Robert Ackermann: Vienna’s cannibal murderer

The Terrifying Transformation of Robert Ackermann

It began with an argument over a pornographic videotape, escalated into a scuffle, culminated in a possibly unintentional murder, and ended with a multi-course meal over two days. This is the story of how Robert Ackermann became Vienna’s teenage cannibal killer. His tale defies the typical cannibalism profile. Ackermann’s motives were neither ritualistic, overly bloodthirsty, nor, despite the pleasure he derived from his crime, seemingly sexual in nature. His driving force was one of the most dangerous of all: a morbid, twisted, and misguided curiosity. The handsome, blonde young man appears to have impulsively or even accidentally killed Josef Schweiger, then seized the opportunity to explore his horrific fascination with the hidden secrets of the human body.

In August 2007, 19-year-old Ackermann had left his native Cologne, Germany, for Vienna, Austria, where he was staying in a short-term housing facility for the mentally ill and homeless, managed by a private charity. He shared a room with 49-year-old Josef Schweiger, who had been at the center since June. Ackermann’s behavior and the duo’s quarrels didn’t alarm the social workers overseeing them during the week. However, neighbors in the apartment block, filled with families, who had arguments with the increasingly disturbed Ackermann, witnessed him crawling naked across the courtyard, howling at the moon, or throwing what appeared to be blood from his window, realized the teenager was dangerous.

Ackermann’s Teenage Years

Ackermann was once a seemingly normal, friendly, and smart boy. Early in his teenage years, psychological issues spurred on either by the physiological changes of puberty or his father’s abandonment, dramatically changed him. Ackerman began hearing voices and displaying serious behavioral issues. By 15, he had left home. He experimented with methamphetamines, ecstasy, harder drugs, and crime. He stole, sometimes impersonating a businessman to swindle banks. He even posed as a doctor for darker purposes.

Ackermann’s history of severe mental illness was marked by several hospitalizations, and he was diagnosed with schizoaffective psychosis. German authorities deemed him too ill for prison but not ill enough for compulsory admission to a state hospital for his or others’ protection. Ackermann was alone, despite his mother’s desperate pleas and evidence that his illness could be managed with medication, which he tended not to take if left unsupervised. He ended up in Vienna, where, in early 2007, he was arrested at a local hospital. He had impersonated a doctor, hoping that dressed as hospital staff, he could sneak into an operating room and participate in surgery, a childhood dream. He would soon have his chance.

A Morbid Curiosity

On the night of August 26, 2007, the roommates argued over what wasn’t the first time. Ackermann, extremely agitated, had discovered his pornographic videotape and a lighter missing. He confronted his roommate. Josef Schweiger denied everything but had the tape. Enraged, Ackermann rifled through the older man’s pockets to see what else he might have stolen, and a violent fight ensued. According to Ackermann, the two exchanged blows until he struck Schweiger so hard the elder fell onto the bed, knocked out; police say Ackermann actually hit Schweiger with a 22-pound dumbbell, cracking his skull. Ackermann claims he didn’t realize the severity, so he left Schweiger on the bed, returned to his room, cooked and ate his dinner (non-human), read a few chapters of a book, and fell asleep innocently and peacefully.

Schweiger didn’t get up the next day. Ackermann says he assumed the man was sleeping off a hangover, which was frequent. That night, he checked and found him lying in the same position he’d left him. Ackermann, always the aspiring doctor, checked the pulse and heartbeat. Schweiger was dead. Ackermann’s reaction to this discovery wasn’t remorse or panic but immense joy: he could finally satisfy his curiosity about the inner workings of the human body.

In a later interview, Ackermann would describe this as his greatest desire: to see what we look like inside. He stressed that he knew this wouldn’t harm Schweiger and would provide him his deepest joy. Ackermann used a sharp butterfly knife to cut Schweiger from groin to throat, opening his abdomen, and to slice off the top of his skull. He reached into the corpse’s abdomen to explore the moist mysteries of the body and feel Schweiger’s internal organs. With a butcher’s knife, he cut out the intestines. Then, he extracted the brain and placed it on a plate.

Later, Ackermann tried to claim he didn’t eat Schweiger and only tasted a bit of his blood to see what it was like, a scientific experiment, so to speak. On August 28, the second day after the fight, he called the hostel’s cleaner to show her the body. He suggested she call the police. When police arrived at the blood-soaked first-floor apartment, a detached Ackerman told them to see what had happened, as if it were an inexplicable and random event in which he hadn’t participated. He even tried to blame the gruesome scene on the apartment’s mice. Evidence soon exonerated the rodent population and implicated the troubled teen.

The Trial and Life in a Mental Hospital

Police at the scene reported Ackermann was drooling and disoriented. His mouth was smeared with blood and viscera, and his clothes were damp from the mess. He had already eaten parts of Schweiger’s brain, internal organs, and bicep tissue. The victim’s tongue and the rest of his brain were plated for the perverse boy’s breakfast. Even as unhinged and ecstatic as he was at that moment, the boy quickly realized he had been caught. He confessed. As expected, DNA tests later proved the blood soaking the teenager’s lips and hands indeed belonged to the corpse.

Authorities say Robert Ackermann has since been an exemplary patient and prisoner. It’s unclear if the attack was a severe psychotic episode or an overflow of the young man’s old sadistic impulses. But therapy and constant, controlled medication have apparently brought him back to the real world, and he’s able to talk about his crime. On September 4, 2008, an Austrian jury agreed Ackermann was unfit to stand trial and would spend the rest of his life in Austria’s Goellersdorf, a high-security mental hospital. Vienna’s Cannibal now says he plans to use his internment time to study medicine, so if ever released, he can fulfill his lifelong ambition of becoming a surgeon.