6 Realities When Your Creepy Fetish Lands You In Prison
There's a very good chance that if you've heard of Gilberto Valle at all, you only know him via his nickname: "the Cannibal Cop."
Awesome band name, less awesome as a news item.
Valle was arrested for allegedly plotting to kill, cook, and eat his wife and several other women. He spent 21 months in prison before a judge overturned his conviction due to the fact that there was no evidence he'd ever actually broken any law.
It turned out Valle liked to fantasize in great detail about killing and cooking people with other strangers online -- but he insists that fantasy is all it ever was. Now he's free, and clearly we had to talk to him ...
It Started With Some (Unsettling) Role-Playing
We should begin by pointing out that two judges in a row have declared Valle innocent of being a cannibal. They determined that the "conspiracy" he served time for was in fact a series of role-playing sessions with other fetishists on a site called Dark Fetish Network. It's basically Facebook for people with boners for stuff considered weird even by the internet's standards.
Except way better than Facebook, because despite the corpse porn, at least no one is arguing politics.
It doesn't look particularly crazy on the outside, but that's because we had to crop all the pictures of naked people pretending to be bloody murder victims.
Pictured: se- sex?
A look at the "Groups" page gives you a better idea of what DFN's about: "formicophilia" (that is, feeling insects inside your orifices), "preparation for execution by female executioner," "oven baked girl" ... stuff that would show up in other people's nightmares.
Now if only there were a way we could pixel blur our memories ...
Valle's particular fetish lay more in the "oven baked girl" side of the spectrum, although he insists he's more into the whole bondage aspect of preparing someone to be cooked than in the actual cooking. And again, to be clear, this was all in the form of stories fetishists told each other while wanking -- no one involved really purchased a huge oven.
"[I] had my few people I enjoyed the role plays with," says Valle. "They were stories that dragged out over weeks. In 45 minutes, we'd plow through a scene ... this wasn't every single night, it was every three or four days ... we'd both pick up where we left off, or start another story with another woman's picture as the character."
All with willing photo models who were totally cool with being Hannibal Lecter's jack-off fantasy ... right?
Ah, the pictures -- that would be the part that landed Valle in jail. See, these role-playing games began with photos of women (guys usually need a face for their fantasies), and Valle made the very bad and gross decision to use pictures of real women he knew, including female acquaintances and his own wife.
"[T]here were people posting Facebook pictures of women they knew in their real lives and going, 'What would you do with them?' so I did the same thing ... I didn't provide personal information, except first names ... It was just visual stimulation for me and the other person."
To make it worse, these weren't just fantasies about cooking and eating these real women ... they were fantasy planning sessions about how to go about capturing, cooking, and eating them. You can imagine how this looked, and hell, you may be wondering why he isn't still locked up.
Damn hard to construct a giant rotisserie from here.
But being incredibly creepy on the internet is not a crime, and it's not hard to prove that that's all it was. Valle would brag about his human-sized oven (which, again, he did not own) and his secret house in the mountains (which no fucking New York Cop has), and he and his partners would set dates for when they'd carry out these abductions -- all of which passed without any of said abductions occurring.
Of course, when Valle's wife stumbled upon the chat transcripts, it still absolutely looked like he was planning her murder. She (quite understandably) took his child and left, then called the FBI.
"Never assume a plot to murder you is merely masturbation fodder" is a good rule in any relationship.
The FBI Told Him They'd Spent A Year and a Half Investigating Him
The FBI assumed they were tracking a real-life goddamned serial killer cannibal. One who worked as a cop, no less! They took him in, at which point Valle immediately fell for the oldest police interrogation tricks in the book.
"It was like, 'Hey y'know, let's just try and understand this. We've been watching you for a year and a half, but we want to kinda get to know the human element in all this. This is your chance to kinda get ahead of the game, because right now we have all this stuff to go off of,' and he pointed to some box with a bunch of files in it." The FBI had not been watching him for 18 months, they'd just tracked his phone for thirty days. It turns out even cops fall for the kind of lies cops tell during interrogations.
Gil even fell for the old "You don't really need a lawyer; we're just asking casual questions!" bit. "He said basically, 'If you want to talk to a lawyer, it's your right to do that, but this is your one chance to get ahead of the game. If you talk to a lawyer, then they get involved and it gets a lot more complicated.' I was willing to talk because I hadn't done anything wrong, I had nothing to hide. I figured that by explaining myself, they'd get it."
Those of you still skeeved from that forum list earlier might understand why this was a flawed strategy.
They did not "get it." Valle talked with the feds for four hours, a meeting he describes as "very cordial." At least, it was cordial right up until his interrogator said, according to Valle, "You're being charged with conspiracy to commit kidnapping." He then added, "I'm going to talk to the U.S. attorney and let them know we're not talking with the big bad wolf here, y'know we'll figure this out ... "
SPOILER: He was lying. Also, was the Big Bad Wolf really the best fairy tale comparison to make? The witch from Hansel and Gretel would've been way more appropriate. Anyway, they then sprang the rest of their evidence on him: They had pulled cell tower metadata showing Valle had been near one of the women he chatted about abducting and eating. "[A]ll of a sudden, he said, 'Alright, we get it, we get it ... but the day after one of the chats, we have you on her block.'"
Wait, are we sure this guy isn't a serial killer?
Cellphone Location Tracking Is Hilariously Inaccurate ... But Can Still Get You Arrested
That does sound damning -- a guy goes on the computer and describes abducting a specific woman in great, incredibly creepy detail, then the next day he's right outside her door? If you were a jury, that'd be enough to think this woman is lucky to be alive. So what if the guy doesn't own a huge woman-sized crockpot -- maybe he was going to fulfill as much of the fantasy as he could with the equipment he had.
This tragedy is on you, George Foreman.
But it does get less damning on examination. First, Valle was still a cop at the time, and on the day in question, he had been assigned to work that part of town. Second, saying he was "on her block" was greatly exaggerating how this tracking technology works. If you've seen a movie in which some high-tech spy organization tracks someone via their cellphone, you might think that cell tower data can tell the feds not only which seat you're in at Taco Bell, but also how many layers are in the burrito you're eating. The reality is less impressive.
For example, in 2002, a woman named Lisa Roberts was arrested for murder. The case against her hinged on the fact that cell tower data put her near the body shortly before it was discovered. But it turned out that particular tower picked up calls from as far as 20 miles away. Roberts' case was thrown out ... after she'd served 12 years in prison.
Because cell service that can't be trusted to carry a five-minute call can lock you up for a goddamn decade.
When pressed during pretrial hearings in Valle's case, the prosecution backed off the claim that they could put him a few doors down, but still insisted he was "in the vicinity" of the woman (and again, he was in the vicinity for work). It didn't matter; the evidence that locked him up consisted of those chat logs, a detailed document on his computer titled "Abducting and Cooking," Google searches for stuff like "how to abduct a girl," and the fact that he did abuse his cop powers at one point: he searched a police database for another woman he had roped into his fantasy life.
Again, you can't blame a jury for thinking this guy should not be out in society. But of all of the stuff in the above paragraph, only the last one is in breach of any actual rules (using the police database for personal reasons, though cops apparently do this all the time).
Not saying this is a good thing, mind you.
Valle was found guilty and the case became a media sensation. The New York tabloids jumped on the "Cannibal Cop" angle with both feet. Kind of hard to blame them. It's a goddamned Cannibal Cop! Nobody can ignore that. Hell, you clicked on this, didn't you?
Accused Cannibal Cops Get Treated Strangely Well In Prison
Valle spent his first seven months in solitary confinement, because he was a cop and the prison officials were afraid everyone inside would murder him. At this point, Valle was world-famous for being an attempted cannibal/murderer and everyone had written him off as a guilty, dangerous weirdo, rather than an innocent garden-variety weirdo. Well, everyone but his family ... and the guy next to him in solitary.
"[W]e could talk through the walls ... he was the only contact I really had," says Valle. One day a guard started passing around an issue of The New York Times with this article in it:
Valle's neighbor knocked on the wall and asked if he'd read it. When Valle said yes, the guy told him, "Hey, I didn't really see any crime here." That was the first time someone besides Valle's lawyers and family had professed a belief in his innocence.
Eventually, he did make it into the general population, and rather than being shivved, "[I] had a lot of support there. And when you juxtapose that with the police department, it was kinda surprising. Obviously, prison wasn't a good time, but I was able to survive in there in large part because of all the support I got from other inmates. The first few hours, it was clear everyone kinda knew who I was."
Valle eventually got a job running the prison kitchen. The New York Daily News covered this with exactly as much tact as you'd expect:
Pictured: a completely real photo.
So to most of the world, Valle was either a laughingstock or a boogeyman. But inside the prison, well, people were a little less judgy. "It took a couple days, but somebody finally was sitting at one of the tables, reading a book ... the guy next to me was eating lunch, and all of a sudden he said, just out of nowhere, 'Keep fighting, you're gonna win.'"
That kept happening. Valle says it didn't take inmates long to determine that he didn't belong there. "[M]ore people kept coming up like, 'Hey you'll be alright. Keep fighting, just stay strong' ... I really needed that to get through each day."
It would take nearly two years behind bars before the legal system came to the same conclusion.
Only A Persistent Public Defender Saved Him
Valle had something most of his fellow inmates did not: a really good public defender who went all-in on his case. It helped that from the start, she understood what was going on. "[S]he kept comparing it to Dungeons & Dragons ... that was kind of her go-to. 'So I get it, like you're talking about these things online, but you're not actually out munching on a woman's leg.' Really, from the first few minutes or two, she said she got it ... "
Not that anyone wants to be described as a "12th-level cannibal" in court, but it sure beats imprisonment.
His attorney hammered home how poorly the fantasy aligned with reality. For example, she pointed out that none of Valle's fantasy chats referenced his job as a cop, or the fact that he had a gun and handcuffs. If he was really planning a kidnapping/murder with these people, he'd probably mention at least the gun alongside the giant oven. And on appeal, in 2014, this argument worked.
The ridiculous thing is that the FBI always believed most of the planning sessions were role play -- they wrote off 20ish of the chats as harmless fantasy. But they then picked out three chats that they decided strayed into criminal conspiracy, for reasons that were never clear.
"It's all murder porn; you're being too picky. Just choose a few and let's go. It's half past Miller time."
The federal judge who granted his appeal even said: "There was no evidence that Agent Walsh or any of the other members of the prosecution team had any specialized training or experience that would render them particularly competent to distinguish between 'real' and 'fantasy' chats." After all, the chats the feds wrote off as fantasy included elements like real names, locations, and dates, while the ones they decided were real included the dumb cartoonish bullshit like giant rotisseries to cook people with. It was an arbitrary distinction.
"We thought we'd uncovered an additional conspiracy, but it turned out to be the script of a Bugs Bunny cartoon."
Valle was finally sent home on 12 months' probation for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse act, a law used to prosecute hackers. That was based on his using the police database to look up information on one of the women he was allegedly planning to eat-murder. The prosecutors argued that since he was using a computer program in an unauthorized way, he basically was hacking. That conviction was overturned on his second appeal, since, creepy or not, as a cop he was "authorized" to use the database, and that's not what that law is even for.
So justice served, right? Well ...
He'll Always Be "The Cannibal Cop"
We're not trying to turn Valle into a folk hero here. If you find out your spouse (or, well, anyone) is posting your photo for strangers to invent erotic murder fantasies about, get a safe distance from them and call the cops.
We're only suggesting he never tried to murder anyone. If the charge was of being creepy, fucking guilty.
But this is also a cautionary tale about indulging in kinks in the Internet Age. As Valle points out, this couldn't have happened 30 years ago. Without the web's magical ability to let people with freaky desires congregate, fantasies like this would stay in your head and/or personal diary. Today, people not only have a platform to express their kinks, but are also encouraged to do so. It's a powerful thing -- the self-loathing and guilt melts away in the face of a roomful of like-minded people who "get it." It is, to use a phrase everyone hates these days, a "safe space."
Well, "safe" may be stretching it a bit.
But that safety is an illusion; these people are happily sharing terrifying fantasies that would ruin their lives with a single copy-paste. For example, do you know what it's like trying to get a job when a Google search of your name turns up page after page of results about you being a murderous pervert cannibal? Just ask ol' Gil!
"I got called in for an interview with AFLAC. The guy obviously had no idea who I was, so I killed it during the interview. Really wowed him. He hired me on the spot. A few days later, I get a phone call. He said basically, 'Oh, your app was put on review, and I'm sorry to tell you but we can't hire you.'"
Yeah, when the AFLAC guy punched in his name, he even got a little Google module summarizing Gilberto Valle's infamy for anyone too lazy to click on the many headlines:
"Funny, I don't recall seeing 'cannibalism" on your LinkedIn."
Still, they strangely weren't worried about the cannibalism stuff. "He said, 'Well, we looked up your record ... it was the improper use of the police database. That's still on your record, and this is a job where you would be on the computer some of the time. So we can't hire you because of that.'"
Then there's the fact that "Cannibal Cop Convicted" was a massive story, but "Cannibal Cop Quietly Released On Appeal" was not. Those who find out he's free assume he either served his sentence or got out on a technicality. "[T]hey'll say, 'Oh my god, how the hell is he out of prison? He was stalking women' ... that's not true."
If you read New York tabloids, this is probably the most recent article you saw about Valle:
Pretty restrained by NY Post standards.
Before you ask or, Christ forbid, read that article, yes, it contains roughly one cooking pun per sentence. The story behind this is that, now a free man, Valle was looking to date and started an account on Match.com ("I was single and kind of lonely ..."). Within a couple of days, he had reporters waiting outside his house, trying to get one more clickable headline out of the infamous Cannibal Cop:
Of course, pun-based news should always be taken with a pinch of salt.
And Valle was oddly okay with that. "They kinda blew me up, obviously ... but it was like an article that made fun, not 'Oh my god, look at what this monster's doing.' This is an article that was making fun of me, so I was fine with it, really."
When you're destined to go down in history as a Cannibal Cop, that's about the best you can hope for.
If you want to know the whole story of the Cannibal Cop, Gil's co-written a book about his life and you can pre-order it now! Robert Evans also has a book, where he experiments with the insane drugs our ancestors used to use.
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On this month's live podcast, Jack O'Brien and the Cracked staff welcome Dr. Christopher Ryan, podcaster and author of 'Sex at Dawn', onto the show for a lively Valentine's Day discussion about love, sex, why our genitals are where they are, and why we're more like chimps and bonobos than you think.
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