Issei Sagawa

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Issei Sagawa
Born (1949-04-26) April 26, 1949 (age 73)
Kobe, Japan
Height144.8 cm (4 ft 9 in)
Criminal charge(s)Murder, cannibalism (falsely identified as attempted rape by officials) (Japan)
Criminal statusUnfit to stand trial by reason of insanity

Issei Sagawa (佐川 一政, Sagawa Issei, born 26 April 1949),[1] also known as Pang or The Kobe Cannibal, is a Japanese murderer, cannibal, and necrophile known for the killing of Renée Hartevelt in Paris in 1981.

Sagawa murdered Hartevelt then mutilated, cannibalized, and performed necrophilia on her corpse over several days. Sagawa was arrested but released after two years of pre-trial detention upon being found legally insane and deported to Japan. Sagawa's post-release celebrity in Japan led to international publicity.

Early life[edit]

Issei Sagawa was born on 26 April 1949 in Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture, to wealthy parents. Sagawa's father, Akira Sagawa, was a businessman who had served as president of Kurita Water Industries, and his grandfather had been an editor for The Asahi Shimbun. Sagawa was born prematurely and reportedly small enough that he could fit in the palm of his father's hand, and immediately developed enteritis, a disease of the small intestine. Sagawa eventually recovered after several injections of potassium and calcium in saline.[2] Sagawa's fragile health and introverted personality led to him developing a strong interest in literature. Sagawa first experienced cannibalistic desires while in the first grade, after seeing a male's thigh.[3] In a 2011 interview with Vice, Sagawa reported that as a youth he partook in bestiality with his dog and experienced cannibalistic desires for women.[4] Sagawa attended Wako University and completed a master's degree in English Literature at Kwansei Gakuin University.

At the age of 24, while attending Wako University in Tokyo, Sagawa followed a tall German woman home, then broke into her apartment while she was sleeping. Sagawa's intention was to cannibalize her by slicing off part of her buttocks and sneaking away with a small part of her flesh, but she awoke and, Sagawa claims, pushed him to the ground. Sagawa was captured by police and charged with attempted rape, and did not confess his true intentions to authorities.[4] Sagawa's charges of attempted rape were dropped when his father paid a settlement to the victim.

In 1977, at the age of 27, Sagawa moved to France to pursue a Ph.D. in literature at the Sorbonne in Paris.[2] Sagawa has said that while residing in Paris, "Almost every night I would bring a prostitute home and then try to shoot them, but for some reason my fingers froze up and I couldn't pull the trigger."[3]

Killing of Renée Hartevelt[edit]

On 11 June 1981, Sagawa, then 32, invited his Sorbonne classmate Renée Hartevelt, a Dutch woman, to dinner at his apartment at 10 Rue Erlanger, under the pretext of translating poetry for a school assignment. Sagawa planned to kill and eat her, having selected her for her health and beauty — characteristics he felt he lacked. Sagawa considered himself weak, ugly, and small (he was 144.8 cm (4 ft 9 in) tall)[5] and claims he wanted to absorb her energy. She was 25 years old and 178 cm (5 ft 10 in).[6] After Hartevelt arrived, she began reading poetry at a desk with her back to Sagawa when he shot her in the neck with a rifle. Sagawa said he fainted after the shock of shooting her, but awoke with the realization that he had to carry out his plan.[2] Sagawa had sex with her corpse but he could not bite into her skin because his teeth were not sharp enough, so he left the apartment and purchased a butcher knife.[2] Sagawa consumed various parts of Hartevelt's body, eating most of her breasts, face, buttocks, feet, thighs, and neck either raw or cooked (even admitting that he swallowed her clitoris whole due to her being on her period at the time and not liking the smell of menstrual blood), while saving other parts in his refrigerator. Sagawa also took photographs of Hartevelt's body at each eating stage.[7] Once the remains of her body that he didn't consume started decomposition, Sagawa then attempted to dump the remains of Hartvelt's corpse in a lake in the Bois de Boulogne, carrying her dismembered body parts in two suitcases, but was caught in the act and arrested by French police four days later.[2][8]

Sagawa's wealthy father provided a lawyer for his defense, and after being held for two years awaiting trial, Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French judge, Jean-Louis Bruguière, who ordered him held indefinitely in a mental institution.[2] After a visit by the author Inuhiko Yomota, Sagawa's account of his kill was published in Japan under the title In the Fog.[2] Sagawa's subsequent publicity and macabre celebrity likely contributed to the French authorities' decision to deport him to Japan, where he was immediately committed to Matsuzawa Hospital in Tokyo. His examining psychologists all declared him sane and found sexual perversion was his sole motivation for murder.[2] As the charges against Sagawa in France had been dropped, the French court documents were sealed and were not released to Japanese authorities; consequently Sagawa could not legally be detained in Japan. Sagawa checked himself out of the hospital on 12 August 1986, and has subsequently remained free since that day.[2] Sagawa's continued freedom has been widely criticized.[2]


Between 1986 and 1997, Sagawa was frequently invited to be a guest speaker and commentator.[9] In 1992, Sagawa appeared in Hisayasu Sato's exploitation film Uwakizuma: Chijokuzeme (Unfaithful Wife: Shameful Torture) as a sado-sexual voyeur.[10] Sagawa has written books about the murder he committed, as well as Shonen A, a book on the 1997 Kobe child murders.[11][12][unreliable source] Sagawa has also written restaurant reviews for the Japanese magazine Spa.[13][14] Sagawa can no longer find publishers for his writing and he has struggled to find employment. Sagawa was nearly accepted by a French language school because the manager was impressed by his courage in using his real name, but employees protested and he was rejected.

In 2005, Sagawa's parents died and he was prevented from attending their funeral, but repaid their creditors and moved into public housing. Sagawa received welfare benefits for a time.[15] In an interview with Vice magazine in 2011, Sagawa said that being forced to make a living while being known as a murderer and cannibal was a terrible punishment.[3] In 2013, Sagawa was hospitalized from a cerebral infarction, which permanently damaged his nervous system. He now lives alone and needs daily assistance, which is provided by his younger brother or from caregivers. At the time, he claimed to have regretted the obsession.[16]

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ "Issei Sagawa: Cannibal Killer". Learning History. Retrieved September 30, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Morris, Steven (September 20, 2007). "Issei Sagawa: Celebrity Cannibal". New Criminologist. Archived from the original on July 14, 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Kosuga, Tomokazu; Lena Oishi, Lena (January 1, 2009). "Who's Hungry?". Vice Magazine.
  4. ^ a b "Interview with a Cannibal". Vice Magazine.
  5. ^ Ramsland, Katherine. "The Cannibal Celebrity: Issei Sagawa". TruTV. Archived from the original on July 17, 2009.
  6. ^ Luzajic, Lorette C. "The Sweetest Taboo: An Anthropology of Anthropophagy". Gremolata. Archived from the original on January 25, 2010.
  7. ^ "Incendie, suicide, cannibalism: la maudite rue Erlanger". L'Express (in French). February 6, 2019.
  8. ^ "Murderer, cannibal, celebrity: Inside the mind of Issei Sagawa". Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  9. ^ Kushner, Barak. (1997). "Cannibalizing Japanese Media: The Case of Issei Sagawa". Journal of Popular Culture, vol. 31 (3), p. 55-57
  10. ^ Issei Sagawa at IMDb
  11. ^ Sagawa, Issei; 佐川一政 (1997). Shōnen A (Shohan ed.). Tōkyō: Poketto Bukkusha. ISBN 4-341-14134-1. OCLC 54033669.
  12. ^ Issei Sagawa at Goodreads
  13. ^ Henshall, Kenneth G. (1999). Dimensions of Japanese society: gender, margins and mainstream (rev. ed.). London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 207.
  14. ^ "Japan's only convicted cannibal, who lives at large and now describes himself as a food critic, has written more than 20 books". Red Circle Authors. Retrieved 12 May 2021.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ 『週刊新潮』2006年2月23日号。
  16. ^ "'Paris Cannibal' Sagawa reminisces over his grisly crime". Japan Today. March 19, 2015. Retrieved 2020-12-21.
  17. ^ Knoll, Paul (April 25, 2007). "Bard of Brooklyn". Metro Times. Retrieved September 26, 2009.

External links[edit]