The Upsetting Story Of 'The Kobe Cannibal,' Issei Sagawa

Born in Japan in 1949, Issei Sagawa was reportedly fascinated by cannibalism from an early age; however, not until 1981 did his interest turn deadly when he murdered and cannibalized one of his classmates. Despite being an admitted murderer and cannibal, Sagawa has avoided prosecution for his crimes and even made a career out of exploiting the public's interest in his actions.

From television, paintings, books, and magazines, the "Kobe Cannibal" (also known as "Pang") has created works in practically every medium (including adult entertainment), making him one of the most disturbing examples of the notoriety society bestows upon murderers and criminals.

  • Sagawa Allegedly Became Obsessed With Cannibalism As A Child

    Born months early on April 26, 1949, Issei Sagawa was reportedly a frail and tiny infant who almost died before his mother could 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 uncle played a game with him and his brother in which they pretended to be giants who wanted to eat the two children; this allegedly contributed to Sagawa's obsession with stories of cannibalism.

    As Sagawa grew from a small child into a young man, however, his fascination with cannibalism took a decidedly darker and more dangerous turn.

  • Sagawa Tried To Eat A Woman When He Was 23

    In his teen years and early adulthood, Issei Sagawa's fascination with cannibalism developed a sexual component, and he began fantasizing about eating women's flesh, particularly that of Western celebrities like the actress Grace Kelly.

    In 1972, Sagawa realized his desires when he broke into the Tokyo apartment of a young German woman with the intention of eating part of her body. Fortunately, the woman was able to overpower Sagawa, who stood only 4'9" tall.

    Police arrested Sagawa for attempted sexual assault, not realizing that Sagawa had intended to also eat the woman. Sagawa's wealthy father offered the young woman money if she dropped the attempted sexual assault charges against his son, so Sagawa was never prosecuted for the crime.

  • Sagawa Murdered One Of His Classmates, Renée Hartevelt, While Attending The Sorbonne

    In 1977, five years after his failed attempt at cannibalism in Tokyo, 28-year-old Issei Sagawa moved to Paris 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 Renée Hartevelt in 1981. They developed a friendship after meeting at the Sorbonne, and Hartevelt regularly visited Sagawa's apartment to give him German lessons.

    Sagawa, however, became obsessed with thoughts of eating his new friend's flesh, so he purchased a gun, intending to murder Hartevelt and cannibalizing her body. On June 11, 1981, Hartevelt visited Sagawa at his apartment to have dinner and practice German, and while the young Dutch student was reading poetry, Sagawa crept up behind her and fatally shot her in the neck.

  • Sagawa Cannibalized Hartevelt And Committed Necrophilia

    After murdering Renée Hartevelt, Sagawa committed necrophilia with her corpse. Prior to killing Hartevelt, Sagawa reportedly 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.

    Sagawa proceeded to eat pieces of Hartevelt's flesh, and he said he experienced sexual pleasure while cannibalizing her corpse. He ate some pieces of her body raw, while he cooked other parts prior to consumption.

    Sagawa later purchased two suitcases in which to hide the young woman's remains.

  • Sagawa Was Arrested When He Tried To Dispose Of His Victim's Remains

    After placing Renée Hartevelt's remains in two suitcases, Sagawa called a cab, and the taxi driver helped him place the two heavy pieces of luggage in the vehicle. Surprised by the suitcases' weight, the cab driver jokingly asked Sagawa if the bags contained a dead body before driving Sagawa to a nearby park.

    Sagawa dumped the suitcases in the Bois de Boulogne, a public park in Paris, where two joggers soon discovered them. After finding Hartevelt's remains inside the luggage, the joggers alerted the police, and members of law enforcement connected the suitcases to Sagawa with the help of the cab driver who brought him to the park.

  • Sagawa Was Sent To A Mental Institution After His Arrest

    After discovering Hartevelt's remains, French officials searched Sagawa's apartment and discovered the remnants of a meal that included cooked human flesh, as well as a photo ID card belonging to Hartevelt.

    Sagawa was arrested but not tried for murdering Hartevelt. Instead, Sagawa was held in a mental hospital for two years while psychologists examined him. With the help of a prominent attorney whom his father hired, the French courts determined Sagawa was legally insane and unable to stand trial.

    Sagawa was kept in a French maximum security psychiatric unit for a total of four years.