Ohio man sentenced to 26 years to life for killing Menlo Park woman in order to stay young through cannibalism

Francis Wolke, 30, was found guilty on March 2, 2023 of first-degree murder for killing 62-year-old Kathleen Anderson in her Menlo Park bedroom in December of 2018, and sentenced on April 5 to a term of 26 years to life in prison.

San Mateo County prosecutors stated that a friend of Anderson found her body while the killer was still inside the house. The friend called the Menlo Park Police Department and detained Wolke at knifepoint until police arrived.

When the trial opened on Tuesday, February 14, Wolke’s attorney, Connie O’Brien, had declared, in a rather unusual opening statement, that her client was driven to murder by a desire to engage in cannibalism. She stated that Volke believed that, if he committed cannibalism, he would “stay young forever” and join the “1%” of people who eat human protein to become rich.

Anderson had never met Wolke, 30, before the murder. “There was no known relationship or contact between defendant and victim, nor a known motive for the crime,” prosecutors said. Wolke lived in Cincinnati, Ohio and had arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area just days before the murder. He was also wanted in Santa Clara County for prowling and drug possession. According to the Palo Alto Daily Post, Anderson worked as the City of Atherton’s arborist for two decades.

In 2020, Wolke had pleaded not guilty due to insanity. The trial jury deliberated for three days before finding him guilty, and then reconvened to consider the insanity issue, which could have seen Wolke sentenced to state hospitals, instead of state prison. The jury handed down its ruling on March 8 2023 in San Mateo County Court in Redwood City, finding that Wolke was sane at the time of the murder.

Defence lawyers had argued the insanity defence based on Volke’s belief that he had to commit cannibalism in order to join “the 1%” and stay young forever. They testified that Wolke said he wanted to join an elite group of wealthy people whom he believed killed humans and ate their flesh to become “protein harvesters” and that he, too, would enjoy wealth and eternal youth after consuming human stem cells.

Deputy District Attorney Tricia Povah argued the case for Wolke’s intent to murder. Povah laid out in graphic details the injuries that Wolke inflicted during multiple attempts to take the life of Anderson, including attempted strangulation.

Wolke was accused of stabbing Anderson in the eye with a pencil, hitting her brain. The allegation that Wolke used a deadly and dangerous weapon in this act was also accepted by the jury.

Wolke also attempted to behead Anderson, which his defence lawyers alleged was due  to his intention to engage in cannibalism. Wolke reportedly told investigators he:

“wasn’t very good at (it) because (he’d) never done it before.”

Wolke, according to court testimony, had a history of heavy methamphetamine use, but did not test positive for any drugs at the time of the murder. According to defence attorney Connie O’Brien, he was experiencing psychosis in the form of auditory hallucinations while on the bus ride from his family’s home in Cincinnati to the Bay Area, with voices telling him that he had to commit sins to join the 1%.

Despite Wolke’s hallucinations, the prosecution argued that Wolke had an understanding of the morals surrounding murder and that he was aware of his actions as he committed the killing. Dr George Wilkinson, a forensic psychiatrist and expert witness for the prosecution, testified that Wolke understood his actions.

“He was well aware of what he was doing, in fact, it would have been necessary to fulfil the delusions.”

Povah argued that he showed awareness of his situation. When police officers went to enter the house to investigate, Wolke told them where to find Anderson, saying:

“The body’s in the basement. I have a mental problem. I very seriously killed that woman.”

Lots of interesting Cannibal Studies issues are raised by this case. Cannibals are almost routinely labelled as psychotic, on the anthropocentric assumption that human flesh is sacred and inviolable. But to be found insane, as Wolke discovered, a murderer has to prove that he (or she) did not know what he was doing, or that it was wrong. Hannibal Lecter, in the books, movies and TV series, was not executed for his crimes because the jury found him insane. He strongly denied this.

An intention to achieve social status through the ingestion of human flesh seems to show a clear understanding of (some rather dubious) causality. That is, he knew what he was doing, even though he was doing something that would seem to most people irrational.

Or is it? The mythology of the Wendigo tells of cannibals who gain strength, size and often healing powers or long life through eating the flesh of other humans, but also develop an insatiable appetite for ever more of the stuff. What appetites distinguish and define the so-called “1%”, that tiny group of uber-rich who absorb around a quarter of the nation’s income and own 40% of the wealth? Psychiatrists will happily tell you that those who achieve huge fortunes or high office are often psychopaths, immune to fear of failure, or empathy for those they exploit. The accumulation of capital, whether by imperialists or corporate raiders, is metaphorically a form of cannibalism, feeding on the flesh of others in a zero-sum game, that is supposed to gain them enormous wealth and eternal life (or a botox version of it).

A part of Wolke’s mind must have worked out that he was not made of such stern stuff, and told him that, to get there, he would need to cultivate his inner cannibal.


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