Childhood & Early Life
Robert Andrew Berdella Jr. was born in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio on January 31, 1949, to Robert Berdella, Sr. and Mary Berdella. His father worked in the Ford Motor Company as a die-setter while his mother was a homemaker. His brother, Daniel, was seven years younger to him. The family was deeply religious and regularly attended church, though Robert stopped attending in his teens.
Severely myopic, he had to wear thick glasses from the age of five and was bullied in school. Even though his teachers found him difficult to teach, he turned out to be a very good student. A typical loner with a non-existent social life, he not only had a speech impediment but also suffered from high blood pressure.
His lack of interest and prowess in sports drew criticism and unfavorable comparisons to Daniel from his father who was often emotionally and physically abusive to both his sons.
Upon reaching puberty, Berdella realized he was homosexual though he would not reveal this fact for the next few years. By the time he had reached his mid-teens, he had developed more self-confidence, which unfortunately, manifested itself in a condescending and ill-mannered attitude, particularly towards women. However, to his credit, he did display a flair for cookery, art, and showmanship.
Robert became extremely resentful and angry at his mother for remarrying soon after his father’s unexpected death due to a heart attack on Christmas Day 1965, while the family was visiting relatives in Canton. He became even more aloof and spent his time in solitary activities like painting, writing to pen pals, and collecting stamps and coins.
In 1967, he passed out of Cuyahoga Falls High School; he had excellent grades all through and displayed enough potential to be placed in an independent study program in 1966.
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Hoping to make a career in teaching, he enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute, however, he ended up becoming a chef. While in art school, he indulged in animal torture on at least three occasions and was expelled ultimately in 1969 for killing a dog in an art experiment. He also became an alcoholic and started selling drugs and was even arrested for possession but was released for lack of evidence.
Robert Berdella became a successful full-time chef and even assisted in establishing a training program for would-be chefs in Kansas City. A responsible member of the society, he also joined the ‘South Hyde Park Crime Prevention and Neighborhood Association’. In the early-80s, he became its chairman and remained an active member till the late-80s.
Now comfortable with his homosexuality, he had a short-lived relationship with a Vietnam veteran and spent considerable time in befriending male prostitutes and drug addicts and helping them to quit. Frustrated at their ignorance and lack of cooperation in abandoning their self-destructive lifestyles, he would try to establish control over them, loaning them money, allowing them to live rent-free with him, and engaging into sexual relationships with them.
When he was 32, he gave up cooking and set up ‘Bob's Bizarre Bazaar’, a store at the ‘Westport Flea Market’, selling antiques, jewelry and primitive art that he had been fascinated with since childhood. The store being only moderately profitable, Robert had to often scavenge or steal items to sell and also take in lodgers at his 4315 Charlotte Street home.
On April 4, 1988, Berdella was arrested after one of his victims, Christopher Bryson, a 22-year old male prostitute whom he had made captive in his house, escaped and took shelter in the porch of the house of a neighbor who immediately informed the police.
Bryson, who was completely naked save a dog collar around his neck, told the police the horrific tale of his abduction, five-day torture, repeated sexual molestation, and his desperate escape by jumping from a second-story window.
Berdella was immediately apprehended by the police who searched his home for evidence only to open up shocking evidence of sadistic torture, sexual assault, and murder.
In addition to more than 200 photos of his naked victims tied up and suffering from violent abuse, a pair of human skulls, a satanic ritual robe, a blood-stained barrel, and occult literature were discovered. A search in the yard over the Easter weekend unearthed yet another human skull and fragments of bones.
Even though the large body of evidence pointed to humans having being killed, the police were in a fix because no corpse had been found. With just 20 hours available to the police to frame charges and the progress slow due to Easter, the police were forced to charge him with one count each of felonious restraint and first-degree assault and seven counts of sodomy, all relating to Bryson, on April 4, 1988.
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The initial bail of $500,000 was, however, revoked the very next day, when detectives sifting through the photographs found in Berdella’s house found one that seemed to show a dead man suspended by his heels.
In a very surprising move, Berdella when being arraigned in Judge Alvin Randall’s courtroom, pleaded guilty to first degree murder. In due course, he confessed to torturing and killing six young men between 1984 and 1987.
He identified his victims as Robert Sheldon, Jerry Howell, Mark Wallace, James Ferris, Todd Stoops, and Larry Pearson. When confessing in grisly detail of each of these incidents, Berdella appeared to be in complete control and seemed to be relishing his moment in the limelight.
Since not a single body had been found, the prosecution had only his confession to go by for convicting him. In a deal, Berdella was promised a waiver of the death penalty by the prosecution if he provided all the details of his gruesome deeds. Consequently, on December 19, 1988, he was held guilty of six counts of murder and handed two life sentences without any possibility of parole.
Berdella was incarcerated at the Missouri State Penitentiary, where on October 8, 1992, he complained of chest pain and subsequently expired in a Columbia hospital that the prison authorities had taken him to.
Robert Berdella noted details of how he tortured his victims and how they responded just like a scientist in a 58-page journal. He also took hundreds of photographs of his victims being tortured.
Two skulls were found in his bedroom, one was an artifact and the other that of Robert Sheldon, his second victim.
A desperate Larry Pearson almost bit off Berdella’s penis when forced to have oral sex. When Berdella was informed by the hospital that he would require surgery, he went back home to beat and strangle Pearson to death before returning for treatment.
Afraid that the sanitation workers would find the trash bags suspicious, Berdella would keep watch from his window to make sure his dastardly deeds weren’t discovered.
In 2009, a film on Robert Berdella, ‘Berdella’ was released but was criticized strongly for its poor quality.