Teenage Killer Cannibal
Robert Ackermann’s apartment building
An argument over a porn tape, a scuffle, a possibly unintentional murder, all topped off with a multi-course two-day meal. That’s how Robert Ackermann became Vienna’s teenage cannibal killer. His case doesn’t fit the typical profile of cannibalism. Ackermann’s motives were neither ritualistic, particularly bloodthirsty, nor, despite the pleasure the crime provided him, apparently sexual in nature. His motive evidently was among the most dangerous of all: twisted, misdirected morbid curiosity. The handsome, blond young man seems to have killed Josef Schweiger impulsively or even accidentally, then seized on the opportunity to explore his frightening fascination with the hidden secrets of the human body.
By August of 2007, Ackermann, then 19, had left his native Cologne, Germany, for Vienna, Austria, where he was staying in short-term housing for the mentally ill and homeless run by a private charity. He shared a room with Josef Schweiger, 49, who had been in the facility since that June. Weekly social workers don’t seem to have been alarmed by Ackermann’s behavior or concerned about the pair’s feuds. But neighbors on the family-filled tenement block who argued with the increasingly disturbed Ackermann, saw him crawling naked through the yard howling at the moon, or dumping what appeared to be blood from his window, realized the teen was dangerous.
Ackermann was once a seemingly normal, friendly, intelligent boy. In early adolescence, with psychological problems instigated either by the physiological changes of puberty or perhaps his father’s abandonment of the family, he changed drastically. Ackerman began hearing voices and manifesting serious behavioral problems. At 15, he left home. He experimented with methamphetamines, ecstasy and harder drugs, and with crime. He stole, sometimes pretending to be a businessman in order to bamboozle banks. He even masqueraded as a doctor for darker purposes.
Robert Ackermann, as a child
Ackermann’s history of severe mental illness was marked by several hospital stays, and he was diagnosed with schizoaffective psychosis. German authorities declared him too ill for prison, but not quite sick enough to be placed in a state hospital for his protection or for that of society. Ackermann was on his own, despite his mother’s desperate pleas and evidence that his disease could be controlled with medication, which he tended not to take if left unsupervised. He ended up in Vienna, where, earlier in 2007, he was arrested at a local hospital. He had been impersonating a doctor, hoping that, disguised as a member of the hospital staff, he might be able to sneak into an operating room and take part in surgery, a boyhood dream.
He would soon get his chance.
The Offal Truth
The night of August 26, 2007, the roommates quarreled for what was hardly the first time. The high-strung Ackermann had discovered he was missing a pornographic video cassette and a cigarette lighter. He confronted his roommate. Josef Schweiger denied everything, but he did have the tape. Furious, Ackermann rifled through the older man’s pockets to see what else he might have pilfered, and a vicious fight broke out. In Ackermann’s version of the story, the two exchanged blows until he hit Schweiger with such force that the older man fell on the bed, knocked out; police say Ackermann in fact bludgeoned Schweiger with a 22-pound dumbbell, cracking his skull. Ackermann says that he didn’t realize there was anything seriously wrong, so he left Schweiger on the bed, went back to his own room and cooked and ate his (non-human) dinner, read a few chapters of a book and drifted peacefully and innocently to sleep.
Schweiger didn’t get up the next day. Ackermann claims he assumed the man was sleeping off a hangover—a frequent occurrence. That night, he checked in on him, and saw him sprawled in the same position in which he’d left him. Ackermann, ever the aspiring physician, checked for a pulse and heartbeat. Schweiger was dead. Ackermann reacted to this discovery not with remorse or panic, but with eager delight: Finally he could satisfy his curiosity about the inner workings of the human body.
In an interview later, Ackermann would describe this as his greatest wish: to see what we look like inside. He has stressed that he knew this would not hurt Schweiger and would provide him his own deepest joy.
Ackermann used a razor-sharp butterfly knife to slice Schweiger from groin to throat, opening his abdomen, and to cut away the top of his skull. He reached into the corpse’s abdomen to explore the wet mysteries of the body and to feel Schweiger’s internal organs. With a butcher knife he cut out his intestines. Then he removed his brain, and placed it on a plate.
Ackermann would later try to claim that he did not eat Schweiger, and that he merely tasted some of his blood to see what it was like—a scientific experiment, if you will. On August 28, the second day after the fight, he called the homeless hostel’s cleaning woman into the apartment and showed her the body. He suggested she call the police. When the police arrived at the blood-soaked first-floor apartment, a dispassionate Ackerman told them to look at what had happened, as if it were an inexplicable, random event in which he’d had no part. He even initially tried to blame the grisly scene on the apartment’s mice. Evidence quickly exonerated the rodent population and implicated the troubled teen.
A Dream Deferred
Law enforcement remove Schweiger’s body
Police on the scene reported that Ackermann was drooling and disoriented. His mouth was smeared with blood and viscera, and his clothes damp with the mess. He’d already eaten some of Schweiger’s brain, internal organs and bicep tissue. The victim’s tongue and the rest of his brain were plated for the boy’s perverse breakfast.
Even as deranged—and ecstatic—as he was at the time, the boy quickly realized he was caught. He confessed. Unsurprisingly, DNA tests later showed that the blood that drenched the teen’s lips and hands did indeed belong to the corpse.
Authorities say that Robert Ackermann has since been a model patient and prisoner. Whether the attack was a severe psychotic episode or an outpouring of the young man’s longstanding sadistic urges is unclear. But therapy and consistent, monitored medication have seemingly returned him to the real world, and he’s able to talk about his crime. On September 4, 2008, an Austrian jury agreed that Ackermann was not fit to stand trial but would spend the rest of his life in Austria’s Goellersdorf, a high-security mental hospital.
The Cannibal of Vienna now says he plans to use his time institutionalized to study medicine, so that if he’s ever released he can fulfill his lifelong ambition to become a surgeon.