Canvassing a Cannibal | Germany | News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 18.03.2005

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Canvassing a Cannibal

Armin Meiwes, who admittedly killed and ate another man, made headlines around the world. The first book on the German cannibal has just been released in English. DW-WORLD talked to the author.

Meiwes has never shown remorse for his crime

Meiwes has never shown remorse for his crime

Germany and the world were shocked in December 2002, when details about Meiwes' deed first emerged: He confessed to stabbing and eating 43-year-old Bernd-Jürgen Brandes. What disturbed people most, however, was that Brandes had agreed to his slaughter and even tried to consume his own genitals before Meiwes killed him.

Meiwes, who has never expressed remorse over what he did, was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison for manslaughter in January 2003. He has declined requests for interviews as he has sold his story to a German media production company.

Lois Jones

Lois Jones

That's why Lois Jones (photo), a Munich-based journalist from Wales, based her book "Cannibal" on interviews with friends and relatives of both men and those involved in Meiwes' trial. The result is the most graphic and detailed account of the case published for a general audience so far.

DW-WORLD: What was your reaction when you first heard about the case?

Lois Jones: I was shocked, basically. I felt what these two men did pushed far beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable. Germany is a very civilized society. It amazed me that something like this was going on in Europe in today's world. I did find it revolting. I'm quite a squeamish person and also a strict vegetarian, which made it even more disgusting or shocking for me. I found it almost incomprehensible. I found Meiwes more revolting and Brandes more disturbing: As soon as I heard about it, I was mystified and thought, "What could drive a man, a seemingly successful man, to be eaten by another?"

What made you decide to write about it?

The publisher was looking for someone to write the story -- a native English speaker, working as a journalist in Germany. I always wanted to write books and thought, "Maybe now is the right time to start." I found the subject fascinating: What would drive someone to eat a man? Why would his victim give his consent?

What fascinated you most about the story?

Three main things: First, the psychology of the two men involved. What shocked me about both of them was that people had no idea and thought they were relatively normal individuals. It was very hard to believe. Secondly, I'm a strict vegetarian, I've consciously not eaten meat for years and was interested in the question: What do people think is acceptable to eat? And thirdly, the fact that the people involved were perceived as quite normal, the fact that it wasn't just them, but hundreds and thousands of people worldwide who are interested in cannibalism -- this something that appeals to so many people.

Haus der Kannibale in Rotenburg

Meiwes killed Brandes in his house in a hamlet called Wüstefeld near Rotenburg in the central German state of Hesse

How did you go about writing the book?

I approached Meiwes in prison, he wrote back a curt, type-written letter. It wasn't particularly friendly, he basically said that he wouldn't agree to be interviewed because he wanted to write his own book. It was a bit of a relief. So I talked to friends, acquaintances, people he'd gone to school with, policemen, lawyers -- anyone who had anything to do with him. A lot of people were willing to talk about it. Neighbors were keen to talk about it because it maybe helped them understand, being able to talk about it with someone else. I also checked out cannibal Web sites and chat rooms, which were slightly disturbing, I must admit.

Was it difficult for you to deal with the subject for months?

It surprised me in some ways -- I am a person who does get upset when I watch a horror movie, but I was able to distance myself more than I thought. Admittedly, I did find some chapters particularly gruesome. I wasn't allowed to see the video (depicting the slaughter), but people described what happened. That bit particularly was gruesome, detectives had to receive counseling because it was so disturbing.

You include the Brandes' thoughts in your book. Where did you get that information?

Opfer des Kannibalen

Bernd-Jügen Brandes

It says in the front of the book that "the events in the book are real, or as close to real as humanly possible." A lot of it is from what Meiwes told psychologists, what he said in court, and how psychologists said (Brandes) would be thinking.

Meiwes has sold the rights to his story. How do you feel about that?

In his letter, Meiwes told me that if I were interested in being a ghost writer for his autobiography, I should apply to his lawyer. I didn't want to do that. I don't think it's quite right that he should be making money out of what he's done. It's not helping him at all -- here's someone who needs help and it's only going to fuel his ego. He has stated that he no longer feels the need to eat another man. But before he was caught by police, he was looking around for other victims, which indicates that he hasn't gotten over this urge. There are fans, Web sites on the Internet that are dedicated to him. In a way this could encourage people out there who have similar tendencies to actually carry them out.

Isn't your book also helping to promote his celebrity?

Buchcover The True Story Behind The Maneater of Rotenburg

Book cover -- Lois Jones: "Cannibal"

What I tried to write was an objective view of what happened and not glorify what he's done. My book was trying to be more, look, this is what happened.

Your book came out as a mass-market edition, which is also sold in supermarkets in the US. It is very graphic at times. Would you have written it differently if you'd written it for a different publication?

The publishers were certainly keen for it to be written the way it was. They were very liberal in giving me a free reign, but I probably would have written it a little less gruesome.

Do you think you'll write another true crime book?

I think I could, but I don't solely want to write them. Right now I'm writing a book about (British discount airline) Easyjet. That's a bit less gruesome.

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