Robert Berdella pictured at his Westport shop, Bob's Bizarre Bazaar, December 1986.
January 31, 1949|
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||October 8, 1992(aged 43)|
Cause of death
|Other names||The Kansas City Butcher|
Span of killings
|July 6, 1984–August 5, 1987|
|State(s)||Kansas City, Missouri|
|April 2, 1988|
Berdella was born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in 1949 and was raised Catholic, though he stopped attending church services when he was a teenager. His father, who would beat him with a leather strap, worked as a die setter for the Ford Motor Company and his mother was a homemaker. When he was seven years old, he got a younger brother, Daniel, who became the father's favorite. He did very well in school, though teachers found him difficult to teach and he was bullied by other students. He was severely nearsighted and had to start wearing thick glasses at the age of five. When Robert was 16, his life took a dive for the worse; first, his father died of a heart attack at the age of 39. His mother remarried shortly afterwards, to Robert's resentment and anger. He later claimed that around the same time he was sexually assaulted by a male coworker at the restaurant where he worked. A loner, he saw a 1965 adaptation of the John Fowles book The Collector, which is about a man who abducts a young woman and holds her captive in his basement; he later said it made a lasting impression on him.
In 1967, at the age of 18, Berdella enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute hoping to become a professor, but instead pursued a career as a chef. During his time in art school, he engaged in animal torture at least three times; during two of them he tortured a duck and a chicken and on the third he experimented with sedatives and tranquilizers on a dog. He also began a criminal career, abusing alcohol and selling drugs. At the age of 19, he was arrested for possession of LSD and marijuana, but was released after only five days due to a lack of evidence. In 1969, he dropped out of school and became a successful chef full-time. As a member of a local chefs' association he helped set up a training program for aspiring chefs. He was also a member of his local crime prevention and neighborhood watch association. When he was 32, he quit working as a cook and instead opened his own store, Bob's Bizarre Bazaar, which sold all kinds of oddities and antiques. Having become open about being gay, he had a brief relationship with a Vietnam veteran, but it didn't last. Instead, he started hanging out with male prostitutes, befriending them and even trying to help them out of prostitution.
In July 1984, Berdella is believed to have started killing. He drugged one of his friends, prostitute Jerry Howell, and started keeping him in his basement, torturing and repeatedly raping him over a night before fatally asphyxiating him. In April the next year, another friend of Berdella, Robert Sheldon, came to stay with him for a few days and found himself drugged and held captive in the basement like Howell before him. At first, Berdella changed his mind about "keeping" him and took him to a doctor to have his injuries treated. Not long afterwards, he changed his mind and returned Sheldon to his basement. On April 15, a workman came to do some work on Berdella's home, forcing Berdella to fatally suffocate Sheldon so he wouldn't be heard. In June the same year, Berdella found Mark Wallace, who had helped him do some yard work, hiding in his tool shed to seek shelter from a storm. Berdella invited him inside his house, drugged him and started holding him captive. After hours of torture, he was killed like the previous victims. In September, he picked up James Ferris at a gay bar, invited him home and took him captive. After weeks of torture, he was killed.
In June 1986, Berdella lured Todd Stoops, a male prostitute he had known for some time, to his house and held him captive for six weeks before killing him as well. The next year, he bailed Larry Pearson out of prison and started holding him prisoner in his basement, killing him after six weeks. In March 1988, he abducted his last known victim, a prostitute named Chris Bryson, and put him in his basement like the others had been before him. While Berdella was at work, Bryson managed to break free and escape by jumping from a second floor window. He ran to a neighbor's house, wearing nothing besides a dog collar around his neck, and called the police. His dungeon was exposed along with the polaroids of his victims and his torture logs and remains of his victims were found on the property. Berdella ultimately made a deal to avoid the death penalty in exchange for a full confession.
Berdella was apprehended on April 2, 1988. By that time, he had abducted and tortured at least six young men, and the Kansas City Police Department suspected him in two other disappearances. 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. Methods of torture included electrical shocks, puncturing their anal cavities with his fist, applying bleach to their eyes by way of cotton swabs, and even injecting their vocal cords with drain cleaner. He tried to gouge one of his victim's eyes out "to see what would happen". He buried one victim's skull in his backyard, put dismembered bodies out for the weekly trash pickup, and had an industrial-grade garbage disposal on the drain in his basement. The bodies were never recovered but left in the landfill.
Berdella's confirmed victims were Caucasian men aged 18–25, some of whom he had known from before. After getting them to his house, he would get them drunk and/or drug them with "traditional" sedatives or animal tranquilizers and keep them restrained in his basement. Over the course of anywhere between a night and several weeks, he would torture and sodomize them, documenting the process with a camera and keeping a detailed log, before eventually killing them by asphyxiating them, sometimes using a plastic bag. He claimed to have administered antibiotics to his victims to keep them alive longer. Afterwards, he would drain the blood out of their bodies by placing them in a bathtub and cutting slits in them. He would then dismember them with kitchen knives and a chainsaw and leave the body parts in trash bags to be picked up by garbagemen. He occasionally kept body parts such as the heads as trophies, burying them in his backyard.
A few months before the arrest was made, Berdella was offered a ride home from a bar by people who noticed he was too intoxicated to drive. On the way back, Berdella allegedly told stories about young men he had abducted and tortured in the previous months. It was not taken seriously at that time considering his advanced state of intoxication.
|Name||Age||Date of disappearance|
|Jerry Howell||20||July 5, 1984|
|Robert Sheldon||18||April 19, 1985|
|Mark Wallace||20||June 22, 1985|
|James Ferris||25||September 26, 1985|
|Todd Stoops||21||June 17, 1986|
|Larry Pearson||20||July 9, 1987|
- Chicago death metal band, Macabre's song "Diary of Torture" from their album Murder Metal is about Robert Berdella, and gives details of his abductions and killings.