We know about the Cannibal Cop, the former New York City police officer convicted last month of planning to kidnap, torture, rape, and kill numerous women before cooking them up, slicing them apart, and eating them.
Now prepare to meet his online friend—a school librarian. And his Internet buddy who’s a police chief, too—and what is it with law enforcement these days anyway?
It turns out there may be a whole global village living online sharing similar dark fantasies.
On Monday, federal officials charged Christopher Asch, 61, a retired librarian at New York City’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School, and Richard Meltz, 65, the chief of police at the Bedford Veterans Administration Medical Center in Massachusetts, with plotting a similar scheme that ensnared Gilberto Valle, the 28-year-old so-called Cannibal Cop who’s now facing life in prison.
Although the charges filed against the men this week contained no mention of the kind of culinary tricks that Valle was whipping up for his victims, police say the duo were also working on plans to commit gory acts on women with Michael Vanhise, a New Jersey man accused of conspiring with Valle. According to the indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, Asch and Meltz conspired with Vanhise, and the librarian bought leather rope, a stun gun, duct tape and a “leg spreader” in order to carry out the conspiracy to kidnap and torture women, including Vanhise’s wife, sister-in-law, and her children.
“The bone-chilling conduct alleged in this complaint is a chronicle of sadism and depravity that includes the defendants’ very real steps to carry out their plans to kidnap, torture, rape, and kill the women and children they targeted,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in a statement. “As alleged, Richard Meltz and Robert Christopher Asch assiduously planned their plot in detailed conversations and alternately served as advisers and facilitators of the plan.”
Attempts to reach lawyers for Asch and Meltz were unsuccessful on Thursday.
As more alleged plots come to light, even psychiatrists have expressed alarm about the level of depravity that’s described in police reports.
“It is always difficult to make difficult formulations about people from afar, but on the other hand I feel very safe in saying that these are individuals that aren’t fantasizing about sexuality but about compete domination and total control,” said Mark Rubinstein, an attending psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian Hospital and a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Cornell University who isn’t treating anyone involved in the case. “There have always been sadists, but I have never heard of anybody belonging to a coterie of people who engage in these fantasies.”
The Internet, he added, has been able to make such meetings of the minds possible, and indeed, could even help further such kind of thinking as sadists become encouraged in their fantasies.
When you engage in this kind of fantastical thinking, you encounter someone else online, then you get this contagion.
“I suppose there is a community for everything. There are people of every stripe—who are pathological, or who are not pathological—but who share common interests,” he said. “It has a kind of contagion to it. When you engage in this kind of fantastical thinking, you encounter someone else online, then you get this contagion that prevails and they feed on each other like sharks.”
According to federal officials, the three men began emailing in October 2011 about a plan to kidnap, rape, and kill Vanhise’s wife, sister-in-law, her children, and his stepdaughter. He sent them photographs, and they proposed a meeting location, and Meltz wrote to him, “we go over there she know you let’s [sic] us in we choke her out tie her up throw her in the back of your car take her someplace,” according to the indictment.
FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos said the men “were not confined to talking about these ghoulish plans. They acquired the tools to accomplish the deed, including a stun gun and the chemical means to anesthetize their victims. And they made detailed plans to use these instruments—plans that were foiled by the FBI’s intervention.”
It is unclear at this point if additional people will be charged in the investigation.
“It will go as far as the investigation will take it. How many more people are involved? That is what investigators want to determine. It is so strange and so unusual that this makes it a little bit easier to track down,” said Tod Burke, a professor of criminal justice at Radford University in Virginia. “Once you have a couple, the circle has got be relatively small from an investigative standpoint. Because of the type of crime we are dealing with, this has to be a close-knit community. It can only snowball from here.”