Robert Andrew Berdella: The Kansas City Butcher

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“One of the most evil killers of the modern era.”

On June 23rd, 1987, Kansas based serial killer Robert Andrew Berdella Jr. dragged a sedated 20-year-old Larry Wayne Pearson into his basement. He would then violently torture Pearson for the next six weeks before beheading and dissecting his remains in August of 1987. Pearson was one of six victims to fall foul of one of the evilest killers in the modern era.

Berdella was the eldest son of a deeply religious family, his father was of Italian descent. Raised in Ohio, he was sent on religious education courses and attended the local church for mass. During his childhood he was afflicted with various impediments that saw him bullied in school and beaten by his father.

When he was young, his father rarely allowed him to socialise outside of religious sermons and family chores. As such, Berdella became a loner and was known to have been socially awkward. When he was five-years-old, he was diagnosed with near-sightedness and had to wear thick-rimmed glasses. Combined with a speech-impediment, he withdrew from society at an early age.

In doing so, Berdella didn’t follow in his younger brother’s footsteps and take up sport, instead becoming lethargic and gaining weight. Because of this lethargy, his father would often compare him to his younger brother, belittling him for not being like his other son.

Although Berdella’s father abused his children he would pay particular attention to his eldest son. He emotionally and physically abused them, sometimes beating them with a leather belt.

As he reached his teenage years, Berdella became confused about his sexuality, which he kept to himself. He finally came out as gay in his late teens. On Christmas Day 1965, when Berdella was 16-years-old, his 39-year-old father died of a heart attack while at home.

Berdella turned to religion in the hope that faith would somehow see him through what he described as a difficult time, regardless of his father’s abuse towards him. When he didn’t find what he needed, he began reading up on other religions and soon started to lose faith in what he had been taught as a youngster.

At around the same time, he had turned his withdrawal into a mask of exaggerated confidence. He became difficult to be around due to his new rudeness and attitude towards others.

Then he saw a 1965 film called The Collector

In the case of Berdella, it was one of the first known instances of a movie directly impacting the thought processes of someone who had the potential to kill and would go on to kill.

The plot of The Collector is about a man who abducts women and holds them captive in his basement. It is a direct correlation to the exact process used by Berdella in his future murders. Except that he chose men instead of women.

Two years later in 1967, Berdella moved to Kansas and went to the Kansas City Art Institute where he was known to have become a promising student, but things quickly took a turn for the worst. After falling in with the drug crowd, he started to abuse drugs and alcohol, and even began dealing to other students.

Some serial killers torture small animals in their childhood years, due to being able to overpower small animals where they can’t overpower human abusers or carers. Berdella started late and used art as an excuse for torturing animals. As part of his art, he used sedatives on a dog to see the effects, then tortured and cooked a duck in front of other students – for art. After that he left the institute after widespread condemnation.

He was arrested a few months later in possession of Marijuana and LSD. It is unclear whether the LSD was the type known as Orange Sunshine Acid which is the type that Charles Manson and other known criminals went on to use.

The Collector (1965) American psychological horror film that may have influenced Berdella.

He stayed in Kansas and moved into the now infamous 4315 Charlotte Street, in the Hyde Park area of Kansas City. He enjoyed using male prostitutes and spent a lot of time in gay bars in the city, openly taking part in casual sexual encounters with other men. He would spend time with drug addicts and homeless people and gain their trust by plying them with drugs.

Ever since his teens, he took pleasure in and saw the benefits of becoming pen-pals with people. He then wrote letters to people all over the world including to Vietnam and Burma, two countries that were very much off-limits to the Western world at the time. In return he would receive photos of ancient sites and small items from those countries, and so his collection began to grow.

In disregarding mainstream religion he had developed a belief and understanding in alternative religions and occult magic. This would lead him to opening a rather unique shop in 1982.

He opened a booth at the Westport Flea Market called Bob’s Bazaar Bizarre

Bob’s Bazaar Bizarre was an antique and curiosity shop. It sold things like primitive art, Asian artefacts and jewellery. He subsidised his earnings by stealing items for his booth and then started taking lodgers at his home. He became friends with the son of one of his fellow booth operators, Jerry Howell. When Jerry was 19-years-old, on July 5th 1984, he became Berdella’s first victim.

Berdella promised to give him a lift to a dance contest but instead drugged him with heavy sedatives, took him home and tied him to his bed. Over the next 24 hours, Berdella raped, tortured and beat Jerry. He died after the drugs stopped his heart and he gagged on his own vomit. Berdella then dragged the body to the basement to try and resuscitate him but instead he suspended the body from the feet.

As Jerry’s body was hanging upside down, Berdella cut his throat and other arterial veins in order to drain the blood from the corpse. A day later he returned to his basement and used a chainsaw and knives to dismember the body. He wrapped them in newspapers and put them in several trash bags, which were collected shortly after and taken to the landfill.

We know all this in such great detail because Berdella had been keeping extremely elaborate notes and photographs of his victims and other assaults. His notes detailed each individual act of torture and abuse, and outlined the intense physical and mental satisfaction that he took from carrying out the murders in such a way.

He killed another four young men after Howell and his final victim was on June 23rd 1987. Larry Wayne Pearson was initially one of Berdella’s lodgers and Berdella hadn’t planned on killing him. After he bailed Pearson out of jail, he made a crude remark about gay men, and Berdella saw red. Berdella drugged him and dragged him into the basement – where the horror began.

Berdella had been keeping extremely elaborate notes and photographs of his victims and other assaults.

For the following six weeks until August 5th, when he finally killed him, Pearson was tortured and abused in the most horrific of fashions. He would be injected with drain cleaner and had piano wire tightened around his wrists to cause nerve damage. Berdella broke one of Pearson’s hands with an iron bar and electrocuted him with an electric transformer.

He kept Pearson in various states of sedation and moved him around the house, including the second bedroom where he would rape and abuse him further. Towards the end, Pearson summoned the energy to bite Berdella’s penis during a session of forced fellatio. Berdella then beat him to death and later dismembered him in the basement. He stored Pearson’s head in the freezer before burying it in the backyard.

Although Pearson was his last murder, another victim escaped his clutches in 1988. 22-year-old Christopher Bryson managed to escape from the house. He jumped from a second floor window and was wearing nothing except a dog collar around his neck. He broke his foot when he jumped but managed to call out for help. Someone heard him and called the police, and Berdella was subsequently arrested.

334 Polaroid images and 34 snapshot prints were found in the apartment when it was searched. There was a possible link with a total of 20 murders but only six could be verified using his notes and confession.

Berdella was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He died of a heart failure on October 8th 1992, while incarcerated at Missouri State Penitentiary.

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