Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Cannibal Celebrity: Issei Sagawa

Act of Obsession

Issei Sagawa
Issei Sagawa

He was a short man, just under five feet tall. His hands and feet were small and even his voice was more like that of a girl. He had mentioned in some interviews that he wasn't the kind of man most women would find attractive, and he surmised that being acutely self-conscious of his shortcomings might have fueled his obsession with "the perfect woman."

In Cannibal Killers, Moira Martingale describes how Issei Sagawa, a brilliant Japanese student, obsessed over tall women with Occidental features. Eventually fantasy was not enough, so while studying for his degree in English literature at Wako University in Tokyo, he became attracted to a German woman who was teaching him the language.

"When I met this woman in the street," he later said to British reporter Peter McGill, "I wondered if I could eat her."

One summer day, he crawled through the window of her apartment, intent on killing her. To his delight, she was asleep. Even better, she was wearing hardly anything at all. He looked for something to use to knock her out or stab her and he spotted an umbrella. However, before he could do anything, the woman woke up and saw him there. She screamed, scaring him, and he fled from her apartment.

But he did not forget what he most desired. It had been almost too easy to get close to a woman, and if he prepared himself better, he felt sure he could indulge in his fantasy. He just had to plan it more effectively, so he began to look around for his next victim — one that would not get away. It wasn't until he went to Paris a few years later that he found the woman that he could not get off his mind. Her white skin, the fleshy shape of her buttocks, and her beautiful features both repulsed and drew him. He started to insinuate himself into her life.

Sagawa believed that he loved these women and that he could demonstrate it by consuming them. It wasn't unheard of. In fact a fair number of serial killers have eaten some part of their victims. Let's look at a list.


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