- We’re back this week to discuss part 2 of The Nightmare of Charlotte Street, Terror in Plain Sight.
- As I alluded to, and where we left off in part 1 last week, there was a sixth and final victim of Robert Berdella. And the reason he is the final victim is because he was able to leap from a 2nd floor window completely naked, except the dog collar I mentioned that was around his neck.
- He was able to contact the police before being sent to the hospital for his injuries.
- So let’s find out a little bit more about victim number 6.
- Christopher Bryson was a 22 year old male prostitute. In the early morning hours of March 29, 1988, Berdella was able to lure him back to his house on the basis of sex for money.
- After Christopher was inside his home, Berdella waited for the perfect time and knocked him unconscious with an iron bar. Much like the others, he tied him to his bed, where he subjected him to beatings with a metal pole, rape, electrocution, and injecting him with sedatives. If Christopher screamed, then drain cleaner was injected into his throat. As if this wasn’t enough torture, chemicals were poured in his eyes also.
- As a scare tactic Berdella showed him polaroid pictures of men who were bound and appeared to be dead. And told him that if he didn’t cooperate then he would end up like them.
- After a couple days, Christopher had started to earn Berdella’s trust. And now I’m gonna let you hear in his own words an abbreviated version of his experience.
VIDEO: IN CHRISTOPHER’S WORDS
- To summarize what he said in the video, by earning Berdella’s trust he was able to have his hands in front of him versus above his head. And when Berdella went to work, he waited a couple hours, and took advantage of the matches that were mistakenly left near the bed to burn the ropes and free himself.
- The story he shared with police was almost unbelievable to them. The police filed for a search warrant to be able to search the property based on Christopher’s story.
- He also shared with them about the dozens of polaroid photos of other men who he believed were killed by Berdella.
- Police arrested Berdella on charges of sexual assault initially, just so they could hold him while they executed the search warrants.
- What investigators found was nothing short of terrifying.
- They were able to corroborate Christopher’s story as they saw the burnt ropes tied to the bed of the 2nd floor bedroom. They also found in the infamous bedroom an electric transformer plugged into the wall with wires leading to the bed, prescription drug bottles, eye drops with cotton swabs, ropes of different lengths, leather straps and belts, restraining and sexual devices, syringes on a metal tray, and an iron pipe.
- Investigators also noticed the posts of the bed appeared to be worn, which indicated to them that Christopher was not Berdella’s only victim.
- Christopher also told investigators during questioning that Berdella referred to men in the photos as his sex slaves that he liked to “collect.”
- After searching the bedroom, investigators found a human skull inside of a closet, envelopes with human teeth, and several human vertebrae in the 2nd floor hallway of the home.
- When they searched the basement, they found a mitre saw, a hack saw, and a chainsaw coated in blood, skin, and public hairs.
- They also took samples of blood from the basement floor and two trash bags that had blood on the exterior of them.
- Throughout the house they located over 300 polaroid pictures of Berdella’s prior victims in different states of being. And by that I mean alive or dead. Those are some of the photos which are posted on our website for part 1. Some of the photos captured part of Berdella’s body in the frame.
- They also found pornographic literature, several newspaper clippings from the Kansas City Star about the disappearance of Jerry Howell, and the driver’s licenses and wallets of Howell and Ferris inside the home.
- When they completed the search of the inside of the house, investigators moved to the outside and searched the exterior property.
- They dug up another human skull and a small bone fragment. This skull was later identified as Larry Pearson’s.
- Perhaps the most damning evidence found, was in Robert Berdella’s own handwriting. This was a steno book that had the names and notes regarding his method of torture and experiments on his victims.
- There actually was a task force set up for this investigation made up of 11 detectives and 1 sargent.
- As investigators looked further into the background of Berdella by interviewing neighbors and people in the area, they determined that he had a reputation for preying on young men, especially prostitutes.
- Some of the male prostitutes they interviewed said they refused his propositions because there were rumors about him drugging and torturing his partners. They also knew about the disappearance of Jerry Howell and James Ferris and that Berdella was a person of interest in both of those cases, which made them even more leary of him.
- From the polaroids that were found inside the house, investigators looked to identify the victims in those photos. The first to be identified was James Ferris by his wife, followed by Jerry Howell who was identified by his father Paul.
- A man who had previously stayed with Berdella by the name of Freddie Kellogg was able to identify 3 other men from the photos as Robert Sheldon, Larry Wayne Pearson, and Todd Stoops. Freddie told police that in exchange for staying with Berdella, he would have to get young men Berdella found attractive to attend parties at the house so Berdella could drug them and have sex with them, consensual or not.
- The last victim to be identified was Mark Wallace. Photos were released to the public and two of his high school classmates were able to identify him.
- After the arrest police confronted Berdella with all the evidence they had found, including the over 300 polaroids, some of which included his body in the frame.
- Police asked him if he would allow them to take pictures of his body to compare with the body parts in the photos and he declined. They also attempted to get handwriting samples to match to the steno book found in his house, but again he declined – he was found in contempt for not providing the handwriting sample and had to serve 6 months in jail until he complied. At that time, he also invoked his right to an attorney.
- He was formally charged with 1 count of felonious restraint, 1 count of assault, and 7 counts of forcible sodomy. At this time he was assigned a public defender, and was remanded to a Jackson County jail where he was held in protective custody until he made the $500,000 bail, which was later revoked when an officer testified one of the men in the polaroid photographs appeared to be dead.
- In April 1988 is when they determined the skull in the closet was Robert Sheldon’s after subpoenaing dental records from the University of Kansas Medical Center.
- The skull that was buried in the backyard was identified on May 12th as Larry Wayne Pearson, as he had once been a ward of the court in Wichita, Kansas so his dental records were on file with the state.
- Robert Berdella was formally indicated by a grand jury on July 22nd, 1988 for the murder of Larry Wayne Pearson.
- At his arraignment the following month, Berdella decided to plead guilty to the first degree murder of Larry Pearson to the surprise of everyone including the prosecution team and Judge Alvin Randall.
- By accepting the plea deal and pleading guilty, Berdella avoided a possible death sentence. Instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
- In order to accept the plea deal Judge Randall told Berdella he would have to confess to Pearson’s death under oath. In Berdella’s own words, he said: “I put a plastic bag over his head and tied it with a rope and allowed him to suffocate.” He was then asked if he committed this act deliberately and with malice of forethought. To which Berdella admitted ‘yes’ he did.
- After sentencing, Berdella was transferred to the Missouri State Penitentiary to begin serving his life sentence. Due to concerns for his safety, he was temporarily placed in protective custody at the Potosi Correctional Center.
- Berdella was back at the Jackson County Courthouse on August 24th, where he plead guilty again this time for another life term without parole and for 1 charge of forcible sodomy against Christopher Bryson.
- In return, one charge of assault and 6 counts of sodomy were dropped as part of a plea bargain.
- He was also sentence to an additional 7 years for 1 count of felonious restraint against Christopher Bryson.
- For the remaining 5 murder charges, Berdella initially was going to plead not guilty. But once again to avoid the death penalty he, on the advice of his two defense attorneys, struck a plea bargain with prosecutors.
- Under the plea deal Berdella had to agree to confess to who he had killed, what torture he had put them through, how he killed each of the victims, and what he had done with their bodies.
- Between Dec 13th and Dec 15th, he provided prosecutors this information along with his confession.
- And on Dec 19th, 1988, prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty at a formal hearing set before Judge Robert Myers of the Jackson County Circuit Court. The only people allowed to attend were family members and news reporters; the public was prohibited from attending.
- Under the plea agreement, Berdella was convicted of 1 count of first degree murder for the death of Robert Sheldon and 4 counts of second degree murder for the remaining victims. Judge Myers imposed 5 further concurrent life sentences without any future possibility of parole.
- Let’s take a closer look at Berdella’s confessions he made to the court as a part of his deals.
- The first thing to note is that Berdella claimed an older movie called “The Collector” in 1965 had left a major impression on him, and had a strong psychological effect. It helped to shape how he viewed his victims, not as humans but as objects he was collecting.
- Berdella was a mad scientist when it came to the abbreviations he used in his steno book to describe his experiments and torture on his victims.
- For example he used the initials “CP” for the injection of chlorpromazine into his victims. The initials “DC” were used when he swabbed his victims with drain cleaner, or injected drain cleaner into their throat. “EK” or “EKG” were for the electrical shocks that he administered.
- A specific entry for the victim Walter James read “2 ½ KET NK + Shoulder” meant he had injected 2.5 cubic centimeters of ketamine into Ferris’ neck and shoulder.
- There were also partial statements such as “gag loose, no resist in retie” or “very delayed breathing, snoring.”
- In relation to the 2 skulls that were found at Berdella’s house, the skull of Robert Sheldon was buried first and then retrieved and cleaned when he decided to bury the skull of Larry Pearson in the same hole.
- He decided place Sheldon’s clean skull inside the closet on the 2nd floor of his house, which was an area he referred to as “My Gallery Area.” But he had removed the teeth first, and put them inside an envelope in the same room.
- Berdella had intended to do the same thing with Larry Pearson’s skull once sufficient time had gone by for it to skeletonize.
- Outside of that he stated there was no other reason for doing so. He denied that this was part of any form of satanism as was suggested by the media. He also denied selling any parts of his victims bodies at his flea market booth.
- Berdella claims that his victims were selected after he unsuccessfully tried to get them on the straight and narrow; get them away from drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. Basically implying that the things that happened to them were their own fault because they were unwilling to change for the better.
- Berdella also tried to “help” his victims by preventing them from suffering from malnutrition or infection by giving them intravenous antibiotics or nutrients.
- During his confession, Berdella acknowledged that the level of brutality he inflicted became more severe with each subsequent victim. He also stated that the polaroid pictures he had taken were a “trophy or record of of the event.”
- He admitted that the dismembered bodies of his victims were disposed in trash bags, taken to the landfill, and therefore never recovered.
- Years after his 1988 conviction, Berdella was granted permission to do an interview with the Kansas-based TV station KCPT. In this interview, he referred to himself as a “sensitive citizen” who had “made mistakes” when he committed his crimes.
- He also indicated that he felt vilified by the media during the court proceedings.
- In fact he went as far as to blame the police for not being able to solve the first murder before he committed the additional murders.
- Berdella became somewhat of a pain in the eyes of prison officials as he was always lodging complaints for various reasons. He also wrote letters to a local minister informing him that prison officials were not allowing him to take his prescribed heart medication for his high blood pressure.
- So you may view this as coincidental or not, but while he was incarcerated at the Missouri State Penitentiary on October 8th, 1992, Berdella died of a heart attack. He was 43.
- Prior to his death, Berdella had told prison staff he was suffering from heart pains and was taken to the prison infirmary. There the medical staff determined he needed to be taken to an outside hospital in Columbia, and it was there he was pronounced dead at 3:55pm.
- In response to his death, one of the judges at his trial, Alvin Randall, when told of his passing stated “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
- While incarcerated, Berdella never showed any sign of remorse for his actions and referred to his victims as play toys. He was diagnosed with depressive personality disorder and as a sexual sadist.
- In 1988 there was an auction for his collection of furniture and artifacts from his home and business. The money from the sale was used to pay his legal fees.
- By the end of the first day of the auction, alone, almost $60,000 was raised. And this was with many of his items selling for less than the expected price.
- In addition, the Charlotte Street House was purchased by a millionaire businessman for an unknown amount, in December of 1988. He purchased it specifically to be able to demolish it so it would not be viewed as a shrine or attraction for the morbidly curious.
VIDEO: NEWS REPORT ON DEMOLITION HOUSE
- In 2004, there was a documentary done on this case called “Bazaar Bizarre.” It included archived footage of interviews with Berdella prior to his death. This documentary is where I obtained the clips that I played.
- In 2009, there was a feature film that was made called “Berdella” that was written and directed by William Taft and it starred Seth Correa as Berdella. I’m not familiar with this actor or the movie, I had never heard of it. But based on the website for it, and the clips I’ve seen, it seems like low budget b-level horror film.
Sources Accessed November 2023:
The Heinous Crimes Of Robert Berdella, “The Kansas City Butcher”
Robert Berdella: The Butcher of Kansas City
The Kansas City Butcher