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This week: necrophilia, what is it, and what defines a necrophile?
As you’ll remember, John Reginald Halliday Christie from our previous multi-part series The Other Side of 10 Rillington Place was a necrophile as he engaged in sexual intercourse with the recently deceased bodies of his victims, but what constitutes necrophilia? Does it have to involve full penetrative sex, or can it be masturbation, groping, or simply a desire to sleep with the dead. And, are you a necrophile if the person you are in bed with, dies during sex? (I’m asking for a friend, honest).
According to the World Health Organisation, necrophilia (also known as necrophilism, necrolagnia and my favourite term necrocoitus) is an attraction, a fantasy, an intense sexual arousal or a sexual act involving the corpses of dead human beings, with the form of sexual contact ranging from penile and vaginal intercourse to anal intercourse, oral sex or masturbation of, or in the presence of, a corpse.
Legally, most countries don’t have clear guidance on necrophilia, as it’s quite a rare form of paraphilia, so (in most countries) necrophilia is only considered an illegal act as it involves the disturbing of a body or the burial ground, which in almost every culture is illegal, but because the dead cannot give consent to the sex act, necrophilia is considered non-consensual sex, and therefore it is illegal.
Of course, one option could be to get the soon-to-be deceased to sign a consent form before they pop their clogs, although that would be less of a donor card, and more of a boner card. Whay-hay.
So, what makes a person a necrophile? Clinically a necrophile is a person who has an uncontrollable desire to sleep with dead bodies, but legally they do not become a necrophile until they have interfered with its burial and engaged in any sexual act with a corpse. So, is it still necrophilia if you’re having sex with someone and they die during sex? No, as long as they died owing to natural causes, legally that is classified as “death by misadventure”, but is only considered necrophilia if you willingly continue the sex act knowing the other person is dead. (Phew).
So, how can you diagnose a necrophile? Clinically a person must experience a minimum of six months of intense and recurring sexual urges or fantasies involving corpses, with a significant change in their mood, behaviour or actions across this period. Necrophiles are most likely but not exclusively, heterosexual men between the ages or twenty and fifty (oh dear), who often seek out jobs in hospitals, undertakers, graveyards or mortuaries to gain a greater access to dead bodies (oh come on, that was work experience, for school, okay), and – as their desire manifests - necrophiles would often get their sexual partners to lie incredibly still and silent whilst they have intercourse with them (as with Ted Bundy), some may make their partner or prostitutes wear white make-up as if they were dead during sex, or (in the case of Dennis Nilsen) he would dress himself up as a corpse, lay still and watch himself as he masturbated in front of the mirror, all of which happened years before his first murder and his first sexual experience with a corpse. In rare cases (as with Jeffrey Dahmer) they may also engage in cannibalism (which is like, eating one end of a chicken wrap, and shagging the other end, I’m guessing).
In 1989, Dr Jonathan Rosman & Dr Phillip Resnick published ‘a sexual attraction to corpses: a psychiatric review’ in which they conducted a study of 122 confirmed necrophiles; in total, 92% were male, 8% were female, and 57% had regular access to corpses in their jobs. Often necrophiles have a poor self-esteem due to significant loss/ rejection or a fear of rejection and (interestingly) have a fear of death, but transcend this fear by developing a living relationship, routine and/or sexual fantasy with the corpse. In Dennis Nilsen’s case, the sex acts were as important as washing, dressing and bathing the corpse, as well as propping the dead body up in an armchair and watching TV with them.
Of those necrophiles interviewed, 68% said they were motivated by a desire to be unrejected by their former partner, 21% by a need for a reunion with a lost partner; only 15% claimed they had a sexual attraction to dead people; 15% said it was due to feelings of loneliness and isolation; and only 12% by a desire to remedy low self-esteem by expressing power over a corpse.
In Dennis Nilsen’s case, he stated that his necrophilia began following the death of his beloved grandfather, who Nilsen adored and claimed that his life was empty when (as a fisherman) his grandfather would be away at sea for weeks on end. One day, when he was five, Nilsen’s mother announced that his grandfather has come home, and when young Nilsen excitedly ran into the bedroom, he saw that the man he loved most in the world was dead. The body had been laid out as part of the family’s religious beliefs and there he said, he wasn’t afraid, but that he felt a strange sense of love for this dead body. Later in life, feeling like an outsider, who was rejected and abandoned by his family and subsequent boyfriends, when Nilsen murdered his first victim – Stephen Holmes – he stated “I had finally acquired a new kind of flat mate”, someone who would never leave him, hurt him, or reject him.
Interestingly, Dennis Nilsen claimed to only have had penetrative anal sex with one victim, and he didn’t enjoy it, instead he engaged in Intercrural sex which is non-penetrative sex, in which a male places the penis between his partner's thighs (often with lubrication) and thrusts to create friction. How romantic.
Legally, only two countries have laws which expressly make it illegal to engage in a sexual act with a corpse, and that’s South Africa and the United Kingdom (God, damn it), which under the UK Sexual Offences Act 2003, carries a two year prison sentence. Prior to 2003 in the UK, necrophilia was not illegal and the act of exposing a naked corpse in public which was only classed as a public nuisance.
In most countries, necrophilia is not (expressly) mentioned in its laws, but there are laws which forbid the disturbing of a grave or interfering with a dead body.
Strangely, in Brazil it is illegal to “abuse a corpse… or the ashes”, in New Zealand it’s illegal to engage in “misconduct with human remains”, in Sweden it’s illegal to “abuse a corpse or a grave”, in India it’s only illegal to disturb the burial ground, and in the USA, there is no federal law which covers this, but each state has their own legislation – in Washington necrophilia is a Felony, but in Texas it’s only a misdemeanor – say no more). And yet, you’ll be pleased to know, there are no laws governing sex with a corpse in New Mexico, Nebraska, Vermont, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and North Carolina.
That was pleasant. Hmm, I think I need to book a holiday for myself and my “friend” (as he’s looking a little bit pale). Now where to go? Hmm, I hear North Carolina’s nice.
If you found this interesting? Check out the Mini Mile episodes of the Murder Mile UK True-Crime Podcast, or click on the link below to listen to an episode.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian, podcaster and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten curious, quirky, unusual and different things to do in London”, nominated "one of the best true-crime podcasts at the British Podcast Awards 2018", and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totaling 50 deaths, over just a one mile walk
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime writer, podcaster of Murder Mile UK True Crime and creator of true-crime TV series.
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