Famous Case Friday: Pari jinniku jiken (The Paris Human Flesh Incident)
Every Friday this blog will feature a famous or particularly interesting criminal case. Starting things off is Issei Sagawa, or, the most commercially successful cannibal in the world.
In 1981, Sagawa, then a University of Paris student, invited fellow classmate Renée Hartevelt to his apartment to study German poetry. Once there, Hartevelt was shot in the neck with a rifle and consequently cannibalized. More details on the murder can be found here.
“The public has made me the godfather of cannibalism, and I am quite happy about that.”
What is perhaps most interesting about the Sagawa case, beyond the intrinsic horror of cannibalism, is his treatment afterwards. Through several paperwork and bureaucratic mishaps, Sagawa is currently out from behind bars and living comfortably in Tokyo. He enjoys mild celebrity status, appears on talk shows, writes books, acts in pornographic exploitation films, and was the inspiration behind the Rolling Stones’ song “Too Much Blood.” Sagawa also commentated on the Kobe child murders of 1997, where a 14-year-old boy murdered two other children. In a shocking display of bad taste in even this circumstance, Sagawa was also once hired to write restaurant reviews.
He has authored at least 13 books, including explicit accounts of his own experiences. In one, he describes how the Dutch girl’s flesh “melted in [his] mouth like a perfect piece of tuna” (Celebrity).
This case raises several interesting questions. Why were Sagawa’s crimes so easy to ignore? Could this anomaly be attributed to cultural differences, or could the same thing happen in the West? Given Americans’ tendencies to sensationalize murder through shows such as 48 Hours and Dateline, are criminals already achieving celebrity status?
Professor Christina Maslach, UC-Berkeley, to psychologists
In 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment exposed how a simple power imbalance can turn otherwise non-deviant citizens into perpetrators. Interested parties responded to an ad in the Pal Alto Times looking for volunteers for an experiment. Those volunteers assigned to be prisoners were “arrested” in front of their neighbors,booked at a real jail, blindfolded, and then taken to a mock prison on campus. The students who were assigned guard positions were told that, while violence was prohibited, their job was to keep the prison under control.
What happened next was startling.
From the perspective of the researchers, the experiment became exciting on day two when the prisoners staged a revolt. Once the guards had crushed the rebellion, “they steadily increased their coercive aggression tactics, humiliation and dehumanization of the prisoners,” Zimbardo recalls. “The staff had to frequently remind the guards to refrain from such tactics,” he said, and the worst instances of abuse occurred in the middle of the night when the guards thought the staff was not watching. The guards’ treatment of the prisoners such things as forcing them to clean out toilet bowls with their bare hands and act out degrading scenarios, or urging them to become snitches “resulted in extreme stress reactions that forced us to release five prisoners, one a day, prematurely.”
Christina Maslach entered the “prison” on the fifth day, newly earned doctorate in hand. She spoke briefly with a guard waiting to go on shift whom she recalls as “charming, funny, smart.” Later, other researchers informed her that there was a especially sadistic guard in the experiment—the very same man Maslach and previously enjoyed the company of.
"This man had been transformed. He was talking in a different accent a Southern accent, which I hadn’t recalled at all. He moved differently, and the way he talked was different, not just in the accent, but in the way he was interacting with the prisoners. It was like [seeing] Jekyll and Hyde… . It really took my breath away."
The Stanford Prison Experiment has raised questions on research ethics. Moreover, many have drawn parallels between this experiment and the infamous Abu Ghraib prison scandal.
It’s no secret that TV viewers love their crime shows. From Law and Order to The Mentalist, millions tune in each night to get a taste of what goes on behind the law enforcement curtain. But while this can serve to get a new generation interested in the Criminal Justice field, many say that the so-called “CSI Effect” can have negative real-world consequences.
In 2008 Monica Robbers, an American criminologist, defined it as “the phenomenon in which jurors hold unrealistic expectations of forensic evidence and investigation techniques, and have an increased interest in the discipline of forensic science.”
Now another American researcher has demonstrated that the “CSI effect” is indeed real. Evan Durnal of the University of Central Missouri’s Criminal Justice Department has collected evidence from a number of studies to show that exposure to television drama series that focus on forensic science has altered the American legal system in complex and far-reaching ways. His conclusions have just been published in Forensic Science International.
The most obvious symptom of the CSI effect is that jurors think they have a thorough understanding of science they have seen presented on television, when they do not. Mr Durnal cites one case of jurors in a murder trial who, having noticed that a bloody coat introduced as evidence had not been tested for DNA, brought this fact to the judge’s attention. Since the defendant had admitted being present at the murder scene, such tests would have thrown no light on the identity of the true culprit. The judge observed that, thanks to television, jurors knew what DNA tests could do, but not when it was appropriate to use them (Economist, 2010).
A fun note: the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does not actually have a ”criminal profiler” job. They do, however, have the National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime. In addition to providing profiles of unknown criminals, agents at the NCAVC also, “provide case management advice, threat assessments and interviewing strategies to law enforcement agencies both home and abroad (Profiler).” Typical NCAVC agents have a decade of service history behind them as well as a documented familiarity with violent crimes. This should give you something to think about next time 22-year-old Spencer Reid solves a case!
An important aspect of investigating a violent crime is an understanding of the victim and the relation that their lifestyle or personality characteristics may have contributed to the offender choosing them as a victim. Please do not misunderstand the previous statement. In no way are victims being blamed for becoming a victim of a violent crime. Even high risk victims (to be described shortly) have the right to live how they wish without becoming a victim of the type of offenses described on this site. Yet the fact remains, that to understand the offender, one must first understand the victim.
Victims are classified during an investigation in three general categories that describe the level of risk their lifestyle represents in relation to the violent crime that has been committed. The importance of understanding this in an investigation is directly related back to the level of risk to the offender during the commission of the crime. This information is important to the investigation to better understand the sophistication or possible pathology of the offender.
High Risk Victims - Victims in this group have a lifestyle that makes them a higher risk for being a victim of a violent crime. The most obvious high risk victim is the prostitute. Prostitutes place themselves at risk every single time they go to work. Prostitutes are high risk because they will get into a stranger’s car, go to secluded areas with strangers, and for the most part attempt to conceal their actions for legal reasons. Offenders often rely on all these factors and specifically target prostitutes because it lowers their chances of becoming a suspect in the crime. Therefore, in this example, the prostitute is a high risk victim creating a lower risk to the offender.
Moderate Risk Victims - Victims that fall into this category are lower risk victims, but for some reason were in a situation that placed them in a greater level of risk. A person that is stranded on a dark, secluded highway due to a flat tire, that accepts a ride from a stranger and is then victimized would be a good example of this type of victim level risk.
Low Risk Victims - The lifestyle of these individuals would normally not place them in any degree of risk for becoming a victim of a violent crime. These individuals stay out of trouble, do not have peers that are criminal, are aware of their surroundings and attempt to take precautions to not become a victim. They lock the doors, do not use drugs, and do not go into areas that are dark and secluded.
After all the information has been gathered, a timeline of events leading up to the crime should be created in order to better understand how this specific individual became a victim of a violent crime.
Using some of Émile Durkheim’s teachings, Robert Merton developed the concept of Strain Theory. This theory suggests that people resort to deviant behavior when they find no legal means to achieve socially accepted goals. Put simply:
Because deviance is found naturally within society, Merton believed that it was society itself which causes it. Further, Merton believed that when societal norms, or socially accepted goals (such as the American Dream), place pressure on the individual to … work within the structure society has produced, or instead, become members of a deviant subculture. (Lista, 2009)
The chart above shows five different options individuals have when responding to social norms. For example: Tony Stark, an innovator, would accept the cultural goal of wealth and success but find new means to achieve it. Thus deviance will occasionally help advance societies into new eras. This seems to support Durkheim’s opinion that some deviance is a necessary and normal part of society.
Developed by Edwin Sutherland, Differential Association Theory suggests that criminal behavior is learned through continued interaction with other deviants. This theory can be divided into nine basic principles:
- Criminal behavior is learned.
- Criminal behavior is learned in interaction with other persons in a process of communication.
- The principal part of the learning of criminal behavior occurs within intimate personal groups.
- When criminal behavior is learned, the learning includes techniques of committing the crime, which are sometimes very complicated, sometimes simple and the specific direction of motives, drives, rationalizations, and attitudes.
- The specific direction of motives and drives is learned from definitions of the legal codes as favorable or unfavorable.
- A person becomes delinquent because of an excess of definitions favorable to violation of law over definitions unfavorable to violation of the law.
- Differential associations may vary in frequency, duration, priority, and intensity.
- The process of learning criminal behavior by association with criminal and anti-criminal patterns involves all of the mechanisms that are involved in any other learning.
- While criminal behavior is an expression of general needs and values, it is not explained by those needs and values, since non-criminal behavior is an expression of the same needs and values.