The Cannibal Cop on Trial
A dispatch from Gilberto Valle’s strange first two days in court.
The FBI sorted Valle's emails into two piles, says Walsh: Some were self-described fantasies, but the others—the ones at issue in the trial—involved real plans to kidnap and eat real women. How did the agents know which were real? For one, Valle and his "co-conspirators" repeatedly describe their plans as such. "Just a point of reference," Valle tells Van Hise at one point. "A good custom-made video goes for $1,500 … you're getting the real deal." Later he says, "She will definitely make the news."
With Moody Blues, the claims of authenticity are even more explicit. They discuss the added pleasure of knowing that their human meat will be "real." Moody Blues, playing the role of expert, advises Valle on safety issues and otherwise prods him to make their plot more realistic. When Valle cartoonishly proposes that they might silence their victim with an apple—a common trope in cannibal porn—his partner corrects him: "No, you need to use a gag." "Good point," says Valle. "You WILL go through with this?" asks Moody Blues, and then: "I've been let down before."
What does all this mean? The government argues that Valle's fantasies were real, and that we know they're real because Valle and his friends said so, over and over again. The defense will argue the opposite: Claiming that the fantasies are real is central to the fantasies themselves; a role-play transpires in layers of fantasy talk, and then fantasy talk about that talk.
The government has more tangible evidence, too. Valle seems to have entered his intended victims' names into a police database and otherwise tried to learn their home addresses. He also met with several of these women in person during 2012. These might be the "overt acts" in furtherance of his conspiracy that must be proved to gain a conviction, but so far, at least, the acts seem innocuous. Yes, Valle did meet Kimberly for brunch at Cafe Deluxe in Gaithersburg, Md., last year. But he brought along his wife and baby, and Kimberly herself noticed nothing strange about the encounter. Yes, he visited his high-school friend Maureen at work in Midtown one day, but he came by in a patrol car with a fellow cop. She also testified that she did not feel threatened by this behavior.
Yet it's also true that in the lead-up to these encounters with his female friends, Valle chatted online about murdering the same friends. The week before his brunch with Kimberly, he promised Moody Blues that he would size her up as a tasty morsel. ("Don't be TOO obvious," cautioned the Brit. "Drooling is definitely out!") So what does Valle really think of all these women, whether he meant to kill them or not? Is he a psychopath who cares nothing for his wife or for his friends—who maybe even hates them—and who spent years conning them with intimacy so that he could abuse them in his sexual fantasies? Or does Valle love these women even as he dreams of their murder? Are they fodder for his plots only because he knows them, and because the details of that knowledge make his fantasies more exciting?
As the trial continues, the jury will be asked to figure out the difference between the real world and the pretend world inside of Gilberto Valle's head. The problem is that his head is not like theirs, or yours or mine. In his opening statement, prosecutor Randall Jackson told the jurors to "use your common sense" in making this distinction, but I'm not sure that common sense will help. What use is intuition when you're hearing from a man who fantasized about eating human haggis? When Jackson says to "use your common sense," is he making a coded invitation for the jurors to punish Valle's uncommon desires?
Next week, Valle is expected to testify in his own defense. For the first time, he'll have the chance to say what he really thinks and help the jury to understand where his fantasies were going.