The 13th Floor

The Horrifying True Story Of Issei Sagawa: The Celebrity Cannibal

People watched as a meek, 5-foot Japanese man carried two suitcases into the Bois de Boulogne Park, just outside Paris. The City of Light turned into a dark cloud of death when the dismembered body of 25-year-old exchange student, Renée Hartevelt, was uncovered inside the mysterious luggage. The darkness quickly lifted because police knew exactly who had killed her. They soon arrested her shy classmate, Issei Sagawa, who professed during his arrest, “I killed her to eat her flesh.”


What should have been an open and shut case of first-degree murder turned into anything but. Despite eye witness accounts, evidence found at Sagawa’s apartment, and his confession to the crime, police were unable to convict the cannibal.

A judge found that the literature student was legally insane, and unable to stand trial for Hartevelt’s murder. He was deported back to Japan, where he was institutionalized at Matsuzawa Psychiatric hospital in Tokyo. Japanese authorities tried their best to convict the killer for his crimes, but a loophole in the law led to Sagawa’s subsequent release. He checked himself out of the institution in 1986, and has been free on the streets of Japan ever since.


Instead of fading off into obscurity and keeping a low public profile, Sagawa soaked up all of the attention he received from the media at the time. His sadistic crime made the public eager to learn more about his psyche, and he went on to become an infamous figure in Japanese society. All the while, Hartevelt and her family never received justice for her untimely death.

It began in 1989, when Japanese authorities arrested child killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, and they consulted with Sagawa as though he were a real-life Hannibal Lecter. He gave them insight on the crimes, and gave police advice on the case. This ultimately kept Sagawa in the public eye, and his career took off from here.

In the years that followed, Sagawa was employed as a public speaker, wrote 20 detailed books about his crimes and fantasies, freelanced as a food critic, and was even featured in films. In one of the films, titled UNFAITHFUL WIFE: SHAMEFUL TORTURE, he plays a character very much like himself—a sadistic sex fiend.

The film’s director was obviously trying to sensationalize Sagawa’s crimes and somewhat make a mockery of what he had done. What’s worse, it delivered the message that murder wasn’t a big deal—you could snuff out someone’s life, and still be a star!

Sagawa had become so well-known at the time of his crime, the Rolling Stones wrote a song about him titled “Too Much Blood.” Mick Jagger wrote the song in response to the media hype that surrounded Sagawa’s case, and wanted to prompt discussion about anti-violence. But, it only gave Sagawa something to use to his advantage. He attempted to make a comic book version of the song following its release.

The cannibal continued publishing his writings, essays and delivering his darkest fantasies to readers. In his book Gokushiteki Bijyogenso [Extremely Intimate Fantasies of Beautiful Girls], he includes illustrations of actresses like Julie Deply and Audrey Hepburn, who are presumably women he would enjoy eating.

In 2008, Vice profiled the killer with an in-depth interview. In the hard-to-read discussion, Sagawa explained that his desire to eat human flesh began in elementary school, and deepened after seeing Grace Kelly on film. It was her physical appearance—tall, blonde and beautiful—that set a precedent for the type of victim he craved.

Sagawa explained that his desire was purely sexual, and insisted that he never wants to kill anyone. If he could, he would have eaten Hartevelt while she was alive, if she let him.

He explained to the magazine, “It wasn’t like I felt like eating someone every time I was hungry. But you know how you tend to feel a stronger sexual desire when you’ve eaten a full meal? That’s when I would start feeling the urge to eat a girl.”

Sagawa described the number of times he tried killing prostitutes prior to the ultimate killing of his classmate. Unfortunately, Hartevelt’s kindness led to her demise. She was a friendly, beautiful classmate at the University he was attending, and Sagawa began inviting her over to his home, often. He fantasized about killing her every time she was there, and one time he finally pulled the trigger. Sagawa shot her with a rifle, raped her corpse, and feasted on parts of her flesh for days.

His interview with Vice becomes increasingly more disturbing when he goes on to describe, in great detail, cutting up parts of her body and consuming them. He explains what her flesh looked like, exactly how it tasted, and which parts of her were the best, as though it were commonplace.

He questions, “Frankly, I can’t fathom why everyone doesn’t feel this urge to eat, to consume, other people. Don’t you ever feel like this?”

After killing and eating his friend—and getting away with it—he admits that his cannibalistic desires have not left him. He claims the desire to eat female flesh is strongest in the Summer months when they wear less clothing. And because he is very much a free man, it’s alarming to know that he will be walking the streets like a dog in heat over the next couple of months.

Sagawa has never been punished for murdering someone, and has only benefited from his actions. The murderer is Japan’s very own version of Charles Manson, and serial killer culture has helped to fuel his life. Although he has excelled in life since committing murder, he claims to be remorseful for what he has done, welcoming death at the hands of a woman.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be covered all over with women’s spit? If I could die drowning in it, that would be my ultimate dream come true. I’m a cowardly man who killed another person, yet I can’t face killing myself. So I guess dying at the hands of a woman would be my way to redemption.”

Even in death, Sagawa would be getting exactly what he wanted. His sexual desires would be fulfilled, and he’d enjoy dying. So, why the hell should this guy get what he wants? Think about it while he continues wandering the streets fantasizing about how he’s going to fix you up for dinner.