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Due to the graphic nature of this killer's crimes, listener discretion is advised. This episode includes discussions of child abuse, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, animal abuse and death, torture and murder that some people may find offensive. We advise extreme caution for children under a 13.


In the summer of 1965, 16 year old Robert Berdella sat in a theater in his hometown of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. He leaned forward as the horror film The Collector unfolded before him. He was captivated. The movie was about a disturbed young man who kidnapped a beautiful woman to keep captive in his basement. He wanted his prisoner to fall in love with him. But despite his best efforts, he's unable to control her. After a failed escape attempt, the woman is killed, and the young man, instead of learning any type of lesson, focuses attention on another woman hoping for better luck with her.


Robert watched the film in utter fascination and desire. He wanted to be like the man in the movie. The idea of having his own captive, somebody completely under his control, gave him a thrill.


He didn't realize it at the time, but that movie changed everything. Hi, I'm Greg Pulsing, this is Serial Killers, a Spotify original, a fun podcast. Every episode we dive into the minds and madness of serial killers. Today, we'll delve into the insidious mind of Robert Berdella, also known as the collector and the Kansas City butcher. I'm here with my co-host, Vanessa Richardson.


Hi, everyone. You can find episodes of Serial Killers and all other Spotify originals from podcast for free on Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.


Today, we've covered Robert Bradley's transformation from well-behaved Catholic schoolboy to a young man obsessed with the idea of controlling another person.


Next time, we'll explore Robert's horrific four year killing spree and reveal just how he eventually was finally caught. We've got all that and more coming up.


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GBW are the owner's manual for important operating instructions. Control, it's an alluring concept, one that many crave to know, you have everything in hand at any time can bring a sense of calm, it can make the world seem more manageable.


But occasionally people find that dark sense of power and the darkest of places.


For some, a lack of control over their own life sends them searching for it in different ways. Dominance over others try as they might, to repress the desire for absolute dominion over something. It can simmer below the surface, ready to boil over at any moment. But that desperate longing doesn't come from nowhere. All desires can be traced back to a seed, one that was usually planted in childhood.


A little south of Cleveland, Ohio, sits the large suburb of Cuyahoga Falls. It was there that Robert Berdella junior was born in 1949. His parents, Alison Roberts senior, were devoted Catholics who immediately introduced their son into their faith.


Life in the Berdella household consisted of three things strict adherence to the rules, high expectations and attending mass regularly. If Robert didn't abide by any of those. His father reminded him with a leather belt. So Robert was always well behaved. But he learned quickly to keep to himself at home.


It was just easier to avoid his father's attention.


Unfortunately, Robert didn't find solace at school. He was a bit of a loner, a kid who wore thick rimmed glasses since he was five and who battled a slight lisp. The combination made him fodder for his classmates, and they bullied him mercilessly.


Because of that, Robert didn't make any friends. He could never push past the bullying to find his own path, let alone participate in any sort of social activity. He chose isolation, instead growing more and more detached as the years went on.


Vanessa is going to take over on the psychology here and throughout the episode. As a note, Vanessa is not a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist, but she has done a lot of research for this show.


Thanks, Greg.


The bullying Robert endured was one of the major influences on his developing self-esteem, according to Dr. Frederick Rivara and Dr. Suzanne Luminesce Drell, being bullied makes young people incredibly insecure and constantly on guard. It even affects them when there are no bullies around. Just the mere fact that it might happen is enough to keep a kid on edge.


That has a big impact on a young child, both mentally and emotionally. Kids who are bullied start to feel unaccepted, isolated, angry and withdrawn. Like Robert, they detach themselves from the situation because it seems like the easier way out. But this can lead to a stunted emotional and mental state because they're not engaging with their peers, perhaps even actively avoiding them. They don't establish the friendships that would help their development. In short, Robert never learned how to interact socially while at school.


And when he was home, his parents didn't help bridge the gap.


After all, Robert's father was a bully in his own right, and life for Robert only got worse once his parents came home with his younger brother.


Daniel Berdella was born when Robert was seven, despite the big age difference, Robert likely assume that having a younger brother meant that he instantly got a best friend. But that wasn't the case at all. Instead, as the boys grew up, they were reportedly often pitted against each other by their father. It was a constant competition and time and time again, Daniel came out on top. Robert was always the more quiet of the two. A kid who liked art more than sports.


He was smarter than most of his classmates, but that just ended up making him even more isolated as Daniel became their father's clear favorite.


Robert grew resentful, but he never voiced those feelings. He knew that if he ever stepped out of line or spoke out of turn, his father's belt awaited.


The rules were meant to be followed and respect was to be given.


But as Robert got older, it became harder for him to abide by his father's strict standards, not just because of how he acted, but because of who he was at some point during his teenage years.


Robert realized that he was gay. It was a difficult thing to acknowledge, particularly because he knew that he could never share that truth with his parents as devout Catholics. He believed they would never accept him. So he repressed his sexuality or at least tried to.


But in doing so, Robert felt a slew of emotions, resentment for having to hide who he was, shame for not being who his parents wanted, and fear that at any moment someone might find him out. He felt entirely out of control and he hated that.


And then life sent him another curveball, one that he had zero power over. In 1965, Robert's father died of a heart attack. He was only 39.


16 year old Robert was wrecked by his father's sudden death. Despite their complicated relationship, he still loved his father. He didn't know how he was supposed to move on, how he was supposed to even make sense of the world. And the other authority figure in his life seemed to feel very differently.


Robert's mother, Alice, remarried only a few months after Robert Senior's death. Robert couldn't believe it. To him, it seemed like his father's body wasn't even cold yet and his mom had already moved on. How? Why? His disbelief curdled into outright anger. He refused to acknowledge his new stepfather, and now he couldn't stand his mother. His rage felt all consuming in a way he'd never experienced before. He knew he shouldn't feel that way, but he couldn't help it.


In desperation, he turned to the Bible, hoping that his father's religion might bring him a measure of peace. But nothing Catholicism could offer made him feel any better.


He tried other religions, too. He read extensively, searching for guidance to his grief, a way to fix himself. But no matter how much doctrine he read, Robert just couldn't find what he was searching for. He was overwhelmed.


Robert decided to focus on his job as a productive outlet.


He worked part time as a line cook at a local restaurant so he could make his own money without depending on his mom and stepfather. It was a decent enough job, typical for a sixteen year old boy.


But all that changed when Robert found himself one on one with a male co-worker in a back room without any witnesses. The man sexually assaulted Robert. We don't know much about Robert's immediate reaction or how we process this traumatic event, which is believed to be his first ever sexual encounter. However, based on what we know about the psychological effects of sexual assault in general, we can assume that this wasn't easy for him.


According to the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, survivors can experience a wide range of debilitating feelings such as shame, guilt or anger to deal with those emotions, they often tap into coping methods like denial or minimization.


Unfortunately, much like today, that means that sexual assaults often go unreported. And in the 1960s, Robert had two additional taboos working against him. First, he was a man and therefore a sexual assaults weren't, quote unquote supposed to happen to him. Second, he was gay, which he couldn't admit. So he never reported the attack, not even to his family. Between the death of his father and the sexual assault, Roberts started spiraling. He stopped attending mass, abandoning religion altogether.


He'd lost all hope that a high power could save him from his miserable life. And so he became even more withdrawn.


However, Robert did find comfort in the most unlikely of places, a 1965 horror film called The Collector. The film was about a man who kidnaps a woman, holds her captive in his basement and tries to force her to love him. Ultimately, the man kills the woman and begins the process anew.


The film struck a chord with Robert. He found himself thinking about it constantly, even dreaming about what it would be like to do such a thing himself. He envied the protagonist for his sense of control to overpower another human, but he knew he couldn't actually kidnap anyone.


And so even though he sometimes fantasized about playing out the events of the movie in his own life, he let the idea slowly fade away.


Instead, Robert got on with his life and tried to change it in a better way. In 1967, he graduated from high school and moved away from his mom and stepfather. He made his way west, landing in Kansas City, Missouri, where he enrolled in the Art Institute.


In the wake of his father's death, Robert had quietly turned to art as a coping mechanism when religion failed to give him what he desired. Robert dove on little deeper into art. So after enrolling in the Art Institute, he thought he might make a good art professor. Roberts teachers were immediately impressed. They found him to be a talented, hardworking student. It appeared that Robert had found his calling. Unfortunately, Robert got distracted from his studies with his newfound freedom, Robert started experimenting with drugs, marijuana, LSD, amphetamines, the works, which of course got him into trouble in early 1968.


Nineteen year old Robert was arrested for selling amphetamines to an undercover agent, although he managed to avoid any jail time. He didn't learn his lesson.


Less than a month later, he was arrested again, this time for possession of LSD and marijuana. He spent five days in jail, but was released due to a lack of evidence. After that, Robert kept his head down, likely hoping to avoid more trouble with the law. But that didn't mean his interest in drugs waned. Instead, it just shifted somehow Robert got it in his head that he should experiment to see how certain drugs affected animals.


And he decided that the best place to hold these experiments was in one of his classes.


He had slowly become that guy amongst his peers, the weird, disturbing student who pushed things way too far, except Robert was on a whole other level.


Robert claimed everything he did was in the name of art. But when he started experimenting on live animals in the classroom, his fellow students weren't having it.


According to author Jack Rosewood, during this period, Robert's fantasies towards torture began to increase, and he wanted to experiment.


For one class, he decapitated a live duck. In another, he killed a chicken.


About the straw that broke the camel's back was when Robert injected various sedatives and drugs into a dog trying to gauge its reactions.


The dog ultimately died, which didn't sit well with the school board in December of 1969 in the middle of his junior year. Robert was forced out of the institute. At first, Robert was likely ashamed of what he had done. He wished he could take it back, but then the shame reverted to anger, just like it had after his father's death.


He shifted the blame. It wasn't his fault that the school board didn't understand his art.


The fault was theirs. Robert stormed away from the campus that day, unsure of where he was headed. He had no plan, no home, no job. He felt powerless, and he hated the world for making him feel that way. It's possible that in his anger, his old fantasies of dominating and torturing another human being resurfaced, the idea of such total control would have been alluring just then. Robert didn't seem to have any control, but he could change that.


He wouldn't be shamed or bullied any longer. He would be the one with the power.


Coming up, Robert meets his first victim, you discover their practices, seek their advice and let yourself become more vulnerable than ever before, they have the ability to heal. What doctors can't or so they say. Listeners be sure to check out the special four part series on Miracle Healers airing right now on cults.


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Art had briefly seemed like the perfect outlet for the pain of Robert's adolescence, but his darker impulses got in the way. After the expulsion, Robert pushed his anger aside once again and decided to make the most of the situation. He moved to a new neighborhood in Kansas City and used his savings to buy a two and a half storey home.


At first, he mostly kept to himself. He'd offer a friendly smile or wave as he passed neighbors. But like in his school days, Robert didn't really socialize.


This was a long term effect of his childhood bullying. He didn't know how to socialize with his neighbors because he had never learned those skills with other children.


However, he did try. Eventually, Robert branched out and got involved in the community, including the neighborhood watch program. He went on patrols with his fellow residents, keeping the streets safe. He was hardly the life of the group, but he realized not everyone was as bad as his schoolyard bullies and in turn, his neighbors started to like him, too.


Robert also started to work on his career using his years of experience as a line cook. He got a job as a chef. He worked at some respectable restaurants around Kansas City and built up a solid reputation. Within a few years, he even joined a chefs association so that he could train students at a local college.


But despite gaining success as a cook, Robert's true passion was still art. The Art Institute may have pushed him out, but he didn't think his career in the field was over. There were plenty of avenues for him to explore. At some point in the 1970s, Robert started collecting art and antiques. At first, it was a way to fulfill his longtime passion, but it eventually evolved into a lucrative side hustle that brought in a decent income. Before long, he wanted to follow his bliss full time.


So in 1981, 32 year old Robert quit his job as a chef and became a self-employed art dealer.


Robert rented a booth at the Westport flea market and called it Bob's Bazaar Bazaar. He sold all sorts of antiques, jewelry, occult items, even shrunken heads. He never made quite enough money to turn his bazaar into a successful business, but he managed to make ends meet one way or another.


While Robert's professional life steadied out, his personal life only got rockier. We don't know a lot about Robert's relationship to his sexuality at this time, but it seems that Robert was openly gay by his mid 20s. However, details about any relationships or sexual encounters during this time are a little fuzzy.


In 1982, about a year after opening the bazaar. Robert began his first serious relationship with a man we don't know much about his partner, except that his experience fighting in the Vietnam War reportedly left him emotionally and psychologically unstable.


Based on this information, it's possible that the relationship was rocky from the outset. Still, when it ended, it was another blow to Robert's already fragile state in the wake of the breakup. Robert tried to do what he always did, push down his feelings. He went back to focusing on his business, but he just couldn't stop thinking about what he had lost.


Robert craved company. He had gotten it for a short period with his partner. And after that brief taste, he knew he didn't want to be alone anymore. But Robert struggled to find someone. He was an eccentric man with an odd business. On top of that, he wasn't conventionally attractive.


So when he couldn't find someone on his own, he turned to the city's sex workers.


He wanted to be sexually satisfied, and paying for it was the only way he could accomplish that.


But he resented every minute of it. He didn't like having to pay for passion. He wanted it for real.


It was that old shame resurfacing. It had been there all his life, but he was tired of being ashamed of himself. And with that feeling of shame came the return of the rage inside.


Still, Roberts seemed determined to justify his actions to himself, he turned to young lost men, sex workers, drug addicts, runaways and took them under his wing. He tried to inspire them to get their lives back on track. He was helping them. He believed it was an act of charity.


But of course, Roberts, more selfish and darker motivations were coming into play. He invited some of the young men he met to live with him rent free in exchange for help with housework. But once they were living with him, Roberts started asking or pressuring for sexual favors.


Robert wanted to control these young men. According to forensic psychologist Catherine Ramsland, the need to possess and abuse people in this way signals a weak or inadequate personality. Even though Robert thought that he was benefiting these young men, he was really just using them to feel powerful.


His old fantasies were coming back into play. He wanted to dominate them, torture them, keep them captive, like in The Collector. He wasn't acting on those impulses yet, but he was thinking about them, whether or not he ever verbalized these feelings to his houseguests. The relationships never lasted long.


The men blew in and out of Robert's life without much consequence, but some made more of an impression. Robert first met Jerry Howel when Jerry was 14. Jerry's father, Paul, had a booth at the flea market where Robert worked right away.


Jerry was fascinated with Robert. He liked all of the older man's exotic back stories for the antiques he sold.


Jerry was also intrigued by Robert's open sexuality. Jerry was gay, and as he reached his late teenage years, he started making money as a sex worker. When Robert discovered this, he was much more interested in Jerry. By the start of 1984, when Jerry was 19 years old, the two were spending a lot of time together.


That didn't sit well with Jerry's father. Paul had heard rumors about Robert's relationships with other young men in the city, and he didn't want that for his own son. He openly threatened both Robert and Jerry, trying to dissuade them from spending any more time together. But the warning was ignored. Paul was right to be worried. Behind closed doors, Robert's dark fantasies of overpowering another person were simmering dangerously close to the surface. He started thinking about what it would look like to actually live out some of that.


A battle raged within Robert, but he managed to suppress his impulses for a time. Instead, he focused on being sexually satisfied and for a while, Jerry was able to give Robert what he needed. They began some sort of a sexual relationship, although the frequency of their encounters is unclear. However, after a few months, the relationship took a turn around, early 1984, Jerry got into a bit of legal trouble. Robert gave them some advice and even helped cover his costs.


Of course, Robert assumed that Jerry would pay him back, but Jerry had no intention of repaying the debt as Jerry continuously dodged paying Robert back.


The rage inside Robert became too much to hold back. It felt like Jerry was trying to turn their established power dynamic on its head. And Robert wasn't going to let this young boy control him. No, Robert was ready to take the power back.


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Every time Robert Carter Jerry about the money, the teenager deflected the questions. As time went on, it became clear to Robert that Jerry had no intention of paying him back. Robert was upset. He didn't like the Jerry seemed to be the one in control of their relationship. It made him angry and resentful. For years, he had kept his rage in check. But now it seemed that all his pent up feelings were just looking for a reason to break free.


And Jerry gave him that excuse whether the money was the sole thing that set Robert off.


We can't be sure, but it's clear that things escalated quickly from there. On July 5th, 1984, Robert picked Jerry up so that they could hang out. Despite the tension over the money, Jerry didn't seem to suspect that his friend would actually be violent after all to him. Robert was just the weird but friendly guy from the fleamarket. He'd never shown any signs of being dangerous. So Jerry happily went back to Robert's house with him there, according to author Jack Rosewood, the two smoked and drank for a couple of hours just like normal.


But then Robert made an advance on Jerry. He wanted to have sex. Jerry refused. As far as we can tell. Jerry had been avoiding sex with Robert for a while now, even before the money dispute being rebuffed, enraged Robert.


He'd gone out of his way to help this young kid in his eyes. Jerry owed him who was this punk to take his money and deny him sex.


For years, Robert had assumed that all the young men who he helped out would provide him with sexual favors in return. It was part of the deal, whether spoken or not.


And now Jerry was changing the rules.


But Robert wasn't going to take no for an answer. He was determined to get what he wanted one way or another. When Jerry resisted again, Robert made the decision to drug him. It's not clear whether this was the plan all along or if the idea came to him suddenly. Either way, he was prepared. For years, Robert dabbled in breeding chow chow dogs.


During that time, he accumulated a stash of tranquilizers and this must have seemed like the perfect opportunity to try them out on a human. A bizarre, twisted reversal of the experiments that saw Robert thrown out of school years earlier.


While his guest was distracted, Robert loaded up a syringe. Then he stabbed the needle into Jerry. Within minutes, the young man was out cold. In moments, he went from friend to prisoner. Robert wasted no time. He stripped Jerry naked and bound him to the bed. As he did this, he reveled in the idea that his darkest fantasy was coming true. Finally, he had his own personal captive. Though it seems easy to dismiss the collector's influence on Robert, it likely played a serious role in cementing his fantasies.


The movie itself didn't cause him to commit any crimes, but he watched it at a very formative time in his life. Not only had he just lost the strongest authority figure in his life, he had also recently lived through a sexual assault and perhaps the movie inspired fantasies that acted as a way to deal with the trauma. Criminal psychologist Eric Hickey suggests that such fantasies of torture and murder can actually serve as coping mechanisms. It's entirely possible that this is what happened here, though it took him years to act upon them.


Those fantasies had been with Robert since he was 16 and after years of fighting, urges he knew were wrong.


Robert just stopped fighting with his victim, unconscious and restrained. Robert did things he'd only ever dreamed about. He even used household objects to act out his darker desires on his captive. Still, despite the intense violence, it seemed that Robert had no clear intention of killing Jerry.


According to Rosewood, the torture was more about Robert's, quote, fascination with the amount of pain he could inflict.


He was spurred on by Jerry's fear and helplessness.


In short, he let his sadistic impulses take control at last. But it seems he didn't like being confronted with the complete reality of his fantasy, whenever Jerry was lucid enough to beg for his freedom, Robert sedated him once more.


Then he waited for his friend to be unconscious again before resuming the assault. It continued like this through the night. The next day, however, Robert knew that he needed to act as if everything were normal, so he made sure Jerry was, well, drugged and went to work at the flea market.


His day at work was rather uneventful business such as it was as usual. However, with every passing hour, Robert grew more and more excited. He couldn't wait to get back home and continue his assault on Jerry. Robert had completely given over to his sadistic side, the time apart from Jerry didn't make him question what he was doing or back off. Instead, it only seemed to make him more certain that this was what he wanted. He even closed the shop a little early so that he could get back home sooner.


He even returned with new ideas on how to cause Jerry agony, despite already being sedated. Robert decided to inject Jerry with some more to really keep him subdued. It seems that Robert wanted his victim more docile to make things easier for himself because now he wanted to document his process as he committed each heinous act.


Robert wrote notes about the time, method position, and he took photographs on his Polaroid. These were both mementos and a manifestation of his desire for control by keeping a detailed log of what he was doing. He maintained a sense of order, one that he could refer back to as he saw fit.


Unfortunately, Robert pushed his torture too far at 10:00 p.m. on July 6th, Jeri's body went limp, 24 hours of consistent assault and sedation stopped his heart.


As soon as Robert realized what had happened, he tried CPR. After all, he didn't want to lose his captive. He didn't want his fund to end. But it was too late. Jerry was dead either from choking on his own vomit or overdosing on tranquilizers. Disappointed Robert considered for a moment what he was going to do with the body.


It didn't take him long to come up with a grisly, methodical plan.


He dragged Gerry's body down into the basement, where he strung him up from the ceiling. Then he grabbed a cooking pot and its knives from the kitchen. He positioned the pot right under the hanging body and then he got to work. Like a man working at a slaughterhouse, Robert made incisions to drain the blood from the corpse. We don't know what drove Robert to dispose of the corpse in such a horrific way, like something out of his own personal horror film, but he was always a man who sort order.


So it's possible he just thought it was the most efficient method. He let the body hang there overnight, allowing the blood to pool in the pot. The next evening, Robert returned with a chainsaw. With the body completely drained of blood, Robert went to work dismembering it, he cut it into pieces that could easily fit into dog food bags, then wrapped them individually and put them into larger black trash bags.


And the next garbage day, Robert left the bags out on the street to be thrown into the back of the collection truck, which they were. No one suspected a thing. And as municipal employees carried away the evidence of what he'd done, the gears were turning in Robert's mind. For years, he'd fantasized about living out a real life version of the collector, but he had always held back out of fear and shame. Now that he had done it once and gotten away with it, those emotions felt like pointless roadblocks.


He craved the feeling he had had while torturing Jerry, he wanted that power back control, and now that he had experienced it, it was like a drug. All he could do was think about how soon he could do it again. Thanks again for tuning into serial killers will be back soon with part two of Robert Berdella story in the aftermath of his first murder. Robert was desperate for his next fix and the body count was set to rise.


But like in any horror movie, there's always someone who lives to tell the tale. And in this case, that Survivor was Robert's undoing.


You can find all episodes of serial killers and all other Spotify originals from Parker for free on Spotify. Will see you next time. Have a killer week. Serial Killers is a Spotify original from podcast.


Executive producers include Max and Ron Cuddler Sound Design by Michael Motian with production assistance by Ron Shapiro, Carly Madden and Bruce Catterick. This episode of Serial Killers was written by Alex Burns with writing assistants by Joe Guera and Joel Kaplan, fact checking by Annibale and researched by Brian Petrus and Chelsea Wood. Serial Killers stars Greg Polson and Vanessa Richardson.