I’ve studied cannibal killers for years: there are 3 childhood traits they almost always share and a psychopath fascinates me

Ever since the film The Silence of the Lambs, Moira Martingale has been fascinated by cannibals.

From the New York cop who fantasized about cooking his wife over a pork roast to the Californian who cut off his mother’s head and the Brits who feasted on their victims, he studied them all.

Now Moira has published a book about these gruesome killers, Cannibal Killers, and her research has provided her with a fascinating insight into what makes them work and how to spot one.

“Cannibal killers are rare,” he says. “If you think about the important ones in history, there weren’t many.

“But if you think about the last few years, there have been a few.”

Moira published the first edition of her book in 1993, two years after the most famous fictional cannibal, Hannibal Lecter, was brought to our screens in The Silence of the Lambs, starring Anthony Hopkins.

“When The Silence of the Lambs came out, its impact was truly monumental,” he says.

“If someone kills someone in a fit of anger or revenge or jealousy or for money, however evil they are, you might understand why they did it.

“People wanted to know why someone would want to eat another person.

“I had a degree in psychology and had studied deviant behavior and thought I’d find out.”

And the answer – aside from incidents where people ate human flesh out of necessity during famines or because they believed it had some sort of magical quality – is almost always for sex kicks.

Online outbreaks

Moira, a former journalist, says the internet has provided a place for these deviant to come together and share their vile fantasies.

He told The Sun: “I don’t know if the internet has caused a rise in deviant killers, but my gut would tell.

“If you think about porn, it used to have to be smuggled into the country or bought in under the counter shops. There was shame there.

“Presumably there have always been people who fantasize about eating human flesh, but with the Internet they can find other like-minded people, and this confirms it.

“There are so many horrible websites about sadistic treatment of women and eating them. Presumably there have always been people who have this as their fantasy, but the Internet feeds it. “



During her research, Moira discovered many other factors shared by the killers in her book.

Typically, the perpetrators who are loners.

This was certainly the case with Sawney Bean who, in 16th century Scotland, lived in a cave with a woman named Black Agnes Douglas.

In 25 years they and their 45 children and grandchildren are said to have devoured more than 1,000 people.

They were discovered by a search team ordered by King James IV and executed.

Target victims who are like them

Moira states that these types of killers usually target similar victims, for example by ethnicity and sexual orientation.

Stephen Griffiths used the MySpace “Crossbow cannibal” handle and gave the same name in court in 2010 when he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of three prostitutes.

He claimed to have eaten their body parts.

Notorious American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is said to have eaten some of the 17 young men he killed between 1978 and 1991.

Dahmer was beaten to death by another inmate in 1994.

Moira says, “Dahmer tortured himself for being gay and killed men.”

Unhappy childhoods

Jeffrey Dahmer had a happy childhood, which is atypical for cannibals


Another common factor is that many sadistic killers have unhappy childhoods, but Moira says Dahmer was an exception.

He said: “He really had a very happy childhood and there were people who loved him.”

There are other factors that can be seen in childhood that form a triad of indicators that a person could become a sadist.

The first is that they love to inflict pain on small animals, such as dogs, cats and rabbits.

Luka Magnotta's sadistic tendencies, seen in the Netflix documentary Don't F *** with Cats, included feeding a kitten a python


As an adult, Luka Magnotta posted footage of himself feeding a kitten to a python and choking another in 2010.

He appeared in the Netflix documentary Don’t F *** with Cats, after which The Sun tracked him down and confronted him.

Six months later, Magnotta killed Chinese student Jun Lin and filmed himself repeatedly stabbing his victim with an ice pick, dismembering him, performing necrophilia and, according to Canadian police, cannibalism had been carried out.

His confession to The Sun about the killing of cats was crucial evidence at his trial in 2014, where he was sentenced to life in prison.

Cannibal killers are also likely to enjoy setting fire when young.

Moira said: “Arson is a sexual thrill. If a child likes to start fires, this is one of the indicators ”.

And finally, that they continue to wet the bed after age 12.

Moira said: “If a child exhibits all three of these behaviors, there may be problems in the future.”

They are planners

Gilberto Valle with his ex-wife Kathleen Mangan Valle before his arrest


Cannibals are usually not spontaneous in their killings.

Instead, they are meticulous planners, like the case of New York policeman Gilberto Valle, who was arrested in 2012 for an alleged plot to kidnap and roast a woman in his oven.

Valle’s wife had gone to the police after finding what was dubbed “cannibal porn,” which included detailed plots about her and other women being kidnapped and consumed.

He was jailed for attempted kidnapping in 2013 but the following year a judge overturned the sentence, agreeing with Valle that his ill thoughts were not a crime.

They are male (mostly)

If you think about cannibals who made headlines, they are usually men.

In 2007, Turkish serial killer Özgür Dengiz earned the nickname “Cannibal of Ankara” after killing three men, including a computer engineer who angered him by suggesting he couldn’t afford a laptop.

He declared: “I love to eat human flesh. It makes me ecstatic ”.

In London in 1992, 23-year-old Mark Heggie drank his victim’s blood after attempting to kill her.

He was sent to a psychiatric hospital after telling investigators that he often drank animal blood and got slaughterhouse jobs to satisfy his craving.

In November 2014, Matthew Williams, 34, lured 22-year-old Cerys Yemm to his newly released prison probation hostel in Newport, South Wales.

Police responded to an emergency call and found Cerys near death, lying in a pool of blood while Williams was reportedly tearing her face out with his teeth.

The addict Williams had a history of violent crime and was said to be tall at the time of the attack. He was tasered by the police and shortly thereafter stopped breathing and was pronounced dead in an ambulance outside the hostel.

However, there is also the strange woman in the history books.

In October 2019, grandmother Sofya Mikhailovna, 80, was nicknamed the “Russian Sweeney Todd” for distributing meals to her neighbors containing human flesh, including that of her tenant.

One of his victims was an eight-year-old girl who was killed because she was too loud and rude.

They cannot be rehabilitated

Edmund Kemper is one of the most fascinating cannibal killers, according to writer Moira Martingale


When cannibalism is a sexual fantasy, it means that it is almost impossible to cure someone of that desire.

Moira believes Californian Edmund Kemper to be one of the most fascinating.

As a child he was a misfit and at 15 he killed his grandparents and was sent to a youth psychiatric hospital. When asked why he did this, he replied that he wanted to experience what it was like to kill his grandmother.

He says: “He was released at 21 and went on to kill six college students, then his mother. He cut off her head, had sex with it and used her as a target for darts ”.

Kemper, who appeared in the Netflix documentary series Mindhunter, killed 10 people and confessed to eating casserole meat.

Remains in prison in California.

“People who interviewed him say he’s fascinating,” he says.

“He is interested in his own psychology and in the analysis of himself. He tells himself that he should never be left out ”.

Cannibal Killers: Monsters With a Taste for Murder by Moira Martingale is published by Ad Lib, priced at £ 8.99.

I’ve studied cannibal killers for years: there are 3 childhood traits they almost always share and a psychopath fascinates me – Tebigeek