Germany's internet cannibal
To those living in the small German town of Rotenburg, Armin Meiwes was the perfect neighbour. His workmates liked him and his lawyer described him as a gentleman of the old school. But as Ernest Gill reports, the 42-year-old computer expert had created a dark bizarre world.
Self confessed cannibal Armin Meiwes
In handing down the manslaughter verdict, the court gave him an eight-and-a-half year prison term with possibility of parole.
In a bizarre twist to what has been a bizarre story from the start, both the prosecution and the defence had argued that the amiable 42-year-old defendant is completely sane.
The mild-mannered and well- groomed computer technician, who had a life-long "Hansel and Gretel" obsession, grew up in a woodlands village farm house next door to a self- professed witch who was once taken to court for casting death spells.
He has spent over half of his 42 years in a rambling, half- timbered, 200-year-old farm house in central Germany in precisely the kind of setting one finds in fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.
As a child, he remembered his mother Waltraud Meiwes inviting the neighbour lady over for afternoon coffee, talking about spells and curses and witchcraft.
He himself had sexual fantasies about other boys - twisted fantasies in which he would invite them home and carve them up and cook them and eat them.
That was when a Berlin man he had met in a gay internet chat room took him up on his cyber-invitation to "let me gobble you up". The man, Bernd-Juergen Brandes, himself a computer analyst with a Berlin information technologies company, had his own "Hansel and Gretel" obsession.
Brandes wanted to be castrated and mutilated. He dreamt of being taking bodily into another man - being ingested - becoming one with another man.
For both, it was as if some perverted fairy tale had come true.
Soon after he was arrested in December 2002, Meiwes told investigators he had a childhood obsession with the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale "Hansel and Gretel", and was especially fascinated by the passage in which the storybook witch "fattened up little Hansel" in hopes of cooking and eating him.
This fixation may have been exacerbated when his family moved to the rambling, 30-room, half-timbered house in Rotenburg an der Fulda when he was 16.
The family's next-door neighbour was a self-avowed Satanist called Ulla von Bernus who published occult tracts and gave interviews to German print and broadcast media about her prowess at "casting death spells with 90 percent reliability".
Von Bernus made headlines throughout Germany in the early 1980s when she was taken to court by a disgruntled woman who claimed she had paid von Bernus USD 15,000 to put a death curse on her husband - who then did not die. The woman wanted her money back.
Von Bernus was best friends with Waltraud Meiwes, the future cannibal's domineering mother. The suspect himself told investigators he was "in and out of Ulla's house all the time" until von Bernus died in 1998 at age 86.
Waltraud and Armin moved to Rotenburg in the mid-1970s. His parents had divorced when he was 8 and he rarely saw his policeman father or two step-brothers again.
Witnesses told the court Meiwes was firmly under the thumb of his mother, who ordered him about the house "like a drill sergeant" and who chaperoned him on his rare dates with women and who even insisted on accompanying him on field exercises when he was in the military.
"The other soldiers in his company thought that was pretty weird, to say the least," a witness testified.
When he was 20 she even had the temerity to post a stick-on label saying "Kinderzimmer" (Child's Room) on the door of Armin's bedroom.
He never removed the label, the witness said, even after his mother died in 1999.
"He was a mama's boy," a neighbour told reporters. "He was totally fixated on his mother, who he said never let him date girls. After she died, he began to thaw out."
It was only after her death that Meiwes began talking about "horrible things" he had discovered while surfing the Internet in search of gay companionship, the witness said.
No one in the village of Rothenburg in the rolling forest lands of central Germany knew of his fantasies. But thanks to the internet, Meiwes was able to make them come true in March 2001 when he made contact wtih Brandes.
Meiwes himself said in a final statement to the court that he felt regret but no real remorse. He regrets having been caught. He feels no remorse for what he did.
"I took his life, and I readily admit that," the tight-lipped man with the hazel eyes, receding brown hair and square jaw-line told the court matter-of-factly.
"But I want the court to understand that I did nothing that ran contrary to his express wishes," he said of the 39-year-old Brandes.
*quote1*"He wanted it so badly, it was his heart's desire," Meiwes said of Brandes' death wish.
"And if I hadn't been so stupid as to get back on the internet and look for other men, I would have taken Bernd's and my secret with me to my grave," he said.
But — without the slightest apparent trace of remorse — he told the court, "I've had the kick of a lifetime. You don't need to worry that I'll ever need to do this again."
Bolstering his argument was expert testimony from a psychiatrist who testified that Meiwes, while criminally perverted, is legally sane.
Dr Georg Stolpmann said Meiwes suffered from a serious psychological abnormality, but he was responsible for his actions in the legal sense of sanity.
"It was a premeditated, thoroughly planned and meticulously executed act," Stolpmann testified. "The conscious thought processes of this man's mind were in no way impaired.
Meiwes was acutely aware of the legal ramifications of his actions, which is why he placed such importance on getting his victim's willing consent. Thus, his mental competency is not in question, he said.
Stolpmann said the defendant had subsequently written to an acquaintance: "It is an incredible feeling to have ultimate power over another man and to slice him up into serving portions."
"For Meiwes, the goal of all this was what he called 'to get the biggest kick of my life', as he has said repeatedly," Stolpmann said. "He wanted absolute power over another person and was planning from the start to commit other such crimes."
*quote2*Embarrassingly for Germans, this case revives memories of the infamous Butcher of Hanover, a man who lured scores of young men and boys to their deaths over a five-year period after World War I.
Fritz Haarmann, a real-life meat market owner in Hanover, Germany, took advantage of post-war economic chaos to prey on street urchins and jobless young men. Promising them money for sex, he killed and dismembered them — then sold their meat in his butcher shop.
Disposing of the corpses by turning them into cutlets and sausages, he got away with his crimes until 1924 when a youth escaped and tipped off police. Investigating officers were stunned by piles of blood-stained clothes and a back sewer full of skulls.
Convicted of 27 deaths (though he proudly claimed more than 50), Haarmann was sentenced to death and while in prison awaiting decapitation he gave a tell-all statement. Like Meiwes, he said slaughtering and eating his victims gave him a sexual kick.
German filmmaker Fritz Lang adapted the Butcher of Hanover story for the screen, though he was constrained to tone down the most grisly details for mainstream audiences.
Peter Lorre was cast as the serial killer. There were no male prostitutes or toy boys, instead this time the victims were sweet little girls.
The finished movie was entitled "M" and became one of the classic films of all time for making conceivable something so inconceivable.
Meiwes, meanwhile, says he is considering a number of offers from publishers for his life story.
"There are lots of other people out there like me, at least 500 in Germany alone, I'd estimate," he said — a claim supported by the fact that 400 gay men responded to his chat line "gobble up" request.
"They need to hear what I have to say so they can get the professional help I never did," Meiwes said.
Subject: German news