Issei Sagawa is a Japanese man who in 1981 murdered and cannibalized a Dutch woman named Renée Hartevelt in Paris. After his release, he became a minor celebrity in Japan and made a living through the public's interest in his crime.
Sagawa served time in French prison for the murder of Dutch student Renée Hartevelt, a classmate of Sagawa's at the Sorbonne. On June 11, 1981, Sagawa, then 32, invited Hartevelt to dinner at his 10 Rue Erlanger apartment under the pretext of translating German poetry for a class he was taking.
Upon her arrival, after convincing her to begin reading the poetry, he shot her in the neck with a rifle while she sat with her back to him at a desk. At that point he began to carry out his plan to eat her. His first attempt to bite into her buttocks met with failure so he went out to buy a butcher knife.
Sagawa has stated he chose Hartevelt for her health and beauty, characteristics Sagawa believed he lacked. Sagawa describes himself as a "weak, ugly, and inadequate little man" (he is just under 5 ft (1.52 m) tall) and claims that he wanted to "absorb her energy".
Sagawa said he fainted after the shock of shooting her, but awoke with the realization that he had to carry out his plan. He did so, beginning with her buttocks and thighs, after having sex with the corpse. In interviews, he noted his surprise at the "corn-colored" nature of human fat.
For two days, Sagawa ate various parts of the body. He described the meat as tasting like raw tuna. He then attempted to dump the mutilated body in a remote lake, but was seen in the act and later arrested by French police, who found parts of the deceased still in his refrigerator.
Sagawa's wealthy father provided a top lawyer for his defense, and after being held for two years without trial Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who ordered him held indefinitely in a mental institution. After a visit by the author Inuhiko Yomota, Sagawa's account of the murder was published in Japan under the title In the Fog.
Sagawa's subsequent publicity and macabre celebrity likely contributed to the French authorities' decision to have him extradited to Japan. Upon arrival in Japan, he was immediately taken to Matsuzawa hospital, where examining psychologists all found him to be sane, stating that sexual perversion was the sole motivation for the murder.
Japanese authorities found it legally impossible to detain him because the French government refused to release court documents (which remain secret) to Japan, claiming that the case had already been dropped in France. As a result, Sagawa checked himself out of the mental institution on August 12, 1986, and has been a free man ever since. Sagawa's freedom has been questioned and criticized by many.