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Robert A. BERDELLA

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Butcher of Kansas City"
 
Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Torture - The bodies were never found
Number of victims: 6
Date of murders: 1984 - 1987
Date of arrest: April 2, 1988
Date of birth: January 31, 1949
Victims profile: Robert Sheldon, 18 / Jerry Howell, 20 / Mark Wallace, 20 / James Ferris, 20 / Todd Stoops, 21 / Larry Pearson, 20
Method of murder: Asphyxiation / Poisoning (drug overdoses)
Location: Kansas City, Missouri, USA
Status: Sentenced to two life sentences without parole in 1988. Died in prison on October 8, 1992
 
 

 
 

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Robert Berdella (January 31, 1949 Ė October 8, 1992) was an American serial killer in Kansas City, Missouri who raped, tortured and killed at least six men between 1984 and 1987.

Early life

He was enrolled in the Kansas City Art Institute from 1967 to 1969. During this time he was convicted but received a suspended sentence for selling amphetamines. He was later arrested for possession of LSD and marijuana but the charges were dropped for lack of evidence. In 1969 he bought the house at 4315 Charlotte which would be the scene of the crimes. He worked as a chef and eventually opened Bobís Bazaar Bizarre.

Crimes

Berdella was apprehended on April 4th 1988 after a victim he had been torturing for a week jumped naked from the second story of his house and escaped. 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. He tried to gouge one of his victims eyes out, all 'to see what would happen'. He buried one victim's skull in his backyard, and put the dismembered bodies out for the weekly trash pickup. The bodies were never recovered but left in the landfill.

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'd had abducted and tortured in the previous months. It was not taken seriously at that time considering his advanced state of intoxication.

He claimed that the film version of John Fowles' The Collector, in which the protagonist kidnaps and imprisons a young woman, had been his inspiration when he was a teenager.

Victims

  • Jerry Howell - age 20 - July 5, 1984

  • Robert Sheldon - age 18 - April 19, 1984

  • Mark Wallace - age 20 - June 22, 1985

  • James Ferris - age 20 - September 26, 1985

  • Todd Stoops - age 21 - June 17, 1986

  • Larry Pearson - age 20 - July 9, 1987

Employment

Berdella owned and operated a novelty shop in the Westport Flea Market/Bar & Grill in Kansas City, Missouri. He named his booth "Bobís Bazaar Bizarre" and catered to occult-type tastes.

Death

Berdella died of a heart attack in 1992 after writing letters to a minister claiming the prison officials were not giving him his heart medication. His death was never investigated.

Wikipedia.org


Berdella, Robert A.

By his own admission, 39-year-old Robert Berdella was a strange character. The owner of Bob's Bizarre Bazaar in Kansas City, Missouri, Berdella carried business cards that advertised that he had "poison" in his head. Around the house, he showed a milder side, helping his Hyde Park neighbors establish a local community crime watch program. His strange behavior on the job was written off as so much advertising hype -- until the afternoon of April 2, 1988.

That day, a neighbor of Berdella's stepped outside to find a naked stranger crouching on his porch. The 22-year-old wore nothing but a dog collar, buckled around his neck, and he blurted out a tale of sexual abuse that sent Berdella's neighbor racing for the telephone, to call police.

According to the victim, he had been held captive in Berdella's home the past five days, subjected to repeated sexual assaults before he finally clambered through a second-story window and escaped.

Detectives picked Berdella up and searched his home for evidence. In doing so, they opened up a grim Pandora's box of horror. In the house, police discovered some 200 photographs of naked men, the subjects bound and clearly suffering from cruel abuse.

Torture devices were also seized in the raid, along with a pair of human skulls, occult literature, and a Satanic ritual robe. That weekend, deputies unearthed bone fragments and another human head in Berdella's yard.

On April 4, 1988, Robert Berdella was arraigned on seven counts of sodomy, one count of felonious restraint, and one count of first degree assault. Bail was initially set at $500,000, revoked the next day, when officers testified that one of the men in Berdella's photographs -- trussed up and hanging by his heels -- appeared to be dead.

While excavation continued on Berdella's property and prosecutor's contemplated murder charges, homicide investigators started checking out their list of missing persons dating back to 1984.

A bargained guilty plea on one count of murder consigned Berdella to prison for life, but authorities suspected him in at least seven other deaths.

On December 19, 1988, Berdella pled guilty to first-degree murder in the death of victim Robert Sheldon, and to four counts of second-degree murder involving additional male victims. He was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment during which he died due to natural causes.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers - Hunting Humans


BOB BERDELLA

By Karen Mehl


Berdella's Bizarre Bordello

Kansas City, Missouri is a typical midwestern city in the sense that the people are friendly and trustworthy. Neighborhoods are quiet and neighbors enjoy spending time getting to know one another.

Easter time 1988 in the city's East Side was no exception until Chris Bryson jumped out the window of a yellow and brown house located at 4315 Charlotte Street that Saturday morning. A house belonging to Robert Andrew Berdella Jr., owner of Bob's Bazaar Bizarre in Olde Westport.

Bryson was naked, wearing only a dog collar, when he knocked on the front door of one of Berdella's neighbors, seeking refuge from Berdella.

For some Kansas City Police Department detectives there would be no Easter weekend spent with family members. It would prove to be a long tedious weekend unraveling Kansas City's most heinous serial killer case.

The public would soon recognize the name of Bob Berdella without hesitation. The people of Kansas City are not accustomed to media coverage of such torture and murder.

Robert Andrew Berdella, Jr. grew up in a Midwestern town similar to Kansas City. Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where Berdella was born, is a quiet suburb of Cleveland.

Berdella was a quiet, aloof boy who was merely a teenager when his father died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 39. With a Catholic upbringing, Berdella turned to his church for understanding and sympathy relating to the death of his father. The church brought no resolution to his mix of emotions. He would later claim that this led to his   interest in diverse religious  and occult groups, including Satanism.

After high school, Berdella, who was his father's namesake, went on to art school. His interest in art is what led a deranged Berdella to Kansas City in 1967. His taste in art varied, but was always considered a bit strange. He collected oddities and artifacts, which led him to opening the shop in Westport.

Westport is a district in Kansas City known for its nightlife and different types of shops. Retailers specialize in interesting types of curios not found throughout the rest of the City. Berdella's shop was located in the Westport Flea Market which houses vendors pedaling wares in small cubicles as well as a restaurant known for its unique hamburgers. The Westport Flea Market is located on Westport Road at the intersection with Broadway, the outskirts of the two-mile strip known as "Olde Westport." Various comedy and dance clubs are also in the area, which was a hang-out for young suburbanites.
 

Captive

Chris Bryson, the young man who jumped out the window that April morning in 1988, was in his early twenties. He hustled as a "chicken hawk" or male prostitute to support his family.

Bryson encountered Berdella late one evening around the old Greyhound bus station in downtown Kansas City. Bryson was attempting to hustle Berdella but it seemed Berdella was actually hustling Bryson. The two men met some five days before the Easter weekend, each with a different idea in mind as to the way the evening would unfold.

Berdella suggested they go to his house. Young Bryson was pleased with the idea, as he was used to cheap motel rooms and the backseats of cars to eke out his meager living.

The two spent some time at Berdella's house on Charlotte Road getting to know each other. Later that evening, Berdella suggested they go to upstairs. There were vicious dogs on the floor they were on, Berdella explained, whereas the room upstairs housed a television and comfortable furniture.

Climbing up the stairs, Berdella overtook Bryson with a swift blow to the back of the head with a blunt instrument. Bryson went down quickly, unconscious. Berdella immediately took advantage of the situation and began shooting pictures of his victim with a Polaroid camera. This was a great fascination for Berdella. It would also prove to be irrefutable evidence of his guilt. Berdella was immaculate in his methodical documentation of the events with each of his victims.

Over the next four days, Bryson would be subjected to many different kinds of tortures at the hands of Berdella. He beat Bryson with an iron club and injected various parts of his body with animal tranquilizers and antibiotics. Berdella shocked Bryson with an electrical current by attaching alligator clips to different parts of his body, including his testicles. Berdella sodomized Bryson, sometimes demanding sex from the incapacitated captive two and three times a day.

During this course of events, Berdella held Bryson captive with bondage and drugs. Bryson was tied with several ropes to the iron headboard of the bed, his limbs outstretched. Berdella showed Bryson pictures of men who had been in his position before and would not cooperate. He told Bryson they were now dead and the dogs had eaten them. This was not far from the truth and Bryson believed every word Berdella said to him. He was fearful for his life, and with good cause.

Early on in Bryson's captivity, he screamed as he was raped and Berdella injected Drano into his throat, next to his windpipe, telling him if he continued to call out he would lose his voice entirely. Berdella jabbed swabs into Bryson's eyes soaked with a chemical, which could have been alcohol.

Bryson did not think he would ever see his family again, but he continually thought of ways to get out of the situation alive. Berdella would come and go quietly, leaving the drugged and confused Bryson no idea of where, if at all, Berdella was in the house.

On the day of his brave escape, Bryson did not know for sure that Berdella was gone, although in fact, Berdella had gone out to run some errands. Bryson had been cooperating with Berdella and therefore was allowed to hold the remote control for the television between his knees with his hands while still bound with ropes. He lowered the volume on the television set to determine Berdella's whereabouts.

Also, his hands were tied in a different fashion than usual and he quickly learned how to loosen the ropes. Another treat Bryson received for his cooperation earlier in the day was a cigarette. Berdella tossed the matches by the bed.

This combination of events allowed Bryson to make his quick getaway. After freeing a hand from the ropes, he used the matches to burn the rest of the ropes. His mind was racing with thoughts about what Berdella would do to him if he were captured while trying to escape.

Naked, with the ropes dangling, he dashed to the window, worrying that it might be locked or nailed closed. It was not and he quickly broke the glass. Looking down from the second story, he realized he had no choice but to jump from that height. He injured his foot upon landing, but ignored the pain as he ran out into the street to locate the nearest neighbor.

The neighbor would not let the naked man into his home but he did call the police. Shortly after police questioned Bryson, as he sat on the neighbor's stoop with red, swollen eyes and crimson marks on his wrist and ankles, Berdella showed up at his home.


Arrest

Berdella was arrested within minutes of Bryson's complaints, as it was obvious by looking at him, Bryson was telling at least a partial truth. The detectives had 20 hours, according to the laws of Missouri, to determine what charges they were holding him on. This would prove to be no easy task.

Detectives with the Kansas City Police Department spent the entire weekend cataloging items found in Berdella's home. It became rapidly apparent he was a collector or packrat. His house contained things like vertebrae and skulls, it was not easy to determine at a glance if these items were authentic. There were reports of other missing young men, of course, and the goal was to determine if any of them met with foul play at the hands of Bob Berdella.

The police spent the remainder of their time that weekend obtaining search warrants and warrants to detain Berdella in custody. However, after sorting through the copious piles of papers, pictures and other clutter and dog feces in Berdella's home, the detectives didn't have time left to do much else.

Bryson positively identified Berdella in photos the detectives showed him while he was in the hospital. Berdella was originally charged with forced sodomy and charges relating to the torture Bryson endured.

Berdella spent his life involved with young males in one way or another. He volunteered for youth organizations, neighborhood crime watch and various other committees. He let young men live with him and employed them to work in his store.

"He was involved with the neighborhood crime watch and used that to snatch young men," said one of Berdella's neighbors who prefers to remain anonymous.

After locating questionable items in Berdella's home, such as the skulls and other bones, the police noticed an area in the basement's dirt floor that by its dimensions resembled a grave.
 

The Investigation

Police interviewed neighbors, which led police to search the property around the house was located. In the backyard were other freshly dug places. A worst-case scenario seemed to be unfolding.

On Easter weekend, it would prove to be difficult to locate someone who could operate and had access to earth moving equipment. As Berdella was currently being held by warrants previously issued stemming from Bryson's comments, time was on the side of the Kansas City Police Department.

However, as is always the case, the media was alerted to the strange turn of events. The media soon began to swarm the house on Charlotte Street, complicating the entire investigation.

Excavation of the backyard began as hordes of reporters were on site. Almost immediately, the detectives spotted a human skull with hair and soft tissue still intact. The work continued in the backyard into Monday. Strange items were found but unrelated to any human death: bones from animals, jars with bird feathers, etc. The discovery lent credence to the idea that perhaps Berdella was into Satanism or some kind of occult religion.

It seemed that every new discovery created more questions for the detectives rather than answers.

In the meantime, detectives also continued to work inside the house, impeded by the amount of clutter and piles of dog feces. Luminol, a spray chemical used by the detectives to highlight blood, was applied to many areas in the basement with positive results.

People began contacting the police department with concerns for loved ones that were missing and known to have spent time with Berdella. Witnesses stepped forward to discuss their encounters with Berdella. Some claimed to have seen Berdella injecting people with drugs, primarily the tranquilizers he used for his dogs. Others claimed to be victims of these assaults.
 

No Body

The intangible evidence was overwhelming, leading detectives to realize a death, if not more than one, had occurred on Berdella's property, but there was no body. It was most difficult to convince a judge to seriously consider murder charges when there was no corpse to prove a murder occurred. The skull and vertebrae located early in the excavation of the yard were sent into the lab for positive identification. As Berdella had so many odd artifacts in his store and house, it was difficult to determine what was authentic and what was not.

The detectives continued the tedious, methodical search pending results from the lab regarding the bones. They devised a backyard grid, allowing them to search the area most effectively without going over ground than had been previously searched.

Copious documentation provided by Berdella led detectives to begin contacting the people whose names were listed in the diaries he kept of the torture administered to each victim. However, identifying the faces contained within the photographs proved to be difficult in some cases. Some pictures were of Berdella sodomizing his victim, where no face was visible, not even Berdella's.

Police began deciphering the code of shorthand Berdella utilized while logging the events taking place with his victims. It was written in a rather elementary and crude style. For example, police were able to rapidly determine "BF" represented anal penetration with his penis while "Fing F" stood for use of his finger. There were dozens of references to "F" in various fashions such as "carrot F" or "cucumber F" which meant Berdella inserted cucumbers or carrots into the rectum. The logs contained other equally disturbing information regarding the frequency and dosage of medication administered to the victims and where he injected them.

Some names were listed frequently, so the detectives began the search for these individuals. They quickly determined that the information contained in the logs directly corresponded to dates and times of young men who were missing.

The people of Kansas City began to realize that this would be a huge case: there was a serial killer in their midst.
 

Confined

Bob Berdella sat in the Jackson County jail awaiting his fate. For his own safety, he was isolated in a private area of the sick bay. Sexual abusers, particularly homosexuals, are often the victims of violence at the hands of other prisoners.

Observers claimed Berdella appeared remorseful and in denial, perhaps somewhat pensive and reflective. He refused to speak to anyone who might convey his side of the story such as the media or police. His friends who visited him said that he wished to speak to a particular minister with whom he had developed a friendship. Not necessarily for religious counseling, but to have someone to confide in.

Berdella was not interested at that time in confessing anything to anyone. He ignored the entire situation. As an individual accustomed to being in control, the experience was humiliating and irritating.

Because of his contacts in his business and years spent in Kansas City, Berdella had a lot of acquaintances, some of which were friends. But to all who knew him, it was difficult to believe such a monster lived within him. Some friends accused the police of framing Berdella. Actually, no one in Kansas City wanted to believe a human being was capable of this behavior whether it was Berdella or not -- it shattered the entire image of a wholesome Midwestern town.

This reaction from people made the investigation even more confusing. The police had no corpse and therefore could not prove a murder happened. Friends and family claimed Berdella was an eccentric, yet very likable and responsible. His worst fault, from the viewpoint of his friends, was that Berdella was condescending when dealing with women or people he considered less knowledgeable than himself.

A week into the investigation, the detectives knew they had to identify people in the pictures, including the ones with no faces portrayed. It was suggested by an outside source that detectives ask Berdella to assume the pose of the person taking the photographs, whose stomach, lower limbs and occasionally arms or hands were photographed.

A plan was put into action to have Berdella take strikingly similar photographs of him in these poses. They would then be sent to a professional for positive identification. At the same time, samples of Berdella's body hair would be obtained.

Berdella was very embarrassed and humiliated by having to pose for the photos, yet cooperative for the most part. He did resist with more than one position he was asked to assume. One of which was positioning him to represent having anal sex and another when the detectives wanted to position his hand as if shoving something into someone's anus.

At Berdella's arraignment in the courtroom of Judge Alvin Randall, Berdella shocked everyone by entering a plea of guilty to the charge of murder in the first degree. Eventually, Berdella confessed to the murder and torture of six young men between the years of 1984 and 1987. With an uncanny ability to recall detail, he told his frightening story as Court Reporter Ruth Emma Pietro recorded each grisly event of the carnage in the court record. He enjoyed his moment in the limelight while in the courtroom confessing because he was in total control of the stage.

This confession was the only way the detectives had a real case since the bodies of his victims were never located. Berdella claimed to have dismembered each body with various instruments, such as a chainsaw and knives. Berdella recounted how he placed the bodies in the bathtub and made precise incisions at the elbow joints, legs and groin to allow the blood to drain from his dead victim. He then packaged them into plastic trash bags and dragged them to the curb for the trash men to pick up and take to the dump. Berdella told a courtroom full of people, including loved ones of the victims, how he watched the bags being taken from the curb to insure they were not disturbed.

By confessing to the city's prosecutor, Albert Riederer, Berdella was able to negotiate for his life. He was promised the death penalty would not be sought if he provided the grisly details of his actions and he did. Judge Vincent E. Baker subsequently found Bob Berdella guilty of six counts of murder and sentenced him to two life sentences without parole.

It was recommended that Berdella go for psychiatric evaluation, which placed him outside the general prison population and prevented any violence from other inmates. The real Bob Berdella began to emerge in the ensuing psychiatric records.

Berdella appreciated control and considered himself important. He wanted his victims to be his sex slaves. He claimed never to have killed them intentionally. It is theorized that murderers convince themselves the victim is less of a human being. This perception gives the killer an opportunity to justify his actions or, at the very least, feel less guilty about it. Berdella referred to his victims as "playtoys."

In Berdella's case, the victims were young men with little or no education. Most of the victims made a living selling themselves and drugs. Obviously they were beneath the social stature of a well-liked and successful businessman such as Berdella. It was this mentality that led Berdella to the grotesque acts of torture to which his victims were subjected. He would befriend them and then deprive them of all emotions and sensations unless administered by him.

Berdella beat his victims with various instruments and injected them with drugs or chemicals. He put chemicals into their body cavities. It has been said he even put window caulk into the ears of his victims. He sodomized them in a variety of ways -- with his penis and with vegetables, such as cucumbers and carrots or his arm. One victim died from a ruptured anal wall after Berdella put his arm deep inside of the man. In his confession, Berdella callously referred to this as "Fist F." Some victims died from asphyxiation, while others died from drug overdoses.

Berdella believed he was a good and upstanding individual who may have done some terrible things. He set forth to prove this theory to the public. He hated having his name smeared in the public eye.

In an attempt to get back in the good graces of the public, Berdella opened a trust fund for his victims' families, administered by Rev. Roger Coleman who had stood by him throughout the entire ordeal. Some families of the victims sued Berdella for wrongful death but failed because of the inability to meet the statute of limitations for such crimes. . Berdella was smug in his remarks concerning the impending lawsuits.

Berdella claimed that he did not understand why he was a serial killer or what in his life had contributed to behavior. He took great offense and claimed people incompetent for thinking he himself understood it. He rejected emphatically that claim that he had any dealings with Satanism.

Berdella served only four years of his time in the state penitentiary in Jefferson City, MO before he died of a heart attack at the age of 43 on October 8, 1992.

Prior to his death, Dell Dunmire, a millionaire originally from Punxsutawney, PA, then living in the suburbs of Kansas City, purchased all of Berdella's belongings, including the house on Charlotte Street and the inventory in his home and store. Dunmire claimed to have no interest in the items other than he felt he understood Berdella. He later leveled the house and sold the property to surrounding neighbors.

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