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Subject: [OBITS] Robert Berdella
Date: Sat, 04 Oct 2008 11:05:27 -0000
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Birth: Jan. 31, 1949
Death: Oct. 8, 1992
Criminal. Owned "Bob's Bizarre Bazaar" on Westport Road in Kansas City, Missouri and a house at 4315 Charlotte, Kansas City. Around Easter 1988, a young man named Chris Bryson jumped from the second floor window of Berdella's house, wearing only a dog collar. He then ran to a neighbors house seeking help. The neighbor refused to let Bryson in, but did call police to the scene. Upon arriving, police learned that Berdella had knocked Bryson out, restrained him to a bed, sodomized, drugged, tortured and sexually abused him in a variety of ways. Bryson's ordeal had lasted four days, and he was possibly the only one of Berdella's victims to have escaped and survived. Later it was learned that Berdella put the body parts of his victims in trash bags on the curb, for the trash service to pick up on trash day. While committing these crimes, Berdella would take Polaroid photographs of the victims, and these were found by police at his residence when they responded to Bryson's escape !
from Berdella. Some of the photographs appeared to be of deceased victims. Bob Berdella returned home from running errands, to find police there questioning Bryson, and was arrested. Human skulls and other bones were found inside Berdella's house. The dirt basement floor of the house had what appeared to be a grave in it. The backyard of the residence was dug up with a backhoe, and yet another skull with soft tissue and hair was found. Berdella also kept diaries of the torture inflicted on his victims. At his arraignment in the courtroom of Judge Alvin Randall, Berdella shocked everyone by entering a plea of guilty to the charge of murder in the first degree. Eventually, Berdella confessed to the murder and torture of six young men. By negotiating with city prosecutor, Albert Riederer, Berdella was able to avoid the death penalty. Judge Vincent E. Baker subsequently found Berdella guilty of six counts of murder, and sentenced him to two life sentences without parole. After !
serving approximately 4 years, while at the Missouri State Penitentiar
y in Jefferson City, Missouri, Berdella suffered a heart attack and died. Berdella's father had also died of a heart attack in 1965, while living in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where Bob grew up. Both men are buried in the same gravesite.
Plot: Section G 2, Lot 172, Grave 5
Robert Berdella (January 31, 1949 - October 8, 1992) was an American serial killer in Kansas City, Missouri who raped, tortured and killed at least six men between 1984 and 1987.
Berdella was apprehended in the spring of 1988 after a victim he had been torturing for a week jumped naked from the second story of his house and escaped. Berdella had detailed torture logs and large numbers of Polaroid pictures he had taken of his victims. Volumes of pictures were recovered by the Kansas City Police Department, and remain in their possession. He claimed that he was trying to "help" some of his victims by giving them antibiotics after torturing them. He tried to gouge one of his victims eyes out, all 'to see what would happen'. He buried one victim's skull in his backyard, and put the dismembered bodies out for the weekly trash pickup. The bodies were never recovered but left in the landfill.
He claimed that the film version of John Fowles' The Collector, in which the protagonist kidnaps and imprisons a young woman, had been his inspiration when he was a teenager.
Berdella owned and operated a novelty shop in the Westport Flea Market/Bar & Grill in Kansas City, Missouri. He named his booth "Bob's Bazaar Bizarre" and catered to occult-type tastes. Article text.
Berdella died of a heart attack in 1992 after writing letters to a minister claiming the prison officials were not giving him his heart medication. His death was never investigated.
While the possibility hung over their heads that Berdella might be sitting on a substantial number of unspeakable crimes, prosecutors mulled it over. They wanted to know how many deaths were involved, and the defense attorneys offered only the information that the final toll was no more than a half dozen.
Prosecutors decided to accept the deal and preparations were made to record everything that Berdella revealed. In a small conference room in the basement of the Kansas City jail, under oath, he described what he had done, and the final report, says Wecht (who read it), came to 717 pages.
It was December 13. Two prosecutors, two detectives, two defense attorneys, a court stenographer, and Berdella were seated around a table on folding chairs. It took three long, weary days, but Berdella finally told all.
The crime spree began four years earlier in 1984. All of the victims had been abused and all had died inside the Charlotte Street house.
The first one was Jerry Howell (Wecht spells it as Holwell), with whom Berdella had a prior acquaintance. They had engaged in a sexual relationship for a couple of months. Berdella said that he had assisted Howell in paying for a lawyer and Howell had refused to pay him back. Berdella picked him up on the evening of July 4 and took him home, where he fed the young man a variety of tranquilizers. When Howell passed out, Berdella had sodomized him repeatedly. He used a carrot or cucumber to continue to assault him, and then bound him to keep him at the house. Berdella went to work and returned that evening to repeat the assault. He injected Howell with several substances to keep him subdued, and beat him with a metal rod. At about 10 p.m., Howell died. Berdella claimed that it had surprised him. He had not expected this turn of events and he figured that Howell must have accidentally aspirated his own vomit, triggered by the drugs.
To drain out the blood in preparation for dismemberment, Berdella hung the body upside down by the feet. Because this excited him, he took a lot of photographs. Then he took the body down and used kitchen knives to cut it into manageable pieces. For some parts, he used his chainsaw.
To dispose of Howell, Berdella placed the pieces into bags. He then set them out on the curb, wrapped in several layers of paper and plastic, to be picked up on Monday with the trash. He also bagged and set out Howell's clothing and the instruments he had used, to get rid of evidence. A week or two passed before he actually sat down and made notes about the incident.
The next victim, Robert Sheldon, had stayed at Berdella's house several times, and showed up for the last time on April 10, 1985. On that day, he became a captive. Berdella did the same things to Sheldon as he had done to Howell, but this time he added something: an injection of Drano into the left eye. The idea was to permanently blind him to make him a better long-term captive. He also did more damage to Sheldon's hands with various implements. When it seemed that Sheldon might be discovered by another visitor, Berdella put a bag over his head and suffocated him. That was on April 14, so he had been captive and subjected to these vile treatments for four long days. While Berdella cut him up in the bathtub and put the pieces out with the trash, he kept the head in a freezer for a few days and then buried it in his backyard.
Only a couple of months went by before the next victim, Mark Wallace, stumbled into the viper's nest. Berdella killed Wallace quickly, after some experimentation with electric shock.
Under questioning about this crime, Berdella considered the influences that might have been a factor. He said that he had seen a film as a teenager called The Collector that had planted a dark fantasy in his mind (he was 16 and it was 1965). The man in the film, based on a novel by John Fowles, is driven by the need to capture a woman and keep her imprisoned while he develops a relationship with her. Eventually she dies and he decides that it was her fault. He ponders what he needs to do with the next captive to make it a better experience for him and then goes in pursuit of her. Berdella said that this movie gave him a framework for feelings he was already having.
That September, when Walter Ferris asked if he could stay at Berdella's house for a while, he found more than he was looking for. While Berdella was injecting and torturing him, Ferris died from either an overdose or from the wrong combination of drugs. He, too, was cut up and placed on the curb.
Todd Stoops had stayed with Berdella prior to his eventual captivity, but in June 1986, he came into Berdella's lair for the last time. Berdella injected him and subjected him to sexual assault, including shoving his entire fist into Stoops' rectum. Eventually, Stoops began to bleed heavily, which was indicative of a rupture. Stoops developed a fever, so Berdella administered several different types of animal antibiotics. He also injected Drano into Stoop's eyes and voice box, and continued to assault him. Stoops never got better, and on July 1, he died. Berdella cut him up and placed the wrapped body parts in the basement for nearly a week.
The last one to die, Larry Pearson, had been a male prostitute, whom Berdella said he had met in the spring of 1987. He made Pearson a captive near the end of June. Pearson was more cooperative than the other men, so Berdella did not have to use as much "discipline" on him. He said that he kept Pearson around as a sex slave for about six weeks. He even thought of putting the dog collar on him first, before he had used it on Bryson. But finally Pearson had apparently decided that enough was enough and had tried fighting back. Berdella knocked him out to subdue him and he died. This head he also kept and put into the freezer.
Inexplicably, according to Wecht's report, he had dug up Sheldon's head and replaced it in the ground with Pearson's. Taking the skull inside, he had removed the teeth and placed the skull in the closet.
Despite rumors, Berdella insisted to police and later in a media interview that he had not been involved in devil worship and had fed no human flesh or bones to his dogs. (Hickey notes in Serial Killers and Their Victims that there was evidence otherwise regarding the satanic activity.)
Berdella in court
Berdella in court
On December 19, Berdella returned to court to officially plead guilty to five more murders. To four of them, he pleaded to second-degree murder, but for Robert Sheldon he accepted the charge of first-degree murder. It was not made clear why prosecutors had made this distinction.
But ensconcing Berdella in prison was not the end of the story. The media kept tabs on him and when he complained that roaches invaded his prison cell, one local disc jockey urged listeners to mail more roaches to him. Berdella insisted that reporters had him all wrong; he was human, a good person, despite his terrible acts. To show this, he set up a fund for the families of his victims worth about $50,000 from the sale of his assets, but for one family, that wasn't good enough. If he wasn't going to get the death penalty, he was going to be punished in civil court.
Coroner and forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht entered the case in 1992 as part of the civil litigation in a wrongful death suit. He writes about it in Mortal Evidence. The attorneys who hired him represented the family of Todd Stoops and they were suing for a substantial payment.
Todd Stoops was 23 at the time of his death on July 1, 1986. Berdella had used tranquilizer drugs to immobilize his victims and the legal question posed was about his actual intent: Had Berdella wanted merely to torture his victims, with death the unfortunate and unintended result, or had he known all along that the final act would be murder? None of the victims' bodies had been found, so all of the details had been gleaned from Berdella's confessions and diaries.
"Obviously," says Wecht, "this was a very frustrating situation for a scientist."
The family sued both Berdella and the insurance company, Economy Fire and Casualty, which held the homeowner's policy on Berdella's house, for the sum of $1 billion. Clearly, Berdella had killed the young man there, and they felt entitled to payment from his estate. In the end, the jury decided not on $1 billion but $5 billion. The figure was stunning. It was the largest jury award ever handed down in a wrongful death suit.
Berdella did not have that kind of money, so the clear target had been the insurance company. However, their policy covered accidental deaths, not intentional murder. Thus, Wecht was to review the evidence that Berdella had never intended outright murder.
Dr. Wecht reviewed everything sent to him and offered the Stoops family attorneys his medico-legal opinion. Having degrees in both law and medicine, and having practiced in Pittsburgh as both coroner and forensic pathologist for many years, he brought his entire experience to bear on giving a proper reading of the covert details of physical trauma behind the overt details offered in Berdella's confession. He also noted that Dr. Shelly Tepper, a board-certified forensic pathologist, had testified at the trial that Stoops had died as the result of a tear and subsequent infection in the anal wall. That's why he had gotten the fever and had become dehydrated. He had likely died from septic shock. This opinion, too, had been based on Berdella's description of events and on photographs of Stoops during the course of his deteriorating condition.
While it was impossible to determine the extent of the rectal injury without an actual examination of the remains, the symptoms matched what was known of such a condition. Wecht evaluated whether Berdella had realized that the act of torture could or would be fatal, and decided that with the administration of the antibiotics, Berdella's desire was to heal Stoops and keep him alive as a sex slave. The administration of Drano, too, indicated intent to keep him alive, because his stated reason for this gesture was for long-term captivity. Since Berdella had no medical background, he was just using what he thought might work, but he was wrong.
Dr. Wecht stated that, in his opinion, Berdella had not intended to kill Todd Stoops. The rupture of the rectal wall was unexpected, as was the subsequent fatal infection. "By definition," Wecht writes, "that is negligence."
On October 8, 1992, Berdella died in prison of a heart attack. For his four years of crimes against other men, he had served just four years in prison. An article written by someone who lived two blocks from Berdella's former torture house, it was suggested that recent evidence indicated that he had been poisoned. That evidence was not forthcoming, so the official manner of death remains "natural." Berdella was buried in the same gravesite with his father in Cuyahoga, Ohio.
In 1993, Economy Fire and Casualty Insurance Company settled with the Stoops relatives for $2.5 million. (Another source says $18 million).
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