The definition of necrophilia has many different interpretations that vary in degrees of physical contact and actions committed by the perpetrator. The literal translation of the two Greek roots, necro (the dead, corpse, dead tissue) + philia (attraction, tendency), have been condensed among professionals to exclusively refer to sex with dead people. The term is much more expansive than this, and for the purpose of analysis, the subject will be addressed in terms of superficial contact, direct intimacy, and indirect intimacy (Goodwin, 2002, p. 186).
It is also worthy to mention that necrophobia is a strong opposing force to help demonize and define necrophilia as an unspeakable taboo. When a person, or even a pet, dies, the living attempt to cover it up and separate it from what is left behind. The corpse is rarely referred to as such, except in clinical terms, and becomes the deceased, the dearly departed, and the late. Clergy become preoccupied with the hereafter, hospitals cover the bodies and secret them to the basement, and funeral directors conduct the process of preservation within the confines of windowless rooms far from the viewing areas (Janzen, 2004, p 5-6).
Necrophilia, in this sense, is the attraction to, curiosity about, and the tendency toward the dead and death. If we include this category, which belongs according to the literal definition, necrophilia is much more prevalent. It may not be viewed with the same disgust and squeamishness that more physical involvement may bring, but it is certainly seen as weird or peculiar.
- Attraction to places of burial
Some obsessions and curiosities with death correlate with the grave. Many people are fascinated with cemeteries. They routinely walk among the headstones, some talking to those who have passed on, whether they knew them or not. These cemetery goers even have preferences toward particular final resting places like, certain religious observations, historical significance, or isolation. They have been known to picnic and even sleep among the headstones.
Some cemeteries are designed to be inviting to the living with singular burial practices, unique headstones, or park – like qualities that encourage people to congregate and socialize. The Picturesque Movement in the US included numerous cemeteries like Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, MA. It was designed to invoke meditation, through pastoral surroundings of tranquil bodies of water reflecting beautiful stone bridges and ornate monuments of remembrance. Never mind the bodies buried throughout (architecture, 2009).
In so many horror films, a couple copulating in a morgue or cemetery gets killed mid-coitus, and most viewers think that’s what they deserve for disrespecting the final resting place for so many people. The question is, “Is it possible to offend or disturb the dead?”
- Attraction to scenes of death and the dying
Celebrity adds to our fascination with death. Wax museums and other morbid attractions invite us to entertain the ideas that come from supposedly perverted minds of murderers. Millions of people annually flock to crime scenes memorializing heinous acts resulting in death. The Bender family property in Kansas, the Cutter home immortalized in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, and the homes where Charles Manson and his “family” unleashed uninhibited carnage on the occupants in 1969, are all destinations for curiosity seekers.
Sincere necrophiliacs do not need celebrity attachment to be attracted to crime scenes; the idea of killing, dismemberment, or disposal is enough to warrant a visit. A house in any neighborhood that harbors the dark idea of death, especially at the hands of others, will do just fine.
- Collection of artifacts of death
Many visitors to scenes of death take it a step further and seek momentos representing the scene, victim, or perpetrator. Such items are even worth money to more than a few collectors. The obsession lies in the acquisition of the artifact and not in the selling of it. Spectators of legal and illegal executions have been known to tear clothes and hair from the corpse for keepsakes. Some cultures advocate death masks that are made of the corpse shortly after death.
This form of necrophilia involves an intimacy that may or may not conclude with actual sexual intercourse with a dead body. The attraction is certainly apparent and the priority is intimacy with a corpse. Men participate in this activity significantly more than women, but women are just as committed to such a cause.
Chava Stirn lived with the remains of her mother for three years before the body was discovered. Women have also been known to grieve for a spouse and children, and continue to live with the remains years after death (nypost, 2014).
- Necrophilic Pornography
Some people are attracted to corpses specifically because they are dead. They look at necrophilia photos, watch necrophilia videos, and read necrophilia stories to assist in reaching a sexual climax through masturbation. These people may actually be horrified with actual contact with a dead body, but definitely are obsessed with a death fetish.
- The necrophile and coitus
These are the people that all necrophiliacs are grouped with, the ones who purposely seek sexual intimacy and intercourse specifically with corpses. They are usually identified in two groups: personal and impersonal.
A personal interest is taken in the corpse that was well know in life by people who practice necrophilia on this level. Spouses who wish to prolong the relationship beyond death, or even people who could not be with the object of their affection in life, fit into this category. The perpetrators see their actions as acts of love, and hide these actions only because they know that others won’t understand.
A case in point is Carl Tanzler. Dr. Tanzler became obsessed with a terminally ill patient, and professed his affections while she was still alive. He paid for her funeral and an above ground mausoleum. He later retrieved the body and took it home. He lived with it as if in a conjugal, married relationship after using plaster and wax to preserve the remains, including vaginal preparations that allowed him to have physical intercourse with the corpse.
The impersonal aspect usually deals with people who indulge their sexual satisfaction with strangers. These people seldom dig up bodies for this purpose. They are usually entrusted with the dead, and take advantage of isolated opportunities to indulge their particular tastes. They are known to appreciate the absolute stillness and coldness of the body. Even embalmers in ancient Egypt were reported to “interfere with” the corpses they were preserving (Prins, 2005, p 233).
Necrophilia on this level requires that the proximity to a corpse is secondary. Even though the death is intentional and purposeful, the attraction to the body is a subsequent consequence of a different primary motivation. These perpetrators may or may not have sexual intercourse with their victims, and a significant percentage are more interested in desecration than love or affection.
Serial killers and deviants like Jeffrey Dahmer, Dennis Nilsen, Edmund Kemper, and Ed Gein all chose to prolong their attachment to their victims after death.
- Jeffrey Dahmer
Dahmer attempted to create zombies by drilling holes in the heads of his unconscious victims and poring sulfuric acid into their brains. He kept whole or partial bodies in his apartment, supposedly ate some of them, and attempted to preserve others.
- Dennis Nilsen
Nilsen poisoned friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. He held on to the bodies for as long as the smell of decaying flesh would allow, before disposing of them in the public water works system and the incinerator in his backyard.
- Edmund Kemper
Kemper kept this victims as girlfriends and slept beside them in his bedroom. He frequently carried body parts with him in the trunk of his car, and was known to masturbate in the mouths of severed heads.
- Ed Gein
Gein killed only one person, but he dug up fresh graves and took the bodies back to his house. Even though his only live victim was found dressed out like a deer for slaughter, his intention was not to consume her, but to use her body parts and skin to make household items like lamps and ashtrays. Some psychologists attribute his behavior as a reaction to the death of his overbearing mother, whom he worshipped, as his victims resembled her body type.
All of these are examples of the reasons why necrophilia is such a touchy subject. It is connected to the perverse and deviant aspects of society, but the motivation for these actions do not seem to be for the purpose of being around the dead. The primary objective is to alleviate loneliness by controlling the object of affection. If this could be accomplished without killing, then perhaps other methods would have been employed. Even Dahmer was attempting to create mindless partners who subsequently died from the injuries they sustained (Prins, 2005, p . 32).
These crimes also exemplify attempts to punish or abuse, which is not a love for the dead, but a hatred for what the dead represent, especially in Kemper’s case. His hatred for his mother led to the deaths of his grandparents when he was a teenager, and the deaths of several young co-eds, his mother, and one of her closest friends.
Is Necrophilia Legal?
Whether or not this action is criminal is up for debate. Necrophilia cases are sometimes defended as victimless crimes. The letter of the law clashes with the spirit of it. The main issues with it are desecration of the corpse, willful mutilation of the corpse, and lack of consent by the corpse, but any sexual connection is a general consensus of profanity and disgust. Even is cases where the corpse is considered to be the property of the immediate family, property laws go as far as desecration, like with churches or religious artifacts (Nussbaum, 2006, 154-55).
Even if murder takes place for the purpose of necrophilia sex, the sex charge is considered attempted rape. It appears that it offends sensibilities more than it breaks the law, though some states, like Wisconsin, do address it in their statutes concerning rape. “All sexual assault crimes apply whether a victim is dead or alive at the time of the sexual contact or sexual intercourse.” (Nussbaum, 2006, p 156)
The dead may no longer have rights because death eliminates personhood, but then they become property that belongs to the next of kin or the state. The issue becomes desecration of someone else’s property. The cases regarding surviving loved ones, such as spouses (next of kin) who wish to continue their relationship with the deceased, still fall under the issue of non-consent.
Consent is not a factor with inanimate objects. Consorting with a sex doll may be seen as perverted, but it is certainly acceptable, considering that there is nothing illegal about ordering, purchasing, or partaking in such activities. The dead are inanimate, but there is something disturbing about the fact that they used to be living people.The idea of corpse desecration is compounded by the revulsion of the sexual act, but is usually not specifically addressed in the letter of the law (Nussbaum, 2006, 157).
Tazler was arrested in Florida when his late patient’s body was discovered in his home. He was eventually released without punishment, but his patient’s remains were publicly displayed in a funeral home and was viewed by almost 7,000 people. This is a perfect example of humanity’s obsession with what it considers deviant and perverse.