A forensic psychiatrist has told Newsweek that the man charged in connection with the slayings of four University of Idaho students in November 2022 had battled with “cannibalistic urges“.
Bryan Kohberger, a 28-year-old Ph.D. student and teaching assistant in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Washington State University, was arrested at his parents’ home in Albrightsville, Pennsylvania.
Kohberger is accused of breaking into a rental house in Moscow, Idaho, and fatally stabbing Kaylee Goncalves, Madison Mogen, Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin in the early morning hours on November 13.
Reports have surfaced divulging that Kohberger follows a strict vegan diet and has reportedly struggled with heroin addiction in the past.
Forensic psychiatrist Carole Lieberman told Newsweek that Kohberger’s “obsessive-compulsive eating habits” indicate he was afraid he would become addicted to meat if he ate it.
“He was not only vegan, he refused to eat off of pots or plates that had had meat on them. Psychologically, this represents his struggle against his cannibalistic urges. He was afraid that if he let himself go to taste meat once, he would become addicted to it—like he had become to heroin—and start killing and eating people.”
A relative told the New York Post last week that Kohberger’s dietary restrictions were “very, very weird” and that he seemed “very OCD,” referring to obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The woman, who asked not to be named, but said she was previously married into Kohberger’s family, said:
“It was above and beyond being vegan. His aunt and uncle had to buy new pots and pans because he would not eat from anything that had ever had meat cooked in them.”
Casey Arntz, who was friends with Kohberger in middle and high school, said in a video posted on TikTok that he had been “a heavy heroin user” in high school. Kohberger’s struggles with drug addiction continued into his college years, a friend from Northampton Community College told Fox News. Criminal profiler John Kelly told Fox News,
“This kind of person has this volcanic rage inside that’s going to explode on is victim of choice.”
Lieberman told Newsweek that Kohberger had probably studied criminology both to “calm the demons inside him that were telling him to kill” but also to “learn how to commit the perfect crime.”
It is possible that he had been in touch with the so-called BTK killer, Dennis Rader, whose serial killings in Wichita were the subject of a book by his supervisor, Katherine Ramsland.
Kohlberger may have corresponded with Rader (a lot of criminology students do) but we don’t know that yet. We have to wonder if Rader would have told him about working in the meat department of a Wichita IGA a few years before his murder spree began.
Kohberger has been held without bond in Pennsylvania since his arrest. He will be tried in Idaho, the state in which the crimes took place, the only state in the US with a law against cannibalism, although no such charges have been laid against Kohberger.
His next court appearance will be June 26.
Kohlberger’s obsession with meat reflects a lot of issues considered in Cannibal Studies. Firstly, the question of human meat: there really is no significant difference between the meat of humans and other large mammals such as cows, pigs or sheep. Hannibal Lecter takes delight in feeding human meat to his guests, such as the flesh of the flautist of the Baltimore Philharmonic, whose Board members subsequently enjoy the meal immensely in the book and film Red Dragon, thus becoming innocent cannibals. Incidentally, being the Baltimore flautist seems to be a rocky road – their principal flautist Emily Skala, was fired in 2021 for spreading misinformation about the safety of coronavirus vaccines, the efficacy of face masks and the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, relieved of her post, but not eaten.
But the point is that once meat is prepared (cooked, seasoned, presented) it is very hard to tell its provenance. Cannibals who have been asked have mostly compared it to pork or veal, with Armin Meiwes telling an interviewer
“It would have made no difference in somebody else had tasted it; he wouldn’t have questioned the meat…. During preparation, it is not as dark, but bright and fresh as pork, and tastes so very close to pork.”
Kohlberger’s belief that he might like human flesh if he tried any meat at all therefore has some logic to it. Since Charles Darwin’s writings overthrew the special status of humans as closer to angels than animals, anthropocentrism has been amended to offer a story of humans as the culmination of evolution and thereby continues, rather less successfully, to obscure human animality. Should such beliefs falter, as happens repeatedly in many cases of contemporary cannibalism, it becomes a very short step from eating other animals to eating the human one.
But why should he become addicted to any meat? Well, we know Kohlberger has an addictive personality, shown by his very heavy usage of heroin. But we’re not talking drugs of addiction but lumps of protein, aren’t we? Well, there are plenty of studies about that. Marta Zaraska, for example, wrote in her book Meathooked that meat is highly addictive on several fronts – genetic, cultural, historic and commercial, and coined the term “meathooked” for the incongruous compulsion to eat meat despite the pangs of cognitive dissonance – the repressed feeling of guilt when considering oneself an animal-lover while also paying big corporations to kill them. Then there is the mythology of the Wendigo, a creature from Algonquin legend who starts off as a human but becomes a being who can only live on human flesh, which makes him grow bigger and at the same time hungrier. If you believe in Wendigos, then the slippery slope from carnivore to cannibal seems reasonably clear.
This leads us to the issue of Kohlberger’s apparently very strict veganism. Most people seem to believe (or want to believe) that vegans are fanatics, obsessed with animal welfare (or environment or their own health) who therefore compulsively avoid meat. But in fact most vegans I know would wash a pot well after a relative had cooked meat, but are unlikely to throw it out as irretrievably ruined, as Kohlberger purportedly did. Veganism is an ethical system that attempts to minimise harm to sentient animals, which includes humans (yes, Virginia, we are animals). If there is a slippery slope from the flesh of other animals to the flesh of Homo sapiens, then the vegan is furthest from the edge of that slope. If Kohlberger did kill those students (and at this stage it’s only alleged), then he is no vegan, even if he didn’t sample them on the way out.