From a young age, Japanese murderer Issei Sagawa was obsessed with the concept of cannibalism, but it wasn't until he moved from Japan to Paris that his fascination with consuming human flesh turned deadly. Despite being an admitted murderer and cannibal, Sagawa has avoided prosecution for his crimes, and he's even been able to make a career out of exploiting the public's interest in his depraved and horrifying acts.
From television, paintings, books, and magazines, the "Celebrity Cannibal" (also known as "Pang") has created works in practically every medium (including pornography), making this Japanese cannibal killer one of the most disturbing examples of the notoriety bestowed on murderers and criminals by modern society.
Born months early on April 26, 1949, Issei Sagawa was a frail and tiny infant who almost died before his mother was able to give birth to him. Because of his premature birth, he suffered from a number of serious health issues, including enteritis, a disease that impacts the intestines.
Sagawa's family was wealthy and successful, and he had a younger brother with whom he was very close. As a child, his father and his uncle played a game with the boys where they pretended to be giants who wanted to eat them, which contributed to Sagawa's obsession with stories about cannibalism. However, as Sagawa transformed from a small child into a young man, his fascination with cannibalism took a decidedly darker and more dangerous turn.
After entering puberty, Issei Sagawa's bizarre fascination with cannibalism developed a sexual component, and he started fantasizing about eating the flesh of women, particularly Western celebrities like the actress Grace Kelly. However, he didn't actually try to realize his desires until 1972, when he broke into the Tokyo apartment of a young German woman with the intention of eating part of her body. Thankfully, the woman awoke before Sagawa, who was only 5 feet tall, was able to attack her, and she successfully overpowered him.
The police arrested Sagawa for attempted rape, not realizing that Sagawa had intended to eat the woman, not sexually assault her. However, Sagawa's wealthy father offered the young woman money if she would drop the attempted sexual assault charges against his son, so the budding cannibal was never prosecuted for the crime.
Five years after being arrested for attempted rape in Tokyo, 28-year-old Issei Sagawa moved to Paris, France, in 1977 to study languages and literature at the prestigious Paris-Sorbonne University. After studying and working as a writer in France for a number of years, Sagawa met 25-year-old Dutch student Renee Hartevelt in 1981. They developed a friendship after meeting at the Sorbonne, and Hartevelt regularly visited Sagawa's apartment to give him German lessons.
However, Sagawa became obsessed with thoughts of eating his new friend's flesh, so he purchased a gun with the intention of murdering Hartevelt and cannibalizing her body. On June 11, 1981, Hartevelt visited him at his apartment to have dinner and practice German, and while the young Dutch student was reading poetry, Sagawa crept up behind her and shot her in the neck. After murdering the 25-year-old woman, he carried out a number of even more disturbing and depraved acts.
After murdering Renee Hartevelt by shooting her in the neck with a rifle, Issei Sagawa, who was only 5'0" tall, committed necrophilia when he raped the dead body of the 5'11" Dutch student. Prior to killing Hartevelt, Sagawa had hired a number of sex workers and brought them back to his apartment. He was interested in cannibalizing these women, not having sex with them, but each time he couldn't bring himself to actually kill them.
After he murdered and raped Hartevelt, Sagawa indulged in an act he had been fantasizing about for decades and likened to an intense sexual desire: he ate her.