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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
By Karen Mehl
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.
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
Berdella, Jr. grew up in a Midwestern town similar to Kansas City.
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, where Berdella was born, is a quiet suburb of
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
"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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
It seemed that
every new discovery created more questions for the detectives rather
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
The people of
Kansas City began to realize that this would be a huge case: there was a
serial killer in their midst.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.