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By Christopher Berry-Dee, Steven Morris
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2008 Christopher Berry-Dee and Steven Morris
All rights reserved.
IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS ... JEFF PETERS AND ANDY TAKERS
'Once in a great while, a few times in history, a human mind produces an observation so acute and unexpected that people can't quite decide which is more amazing – the fact or the thinking of it,' wrote Bill Bryson in A Short History of Nearly Everything. He was referring to the towering genius of Isaac Newton, but the same observation might equally be applied, if somewhat glibly, to an idea devised by two individuals less principled than the great 17th-century scientist. Our men are the legendary scammers Jeff Peters and his loyal friend the aptly named Andy Takers, who practised their skills in the matrimonial industry long before the advent of the internet.
These two scallywags hit upon a unique idea – it was the first ever in its field, so gullible males stumbled into it in ignorance – and decided to organise a low-risk venture by placing an advertisement in a newspaper aimed at singles. It was simple, and it would make them millionaires: 'Wealthy nice widow is looking for an honest man who will take care of her and her finances. Age and looks are not important but he must have a heart of gold.'
To ensure that the police would not trouble them, Peters and Takers found a real widow. Then they charged every male applicant $50 to have his letter forwarded to 'Widow X'.
Money came pouring in, expenses were covered and the devious venture started to make a profit. Any police officers who knocked on their door were sent away smiling with a small 'bonus' for their concern. Before long, Peters and Takers grew very rich indeed and from the basement of a brownstone in New York they moved swiftly into palatial cliff-top homes, where they were eagerly cosseted by more women than they could count.
Their success is quite amazing when one considers that singles ads had been around for over a century before these two rogues came up with their ingenious get-rich-quick scheme in the early 1940s. But the record also shows that the American serial killers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez certainly recognised lonely hearts clubs as a rich source of pickings when, circa 1948, they started to attract their many victims via this medium.
Enticing single and often wealthy women into their net, the couple, dubbed by the press 'the Lonely Hearts Killers', were rewarded for their initiative by electrocution at Sing Sing on 8 March 1951, dying within minutes of each other. It was reported that Martha was so large that special arrangements had to be made for her launch into perdition. She could not fit into the seat, so officers strapped her down while she sat on an arm of the electric chair. An unedifying sight indeed.
Messrs Peters and Takers, Beck and Fernandez might be said to be the pioneers of 'exploitation for criminal gain' in the lonely hearts end of the sex industry. Such services have been advertised by every medium known to mankind and, above all, on the computer screens now used by most of us.
Indeed, if applause is appropriate, we might say that every rascal who turns a profit from the lonely hearts industry today might put their hands together for Peters and Takers, for without this pair's original idea they would all be a lot poorer. Conversely, their victims would have been richer and, as the case of Robert Wheeler will highlight later in this book, some of them would not have lost their lives.
But let us not forget that the online dating agencies and the lonely hearts clubs before them owe a debt of great magnitude to the person who was the very first to come up with the idea of advertising for a partner. Stand up, Helen Morrison from Manchester!
The short story of Helen Morrison is that of a lonely lady who, way back in 1727, was just looking for a little love. Such was her anguish at being lonely that she persuaded the Manchester Weekly Journal to print a tiny notice stating that she was looking for someone nice to share her life with.
Not much wrong with that. But, unfortunately for the lonely spinster, it was not long before this prototype lonely heart ad was reported to the police and Helen was hauled up to face the mayor of Manchester, who quickly had her committed for four weeks to what was then called a lunatic asylum.
History tells us nothing more about Helen. It does, however, show that the early lonely hearts clubs that followed her idea were the ancestors of the millions of websites that offer similar services today.
Understanding this progression from lonely hearts columns to internet dating agencies, to 'Russian Brides Seeking Love', to prostitution and X-rated porn, takes no great leap of the imagination. The original concept has now blossomed into a multi-million-dollar industry – and sex is the root of it all.
You don't have to be a genius to start an internet dating or marriage site. The tools required are simply a website, an e-bank account and Western Union address (which can be used all over the world), and a cluster of pictures of attractive women and men to post on the internet. You link your site to as many others as possible, and you're in business. Fifty or so photos of scantily dressed young females seeking love with older – often much older – men are the best bait around, and you won't have to wait long for the fish to bite.
Most certainly, the priapic Hugh Heffner, owner of Playboy magazine, saw the massive potential of the web immediately and was quick to jump in. Making its debut in 1994, Playboy's website had content that differed from the printed version, being designed to appeal to a younger, wealthier audience, 75 per cent of whom did not subscribe to the magazine.
Two years later, the Playboy site was the eleventh most visited on the internet. When the magazine Penthouse went online in April 1996, its site recorded the highest number of visits for a publication's site on the web – ever.
In 1997, the Playboy site generated $2 million in advertising revenue. In mid-1998, Playboy's CyberClub had 26,000 subscribers each paying $60 per year. Today the membership is several million and the site averages a staggering five million hits a day.
By mid-1995, US strip clubs had got in on the act and started setting up websites. From coast to coast, they put up their own pages and used them to advertise their shows. These featured pornographic photographs of strippers and, in imitation of magazine centrefolds, their 'cyberstars' of the week.
A website for a strip club in Delaware pushed the boundaries further by including pornographic images of women engaged in the types of legal prostitution offered at that club, including couch dancing, table dancing, shower shows and dominatrix acts. This initiative took the world by storm and by 2004 the internet offered a choice of 1.3 million strip sites and clubs.
Soon the idea migrated – via the internet, of course – to the UK, Europe and right around the globe. But enough of facts and figures for the moment – more later – for this book concerns itself mainly with the web's links with sex, prostitutes, pimps and murder. And, as for this last kind of crime, it would not be long before someone would have the idea of inviting fellow web surfers to a last supper, as we shall see below.CHAPTER 2
ARMIN MEIWES: INTERNET CANNIBAL
'It was passable, but a little tough; it would have been better braised ... and the wine, a Riesling, was not at all correct, too sweet, lacking body, next time, perhaps, a Pomeral.' Armin Meiwes on eating his victim's penis
'There are several hundred people with cannibalistic tendencies in Germany alone, and many thousands around the world. Cannibalism has always been around, but the internet reinforces the phenomenon. You can be in contact with the whole world and do this anonymously.' Criminologist Rudolf Egg
The internet has highlighted that there are at least one million people who harbour sexualised cannibalistic fantasies. Discussion forums and user groups exist for the exchange of pictures and stories of such fantasies. Users of these services fantasise about eating, or being eaten, by members of their sexually preferred gender. This cannibalistic inclination, known as paraphilia, is one of the most extreme and 'popular' sexual fetishes.
Today cannibals can shop on the internet for someone to consume. And, to judge from the following case, there is no shortage of websites to titillate people who are eager to be killed and eaten.
But one thing is sure: over the coming years there will be no shortage of people for flesh-eating killers to feed on. The cannibal cult followers themselves operate under disguised names or completely phoney identities in the darkest crevices of cyberspace. People such as Laura, who pleads her bona fides in poor English. 'Please don't tell me I'm sick,' she writes. 'It is just a fantasy, but the realism of it turns me on so much.' Or Robert, who cuts very much to the chase: 'I already have a young, pretty, slightly plump married women from Iowa offering herself to be eaten.'
Most of these people are doubtless fantasists, sexual deviants or plain old fruit bats, but their messages are nonetheless ice-cold chilling, because one of these modern-day would-be cannibals and his willing victim have now stepped out of cyberspace, evolving before our eyes from the virtual into the visceral.
It may be hard to digest, but it appears we live in a time of cannibals. The question is, how can such savagery exist in a supposedly sophisticated world?
When Armin Meiwes, a shy, fair-haired man who lived with his mother, went sailing with his army buddies, he would always make pasta. 'He didn't eat much himself,' remembered Heribert Brinkman, who organised the trips. Meiwes, it seemed, had an appetite for something different, but it was not until March 2001 that dinner was finally served to his satisfaction.
In the tiny central German village of Rotenburg, in the centuries-old farmhouse bequeathed to him by his mother, Meiwes often sat at the kitchen table and dined on steak with pepper sauce, potatoes, sprouts and a glass of red wine. It is not known what the wine was – but eventually the meat would be from a two- rather than a four-legged source.
While Mrs Meiwes was alive, Armin was restrained. Her son was the apple of her eye and she dominated his very core, so that his fantasies remained just that. Her death, in 1999, released the sick side of his soul, which then found the nurture it needed on the internet. But Meiwes was, apparently, no serial killer. Unlike the American Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 men and ate parts of them, or Andrei Chikatilo, who murdered and gorged on as many as 50 men and women in Russia, Meiwes was in search of not so much a victim as a collaborator, but a fellow chef who would provide the principal ingredient.
And into that role stepped 43-year-old Bernd-Jurgen Brandes.
This computer software designer from Berlin had a predilection that was not to everyone's taste: he paid male prostitutes to whip him until he bled. Now, on Sunday, 11 March 2001, he relaxed in the large comfortable chair offered to him by Meiwes, and sipped from a tumbler of cognac. A contented half-smile played across his host's lips, for this was the moment Armin had been waiting for. He had prepared meticulously for what was now, finally, starting to unfold.
Brandes had written his will and had it notarised. The bulk of his estate, including a sprawling, luxury penthouse apartment, along with a small fortune in computer equipment, had been bequeathed to Rene, his blithely unaware male partner. And he had sold most of his belongings, including an expensive sports car. He wouldn't be requiring these material trappings where he was going.
His wish was to be butchered, cooked and eaten.
Something else Rene could not have suspected was that, when Bernd had informed his bosses at Siemens that he was taking the Friday off 'to attend to some personal matters', he would not be coming back.
With several thousand dollars in cash and his passport tucked inside his jacket, Bernd travelled 300 kilometres from Berlin to the farmhouse near Kassel where he now sat with his drink. His pulse raced, while the warm cognac slowly dulled his senses. He smiled contentedly, knowing he had been very methodical indeed.
Armin Meiwes, the gentleman whom he had first met through the internet some months before and who now stood, beaming broadly in front of him, had been methodical too. Calling himself 'Frankie', he had patiently posted more than 80 notices on a gay internet chatroom with cannibalism as its central theme, waiting calmly for just the right individual to reply. When Bernd, who styled himself 'Cator', finally answered, both men quickly realised that their mutual fantasy would become something much more. After all, it is without question that both parties knew what the other wanted, and this was confirmed in a video recording that captured every sickening moment.
Meiwes had been fishing – trawling might be a more apt term – and on cannibal fetish websites he had encountered a handful of willing participants who took the bait, swam into the net by visiting his home to admire his newly constructed cage and slaughter room, then allowed him to draw lines on their bodies to illustrate the choicest cuts and even let themselves be suspended upside down by a chain and pulley.
Meiwes's culinary plans didn't come to fruition with any of these candidates, but he was a patient fellow. It was not until early 2001 that his message, 'Searching for a well-built young man who would like to be eaten by me', was greeted by: 'I am offering myself to be eaten but alive. No slaughter but consumption.'
Who would reply favourably to an invitation like 'Gay male seeks hunks 18–30 to slaughter', unless that nightmarish sentiment stirred something deep and secret within?
From the start secure within the confines of the rambling half-timbered house so painstakingly customised by his host, Bernd placed his glass on the table beside him and rose. Smiling, he embraced the tall man standing before him and allowed himself to be led out of the room and along a narrow hallway. Once in Meiwes's bedroom, he lay down on the bed and, with that same vapid smile on his face, he observed as the 41-year-old man produced something sharp that gleamed in the lamplight.
Bernd closed his eyes and waited.
First he felt his fly being unzipped and then his slacks slowly being tugged off. Meiwes was gentle but firm, wary of doing anything that might spoil the coming moment. Bernd snapped at him, 'Just do it. Just cut the thing off!' Taking Bernd's flaccid penis in his hand, Meiwes drew the razor-sharp blade slowly across the member several times until it separated from his guest's body.
The pain must have been excruciating and the flow of blood powerful, but this Meiwes partly staunched with a wet towel. Without immediate medical assistance, Bernd would bleed to death, but death is exactly what he wanted.
Both men were unable to consume the penis raw and, unfortunately, when Meiwes tried to cook it, he burned it black.
With Bernd bleeding heavily from his mutilated groin and his time running out, the two men agreed to forgo the first course and head directly for the main dish. With a glass of wine in one hand, the guest proffered the 'delicacy' to his host. Meiwes gladly accepted and, as Bernd looked on, he savoured the heady sensation of realising this powerful mutual fantasy, then took up his knife and fork.
In the yellowy light of the dining room, the delighted castrator tucked into this most succulent, although overdone piece of flesh, savouring it as one might a tender venison steak. He had taken the liberty of frying the organ in garlic butter – he had trusted his guest had no objections. Then, after voicing his approval, he gestured for Bernd to join him and both tucked in.
Excerpted from Murder.com by Christopher Berry-Dee, Steven Morris. Copyright © 2008 Christopher Berry-Dee and Steven Morris. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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