Robert Berdella pictured at his Westport shop, Bob's Bizarre Bazaar, December 1986.
|Born||Robert Andrew Berdella
January 31, 1949
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||October 8, 1992
Jefferson City Correctional Center in Jefferson City, Missouri
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
|Other names||The Kansas City Butcher, The Bondage Killer|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
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 when he was a teenager. His father worked as a die setter for the Ford Motor Company and his mother was a homemaker. He was severely nearsighted and had to start wearing thick glasses at the age of five. When he was seven, his brother Daniel was born. He did very well in school, though teachers found him difficult to teach, and other students bullied him. When Robert was 16, his 39‑year‑old father died of a heart attack. 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, 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 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 a member of his local crime‑prevention and neighborhood‑watch association. When he was 32, he quit working as a cook and opened his own store, Bob's Bizarre Bazaar, which sold oddities and antiques. Having become open about being gay, he had a brief relationship with a Vietnam veteran. Then he began spending time with male prostitutes, befriending them, and trying to help them out of prostitution.
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Berdella is believed to have started killing in July 1984. 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 1985, another friend of Berdella, Robert Sheldon, came to stay with him for a few days and was 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, leading Berdella to fatally suffocate Sheldon so he would not be heard. The following June, Berdella found Mark Wallace, who had helped him with 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 he died too. The next year, he bailed Larry Pearson out of jail and started holding him prisoner in his basement. According to Berdella, Pearson was by far the most cooperative of his six murder victims; throughout his six weeks of captivity, Pearson had trained himself to sleep without moving, in order that he did not antagonize Berdella and thus invite further torture.:312 After six weeks of captivity, Berdella killed Pearson by first bludgeoning him into unconsciousness, and later suffocating him with a bag and ligature.
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).:36–37 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 white males aged 18–25, five of whom he had known prior to their kidnap and murder while one, Mark Wallace, Berdella had not known. After taking them to his house, he would get them drunk or drug them with 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 garbage men. He occasionally kept body parts, such as the heads, as trophies, burying them in his backyard.
- Jerry Howell, 20, July 5, 1984: An acquaintance of Berdella who died of asphyxiation after 28 hours of captivity, which included repeated sexual assaults.:258 Howell had known Berdella since 1979.
- Robert Sheldon, 18, April 12, 1985: 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.:272
- Mark Wallace, 20, June 22, 1985: 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 7 p.m. on June 23.:281
- Walter James Ferris, 25, September 26, 1985: The first victim whom Berdella stated he had intentionally tortured prior to his death.:258 Berdella noted that Ferris became delirious during his captivity as a result of the torture and medication he had administered. His death was noted in Berdella's torture log with the notation "Stop the project".:289
- Todd Stoops, 21, June 17, 1986: Kidnapped due to Berdella being "sexually frustrated" with him. The torture he endured prior to his death included electric shocks via a spatula placed across his eyelid in an unsuccessful attempt to blind him. Stoops died of a combination of blood loss and infection on July 1.:302
- Larry Wayne Pearson, 20, June 23, 1987: Held captive until August 5.:316 Pearson was killed by suffocation after six weeks of captivity, which included having a piano wire tied around his wrists with the intention of causing nerve damage. His head was kept and buried in Berdella's garden.:312
- Chicago death metal band, Macabre's song "Diary of Torture" on their album Murder Metal is about Robert Berdella, and details the abductions, torture, and killings.
- Benjamin Meade (Director), Bazaar Bizarre, Documentary Film (2004) via crimedocumentary.com / runtime: 100 minutes.
- Fisher, Ryan; Aust, Ashley; Bisset, Danielle; Jamba, Timothy; Jones, John; King, Audrey; Kowalski, Jennifer; Krell, Elizabeth; Layton, Jaclyn (2006). Aamodt, Mike, ed. "Robert Berdella: The Butcher of Kansas City, Missouri". Radford, Virginia: Radford University. Archived from the original on November 3, 2015.
- Jackman, Tom; Cole, Troy (1992). Rites of Burial. New York: Pinnacle Books. ISBN 978-1-55817-611-9. LCCN 93-124893. OCLC 25994503. OL 1465540M.
- Ramsland, Katherine. "The Kansas City Butcher: The Confession". truTV Crime Library. Archived from the original on October 6, 2012.
- Logan, Casey (September 9, 2004). "The Lighter Side of Torture". The Pitch. Kansas City, Missouri. Archived from the original on January 7, 2016.
Meade cuts to commentary by the Rev. Roger Coleman, who spent an agonizing time counseling a suicidal Berdella during the killer’s initial incarceration. Four years later, a panicked Berdella called Coleman and said prison officials were withholding his heart medication. Shortly thereafter, Berdella died of a heart attack.