British man Geoffrey Portway's chamber specially designed for cooking and eating a child. Credit: Department of Justice
On Nov. 4, German businessman Wojciech Stempniewicz left his native Hanover by train and made the 360-kilometer journey to Dresden. The 59-year old managed a successful trucking firm and was engaged to be married. On arrival in Dresden he met with a police worker Detlev Guenzel, who stabbed him in the neck and chopped his body into small pieces.
But this was not a straightforward murder. Police quickly announced their suspicions that part of the body had been eaten and that Stempniewicz had been a willing victim.
“The missing man had fantasized since his youth about being killed and eaten by another person,” reported Dresden police chief Dieter Kroll.
Neither was this an isolated incident. British man Geoffrey Portway was arrested in September for a plot to kill and eat a child, complete with gruesome accessories. A New York police officer is standing trial for attempting to eat his wife. German authorities estimate they have thousands of cannibals within their borders alone.
In every case, investigators discovered the cannibals had plotted their actions online, through dedicated communities with thousands of members, reaching around the world. Metro trawled a few of the websites listed by prosecutors and easily found posts describing similar plans.
“Please send more info. height/weight/physical condition. plus any serving requirements. photos front/rear might be helpful. plus idea for disappearing without attention,” posts one user with an email address.
Some of the most popular posts concern "food" preparation. The community has own slang, such as "long pig" for a male victim.
The most popular website, with more than 55,000 members and 1 million monthly page views, is run by a U.S. pensioner calling himself Perro Loco. He describes his network as the “premier cannibal forum." Stempniewicz and his killer were users, and Loco’s client list also includes the infamous "Rotenburg Cannibal" Armin Meuwes.
Loco is a passionate libertarian who “defends the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded cinema," but believes the fears overstated. “The vast majority are imaginary fetishists,” he tells Metro. “If someone like Detlev suggests a serious meet-up, other members gang up on them or report it. It’s self-policing.”
The owner estimates 0.5 percent of members are serious, or active, cannibals, and he has turned members in to the police before. Some sites encrypt on the "dark net" but Loco is happy in the open, believing secrecy would just bring more attention.
He does not believe active cannibals could operate in secret, pointing to the case of Sharon Lopatka, an acquaintance who was voluntarily killed by an online cannibal in 1996. “Within 24 hours the FBI were digging up her body. There’s no way you could get away with it for any length of time.”
But the issue is growing, believes criminologist and cannibal specialist Dr. Emilia Musumeci of the University of Catania, Italy.
“It’s not possible to have figures but we can understand the vastness of the phenomenon by the Meiwes case. He found a victim through an online advert -- ‘looking for a well-built 18- to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and consumed’ -- and many people responded.”
Musumeci believes the Internet has helped to spread cannibalism, including by desensitizing people and the ever more extreme search for thrills. There is no typical cannibal, she adds, although many have a "deviant sexuality."
Authorities admit they cannot police the cannibal network as there is no telling fantasy from reality. Furthermore, in most countries the laws are unclear on cannibalism, which could be considered assisted suicide or desecration of a corpse.