They ain’t chicken bones. They’re human fingers. I have a problem I’m a cannibal.

— Stanley Dean Baker
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Serial Killers – Criminal Cannibalism


Historically shrouded in mystery, myth, symbolism, fear and speculation, cannibalism remains in most cultures one of the ultimate taboos. The exact origin of cannibalism is a mystery and will most likely remain so. Some anthropologists believe that cannibalism began in earliest human history and proliferated with man’s increasing attempt to appease the gods, survive famine, or exact revenge on or control his enemies. To date, archeological evidence suggests that cannibalism was practiced as far back as the Neolithic Period and Bronze Age in what is now Europe and the Americas.

According to William Arens’ book The Man-Eating Myth: Anthropology & Anthropophagy, the first known account of cannibalism came following an expedition to the West Indies, led by Christopher Columbus. Columbus and his crew supposedly discovered that the Carib West Indies tribe participated in a particularly gruesome practice of ritualistically eating the flesh of other humans.

The explorers mispronounced the name of the tribe and referred to them as “Canibs,” which was overtime changed to “canibales,” meaning thirsty and cruel in Spanish. The English translation of the Spanish word became cannibalism, which is the most widely used term to express human’s consumption of other human beings. The Latin form of the word cannibalism is anthropophagy and is a term used mostly in anthropology and archeology.

In modern times, the murder of a person or the use of a corpse for the purpose of consumption by another human in any situation, outside that of conditions of starvation, is considered to be a form of criminal cannibalism or anthropophagy. However, the definition of and laws governing criminal cannibalism vary considerably from culture to culture.

In many parts of the world cannibalism is not considered a crime in and of itself and it is often only recognized in concurrence with another crime. For example, in Britain and the United States of America, cannibalism is not considered to be a felony, but is socially unacceptable. Those who have been found to participate in the gruesome act are usually charged with another crime that is directly related to the act of cannibalism, such as murder, grave robbery or necrophilia.

There are many who refuse to believe that cannibalism is practiced in this modern, “civilized” age. However, there is much evidence suggesting that it does occur and with some frequency. There have been many documented cases of cannibalism, especially within the last 100 years.

There are four primary forms of criminal cannibalism:

  1. sexual cannibalism
  2. aggression cannibalism
  3. spiritual and ritual cannibalism
  4. epicurean/nutritional cannibalism

These various forms substantially overlap with one another. For example, one may consume human flesh for several purposes, such as to achieve a sense of power and control (aggression cannibalism) – Most acts of cannibalism are, to a degree, motivated by a desire to express power or control over the victim.

Cannibalism is the ultimate expression of dominance over another person. Aggression cannibalism includes acts of cannibalism that are motivated by feelings of hostility and/or fear, creating an overriding need to exert power, revenge or control over the victim by murdering and then consuming him. One may also find the taste to be agreeable (epicurean/nutritional cannibalism). Another may indulge in cannibalism in order to reach a higher spiritual affinity with the person they have devoured, simultaneously achieving intense sexual and gratification.

article by Rachael Bell