Do you have a type?
For most of us, this question might conjure images of our living and breathing fantasy. However, for some living and breathing aren’t always considered necessary, or even desirable qualities, in a partner. Necrophilia is a sexual or erotic attraction to corpses – and often this extends to sexual contact with dead bodies.
There are three basic types of necrophilia: necrophilic fantasy, where desires remain fantasy; regular necrophilia, where the corpses used for sexual pleasure are already dead; and finally necrophilic homicide, where an individual is murdered to obtain a corpse for sexual abuse.
But who are these individuals that harbour, and even act on these sick fantasies? Read on as we introduce you to four infamous necrophiliacs.
Silence of the Lambs: Ed Gein
If you haven’t heard of Ed Gein, perhaps you’ve heard of Psycho’s Norman Bates or The Silence of the Lambs’ Buffalo Bill. Both of these disturbing characters were inspired by a real and for all practical purposes, rather ordinary, man.
A “mama’s boy” from a young age, Ed devoted himself to her until her death. His obsession with her was so unbridled that, shortly after she died, he even considered a sex change so that he could literally be her.
Driven by a dark desire to see a dead body in real life, he exhumed the body of a recently buried woman in 1947. Over the next decade, he continued to visit graveyards, searching for more female corpses. The body parts and corpses he removed aroused Gein above all else.
With the relics he collected, he created a female body suit out of the skin he had collected which he would wear. This has been described by experts as an “insane transvestite ritual”.
When police came knocking at the door of Gein’s house of horrors after he murdered two local women, what they found was beyond their worst nightmares. Masks of human skin, bowls made of skulls, the refrigerator filled to the brim with human organs and chair covers made of skin.
During his deposition, Gein was found to be clinically insane as well as schizophrenic. He spent the rest of his years in a psychiatric institution where he died aged 78.
When the fantasy isn’t enough: Dennis Nilsen
Dennis Nilsen’s sexual attraction to death was apparent before he even began to kill: he himself would play dead in front of a mirror and had even asked past lovers to do the very same.
His first murder occurred in 1978. Later in written confessions Nilsen claimed that he wanted the victim, Stephen Holmes, to “stay with me [him] over the New Year whether he wanted to or not”.
Nilsen was sexually aroused by the control that he had over his victims and continued to satiate this desire – killing fifteen men over a period of five years – and often attempting sexual contact with them before and after death.
In all but his first murder, he dissected the body once it started to decompose. Many of these parts were flushed down the toilet in his Muswell Hill apartment.
Investigation of blocked drains in the apartment complex proved to be Nilsen’s undoing as plumbers found these packed with a flesh like substance as well as small bones.
Brian Masters, author of the definitive biography of Nilsen, noted that he was “killing for company” as a result of an intense loneliness that he wanted to alleviate.
The usual suspect: Karen Greenlee
Not unsurprisingly – for anatomical reasons – an estimated 90% of necrophiliacs are thought to be men. Karen Greenlee, however, is a shocking example of a female funeral embalmer who openly embraced her attraction to corpses.
“That’s my nature,” Greenlee said, “and I might as well enjoy it.” Her macabre attraction came to light in 1979, Greenlee was to deliver the body of a man to a graveyard for a funeral, but instead she fled in the hearse, abducting the corpse.
Most shocking was a letter by Greenlee detailing her erotic episodes with what she estimated had been over twenty male corpses. In this, she referred to herself as a “morgue rat” and even admitted that touching dead bodies was an addiction she couldn’t seem to break.
In a later interview, Greenlee confessed that the erotic moment involved the entire atmosphere: the aura of death, the smell, the funeral home and the mourning. It wasn’t just about sexual stimulation, it was about a complete experience. She admitted having broken into some mortuaries and tombs in order to pursue her habit, and was nearly caught on one occasion.
She later regretted her openness, however, as Greenlee has since changed her identity and relocated.
A perverse relationship: Carl von Cosel
Maria Elena de Hoyos, a twenty-two year-old woman was a tuberculosis patient under the care of radiologist, Carl von Cosel. Before her death, von Cosel developed an unhealthy obsession with the young woman, harbouring a deep hope that he would one day marry her.
When she died, von Cosel built a mausoleum for her in a nearby graveyard and preserved her in formaldehyde. There he would visit and have “conversations” with her. His obsession was such that he even left a phone in the mausoleum so that they could stay in touch when he was away.
Eventually, he made the decision to illegally remove her corpse and take her home. As she began to decompose, he replaced her rotting eyes with glass and her slipping skin with wax and silk. He used her own hair to create a wig and dressed her in a bridal gown. He even took extreme measures to ensure that he could still be intimate with her.
He lived with her in this state for seven years until de Hoyos sister came across her sister’s corpse when visiting von Cosel’s house. Von Cosel was arrested, but the statute of limitations had run out on his crime of grave robbing, so he was set free.
When he eventually died in 1952, he was found in a room with a large doll in his arms that was wearing de Hoyos’ death mask.
Your turn: What do you think would drive someone to necrophilia? Are all cases related to psychological or psychiatric disorders or do you believe there are other underlying motivations? Tell us in the comments below.