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, The Bondage Killer|
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 worked as a die setter for the Ford Motor Company and his mother was a homemaker. When he was seven years old his brother, Daniel, was born. 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 was expelled from college after killing a dog for the sake of art. After this, he 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". Berdella had buried two victims' skulls in his backyard (one of which had been retrieved and placed inside a closet on the second floor of his property, with the teeth removed and stowed inside an envelope in the same room). The dismembered bodies of all six of Berdella's victims had been stowed in trash bags and subsequently taken to a landfill. The bodies of Berdella's victims were never recovered.
Berdella's confirmed victims were Caucasian males aged 18–25, five of whom he had known from prior to their kidnap and murder. (Berdella had not known Mark Wallace prior to his kidnap and murder.) 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 asphyxiation, 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.
- July 5, 1984: Jerry Howell, 20. An acquaintance of Berdella who died of asphyxiation after 28 hours of captivity, which included repeated sexual assaults. Howell had known Berdella since 1979.
- April 12, 1985: Robert Sheldon, 18. Sheldon had occasionally lodged with Berdella prior to Berdella "formulating the intent" to keep him captive on April 12. He was killed by suffocation on April 15.
- June 22, 1985: Mark Wallace, 20. Discovered by chance hiding from a thunderstorm in Berdella's toolshed. Wallace died of a combination of a lack of oxygen and injected drugs at 7p.m. on June 23.
- September 26, 1985: Walter James Ferris, 25. The first victim whom Berdella stated he had intentionally tortured prior to his death. Ferris was noted by Berdella as becoming delirious throughout his captivity as a result of the torture and medication applied to him. His death was noted upon a torture log via a notation indicating, "Stop the project".
- June 17, 1986: Todd Stoops, 21. Kidnapped due to Berdella being "sexually frustrated" at him. The torture he endured prior to his death included electric shocks via a spatula placed across the eyelid in an unsuccessful attempt to blind him. Stoops died of a combination of blood loss and infection on July 1.
- June 23, 1987: Larry Wayne Pearson, 20. Held captive until August 5. Pearson was killed by suffocation after six weeks of captivity which included enduring piano wire tied around his wrists inflicted with the intention of causing nerve damage. His head was retained and buried in Berdella's garden.
- 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.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Ramsland, Katherine. "The Kansas City Butcher". truTV Crime Library. Retrieved 3 April 2012.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 281. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 258. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 289. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 302. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 316. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.
- Jackman, Tom; Troy Cole (1992). Rites of Burial. Pinnacle. p. 312. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9.