Wednesday, June 30, 2010
The eating of a human being by another human has been regarded by many in new-age societies as absolutely disgusting and wrong. In other cultures, the act of cannibalism has been seen as a rite of passage, a religious theme, or simply as a means to survive. In the mentally ill, those who commit cannibalism have no bearings, for the “killers” have no understanding of right or wrong. With chemical imbalances or inherited lunacy, the mentally ill have no ability to stop. A corpse to the sane population could be a delicious meal to the insane person. Formally called anthropophagi, cannibalism literally means the eating of one animal by another animal. But what are humans, without our distinctive opinions and intelligent thought processes? We are animals, killing other animals to satisfy our taste for meat.
The motive for cannibalism interests many people, the vast majority of the public longing for a believable reason. The most compelling and perhaps acceptable purpose for killing and eating another human is starvation. For the criminally insane, cannibalism is a means in which to taste the forbidden flesh of a human being, or to satisfy the unusual need to take the soul of their victim. In the old legends of the American Indian culture, it has been said that eating another human can make the body much stronger, virile, and capable of fighting with immense viciousness.
Hannibal Lecter, a well known fictional character depicted in the motion picture Silence of the Lambs, was a prominent and sophisticated psychiatrist who killed and ate many of his victims with interesting and classy recipes. This motivation was spawned by witnessing the cannibalization of his young sister Mischa in Lithuania during the Second World War. In the case of the infamous Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, a very real and terrifying individual, murdered and ate the children he met loitering near trains. Andrei grew up in war torn Ukraine SSR also during the Second World War. His mother, in an attempt to keep Andrei in the home, told him a frightening tale of his older brother being cannibalized in the streets by the starving residents of his small city. Jeffrey Dahmer, resident of Milwaukee, murdered and ate several of his victims in his apartment, but his true motive was to make a living zombie, a man that could never leave him. Nicolas Cocaign, one of France’s newest and strangest cannibals, appeared to have no reason to kill, other than the fact that he wanted to take the soul of his victim and, as an afterthought, to see what he tasted like.
When Nicolas was abandoned by his homeless and penniless mother, he was adopted at age three by a loving and dedicated family named the Cocaign’s in 1974. Though placed with an honest and caring new family, Nicolas was plagued by the abandonment of his mother, the few memories he had remained subconsciously and negatively etched in his mind. Nicolas, certainly not a product of his upbringing with the Cocaign family, was an abysmal and problematic child, often in trouble at school and quickly became a nuisance to the local police for his petty crimes. He even stole money from his parents along with any other precious belongs he could pawn or sell on the streets. After Nicolas was a victim of rape at the age of 13, Genevieve Cocaign, Nicolas’ mother, arranged appointments for Nicolas with a psychiatrist. Genevieve was already aware of her son’s mental instability and tried her best to help somehow rehabilitate Nicolas. In Genevieve’s mind, a mother’s love was never ending, and she was completely devoted to helping Nicolas cope with his struggles.
Genevieve and her husband were residing at a retirement home in Gaillefontaine, France, when Nicolas acquired a new girlfriend, Natacha, and moved into the home with them. He prided himself in raising various arachnids and snakes, finding himself more and more drawn to the macabre. Raising two children with Natacha, Nicolas appeared normal to his girlfriend, but eventually became, for lack of a better word, unbalanced. Three years into the relationship, Nicolas suddenly became tangled in a world of several personalities, none of which Natacha could recognize in the man she had come to deeply love. Hiding in the backwoods of their home at the time, Natacha soon learned that Nicolas was participating in some form of abnormal masochism. When she confronted him about it, a new personality in Nicolas emerged, a man who was intensely attracted to and fascinated with the act of cannibalism. Natacha was unable to understand Nicolas’ sudden absorption with this topic and believed him to have a simple interest that he would never indulge.
Following this bizarre conversation with Natacha, Nicolas began tracking the streets for victims he could most likely abuse in some form. Although his true intensions are unclear at this time, Nicolas might have been searching for someone to intentionally hurt or possibly cannibalize. What eventually occurred was a situation involving the armed and attempted rape of a woman. Nicolas was then charged and convicted for his crime and was sent to Rouen Prison. This was not Nicolas’ first visit to prison. He had spent time as an adolescent and as a young man in prisons for a variety of different crimes. But now that Nicolas’ mental state had begun to crumble, he was no longer what one would call an ideal prisoner.
Nicolas knew that something immediately was wrong with his thinking and begged the guards to send him to a psychiatric unit. His requests were ignored and Nicolas’ image of reality was rapidly becoming violent and illogical. Sharing an 11 square meter cell with two other men, Thierry Baudry and David Lagrue, Nicolas might have started suffering an illness known by many inmates as “stir crazy”. Being locked up for many years with little space and no privacy can cause this affliction to literally break down the mind, often revealing a deep seeded obsession of mistrust and irrational rage among convicts. The slightest bit of deviation from another prisoner can provoke a great argument or even murder.
Thierry Baudry, 41, serving time for sexual assault, made the terrible mistake of riling Nicolas one night on January 2, 2007. When confronted by Nicolas over the trivial matter of bathroom hygiene, Baudry tried to back off, sensing that Nicolas was in a nasty mood. In Nicolas’ paranoia, he thought he saw what looked like “a dirty and aggressive look” and decided to make Baudry pay for his disrespect. Nicolas wouldn’t let the issue go, and began punching and kicking Baudry violently. When Baudry was satisfactorily beaten and unable to defend himself on the ground, Nicolas forced a plastic bag over his head in an attempt to murder him by suffocation.
When he was under the assumption he had killed Baudry, Nicolas cut open the abdomen of Baudry, breaking his rib, and searched for Baudry’s heart. When he thought he found it, he began eating the organ raw. With a better idea in mind, he decided to cook the organ on a portable camping stove that was allowed by guards in the cells. Nicolas fried it with olive oil, sautéed onions, and salt and pepper. Though Rouen Prison was far from perfect, it is nearly impossible that Nicolas was starving. Eating Baudry was a choice, a maniacal one at that, but certainly done out of pleasure. Nicolas took great delight in finally indulging himself in cannibalism, something he had been dreaming of for years it seemed. David Lagrue, 36, the third cellmate, had been so fearful that Nicolas would choose him next; he pretended to be asleep while the killing took place.
The next day, a Rouen prison guard found Baudry’s torn and dissected body on the floor of the prison cell. Left in the cell was Nicolas Cocaign, covered in blood, and David Lagrue, just waking from sleep. The infirmary doctor noted that in Baudry was missing two chest muscles and part of his left lung. Nicolas Cocaign was brought in for questioning, and he instantly admitted to have dined on Baudry’s body the night before. Nicolas, with an eerie smile, told officials that he liked what he had done.
Merely a week before the tragedy, Perth Now, an Australian newspaper claimed that conditions in French Prisons were demeaning and shameful. Basic human rights were disregarded and Rouen Prison and other French prisons were labeled as having one of the highest suicide rates in Europe. This does not explain nor excuse Nicolas Cocaign’s actions, but it does give insight into the living conditions he was under which might have sparked his mad and ravenous craving for human flesh. At the very least, Nicolas’ violent temper might have been exacerbated by the confined and restricted prison cell.
The trial in Normandy lasted a mere four days beginning in the last week of June 2009. Nicolas, face tattooed with bloody tears and a skull, appeared in court looking well-groomed and dressed professionally. After being given psychiatric treatment, he went before the court stating that he felt stable and well enough to proceed with the trial. Though at this time, no diagnosis has been made for Nicolas, his attorney Fabien Picchiottio believed that his client was without a doubt completely insane. Demanding Nicolas serve his time in a psychiatric hospital, Picchiottio felt that his client was unquestionably in need of medical help. He further went on to add that though it is very strange for a patient to recognize their own ailment, Nicolas all the same would benefit from psychiatric treatment. Sufferers of mental illnesses are often unable to distinguish the psychosis they experience. For example, paranoid schizophrenics are almost always in the dark about their sickness, believing that an unreasonable person or situation is haunting them or out to sabotage them.
Fabien Picchiottio, devoted to finding his client legally insane, searched out a possible reason Nicolas had committed cannibalism. He held responsible the Rouen Prison in northwestern France for not allowing Cocaign to seek professional help for his unstable mental state. Nicolas’ mother, Genevieve Cocaign, testified at the trial, stating that her son was unsafe, dangerous, and badly needed help. In 2005, she even sent a letter to the then minister of the interior, French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Her letter went ignored, as did the many she sent after that. Genevieve tried to explain her son’s mental problems had begun at the age of 3, when he was abandoned by his biological mother and was adopted by the Cocaign family. Natacha also testified, expressing her belief that Nicolas had been undergoing severe personality changes before he was incarcerated. This was a desperate plea to prove to the judge and the public that Nicolas was incredibly mentally disturbed.
Nicolas admitted his fault in court, confessing that he was fully accountable for the death of Thierry Baudry, but insisting that he had pled for help at the Rouen Prison. His explanation for the killing was that he initially thought he was eating Baudry’s heart and "wanted to take his soul." But, he added, "I was curious to see what he tasted like." To Baudry’s mother and four siblings, Nicolas said, “I want to excuse myself before the Baudry family, if they accept my apology.” Baudry’s mother, Jacqueline, said “I want to know why he did this to my son. I want him to pay.”
Nicolas claimed that the death of Baudry was a “cry for help” for the Rouen Prison system. "No one was listening to me…. I made several appeals for help, saying I was a man capable of being dangerous. I took action, and then they took me seriously," Nicolas told the court. To eat another inmate is extraordinarily excessive, but to Nicolas, it seemed the only way to bid for attention. That, in itself, was regarded as a definite cry for help.
Nicolas’ lawyer argued that Cocaign was not responsible for the crime because of his mental disorder. To show to the grieving family that he did not agree or approve with the killing, he said “What he did horrifies me, [But] one doesn't judge the insane.” The prosecutor countered this statement with “Horror is not synonymous with folly.” To judge the insane is to judge a small child who has snuck into the cookie jar. They know no right or wrong, only that the cookie tastes good while eating it. The mentally sick are certainly to be punished for their crimes. But living in an assisted facility that can manage their medication is monumentally better than living in a prison system that cannot offer treatment and rehabilitation for their recklessness or madness.
Baudry’s family left the courtroom promptly when the gory details were announced by the medical examiner. Making the Cocaign case more disturbing was the disclosure by Dr. Patrick Laburthe-Tolra claiming that Baudry was still alive when Nicolas began his dissection of the body. He further went on to say that Baudry’s heart was still beating and he was still breathing when his chest was being cut open and his lung removed. This was proved by the fact that blood was present in the left lung when it was taken out and eaten. Nicolas testified that he had intended on eating Baudry’s heart, but had erred when selecting the organ.
After four days in court, Nicolas Cocaign was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murder and acts of “barbarism.” With good behavior and proper psychiatric treatment, he may only serve 20 years. Though claiming she had never had a calm moment with him, Genevieve visits her son regularly and still loves him unconditionally. David Lagrue, the third prisoner on that fateful night in 2007, later transferred to another prison and committed suicide in November 20, 2009. Langrue’s death was thought to have been caused because of the lasting and traumatizing effect of Baudry’s death.