyo, he was swarmed with media and journalists wanting to see the famed cannibal killer for themselves. He was quickly transferred to the Matsuzawa hospital in Tokyo, where hospital superintendent Tsuguo Kanego declared, ‘I think he is sane and guilty…he should be in prison’.
Thanks to some wheedling by his father, a prominent Japanese industrialist, Sagawa was released, a free man, on August 12th, 1986. The authorities, for some reason, did not seek to further seek prosecution against Sagawa. He had literally gotten away with murder.
Like most cannibals (Jeffrey Dahmer being the most obvious example), Sagawa quickly became a celebrity. However, rather than being treated like human swine, Sagawa managed to pull of a rather bizarre form of fame… he was notoriously willing to admit his crime, and even took some pride in it. A year after his release, Sagawa wrote the aforementioned book (now out of print) In The Fog in which he describes, in meticulous detail, the murder, rape, and consumption of Renee Hartevelt. This served to only fan the flames of his fame higher and higher. Eventually he found hiimself doing speaking gigs on various Japanese television shows, mainly guest spots on talk shows wanting to speak with the famed cannibal who ‘got away with it’. His fame doesn’t stop at eating women or writing about eating women, either. Sagawa, who is now 51, has taken up painting. Many of his paintings focus on women’s asses (no surprise there), but like all serial killer art, it has a fame that far outdistances its quality of production.
The Rolling Stones wrote a song about Sagawa, the aptly titled “Too Much Blood”. He has even appeared in several ‘pink movies’, Japanese soft-core porn with an artistic slant. By all accounts, Sagawa is a friendly, cheerful fellow who is more than willing to discuss his crime, especially when it puts money in his pocket. Recently, he’s even tried his hand at penning a manga re-telling of the murder, a self-illustrated volume entitled Manga Sagawa-san, published by Okura Shuppan. “My parents wouldn’t let me read comics when I was young,” Sagawa said in a recent article from Japan Today regarding the book. “To this day, I have never read the more famous ones. So a comic illustrator friend had to teach me everything, from which pens to use to how to segment the story into frames… Actually, you know, I have a lot of female fans. The ones who didn’t follow the incident at the time it happened regard me as something of a fairy-tale prince.”