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A Dangerous Mind

When do awful thoughts, shared with complete strangers, become criminal actions? The troubling case—in every direction—of the “cannibal cop.”

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Illustration by Zohar Lazar  

Gilberto Valle was 25 years old and still living with his father in Queens when, in 2009, he met Kathleen Mangan on OKCupid. He was a cheerful, moon-faced cop at a precinct in West Harlem; she was new in town, a young Teach for America recruit at an elementary school in East Harlem. Their romance got serious quickly. They moved to their first apartment, a one-bedroom on 88th Street and Third Avenue. They got a pet, a bulldog they trained together and took turnswalking. Mangan remembers those early years fondly. “It was fun,” she said in court last year, the only time she’s commented publicly about her husband or marriage. “We laughed together. It was nice. He opened doors, pulled out chairs.”

Things changed when she got pregnant. When he first heard the news, Valle said, “I can’t do this,” before salvaging the moment, calling her parents to assure them that he would do the right thing. But he never seemed to fully adjust. Instead, Valle drifted away. “He never seemed very interested at all,” Mangan said. “He was sighing and just seemed miserable that I was wasting his time.”

They moved to a bigger apartment, a two-bedroom in Forest Hills, and were married on June 19, 2012, nine months after the birth of their daughter, Josephine. “The wedding was nice,” Mangan said. “The marriage was not.” She said that Valle rarely helped with the baby. When he came home after midnight from the precinct, she usually wouldn’t wait up. Sex, when it was happening at all, never ended well. “He couldn’t finish,” she said. “He would run to the bathroom.” After a while, he avoided her almost completely, and instead would play video games, watch TV, and go on the Internet “until three, four, five in the morning, or just not come to sleep in our bed.”

When they were up together, she’d see her husband surfing the websites of ESPN, Major League Baseball, and the Rant, a message board for NYPD cops. One day in the summer of 2012, shortly after their wedding, she noticed that he was erasing his search history. Not long after that, she learned what he really was looking at. She opened their Mac and saw that he hadn’t logged out of his account. “I noticed that there were two little files on the bottom,” she said, “so I clicked on them.” They were image files, and while the pictures themselves didn’t load, she was able to see the URL where they’d come from.

She clicked again and saw the home page of a website called Dark Fetish Network. “It was porn,” she said, “and it was disturbing. I mean, I know S&M is kind of popular, like Fifty Shades of Grey, you know, but this seemed different ... The girl on the front page was dead.”

Until that moment, Mangan had thought that if she were prettier, or if she just cleaned and cooked more, he would want her. Now she wasn’t so sure. She told Valle they needed to talk. Was this what he wanted? Should they go shopping for some sex toys? Valle seemed frightened at first, but then relieved and enthusiastic. For the first time since before she was pregnant, she was hopeful. “I thought maybe we had had, like, a breakthrough,” she said, “that we were communicating, that he was going to be honest and talk to me.”

But they both were changed by the ­discovery. She couldn’t stop thinking about what she saw, and he seemed ­suspicious of everything she was doing. On September 9, 2012, she installed spyware on their computer. “I had no choice,” she said. “I was scared.”

The next day, she saw all the websites Valle was visiting: darkfetishnet.com, girlsinabind.com, fetlife.com. She saw her name in his instant-message chats. “And I started clicking on them and all of a sudden I was staring at pictures of me, pictures of my friends, pictures of people we knew.” She entered her name in a search of Valle’s e-mail, and what she saw overwhelmed her. “I was going to be tied up by my feet and my throat slit and they would have fun watching the blood gush out of me because I was young, and ‘If she cries, don’t listen to her, don’t give her mercy.’ And Gil just said, ‘It’s okay, we will just gag her.’ ”

She booked a flight to her parents’ in Nevada, taking the baby with her. Days later, she logged into the spyware program again. She found a trove of S&M images of women being tortured and sexually assaulted. She saw records of Google searches for phrases like “how to kidnap a woman” and “human meat recipes.” She opened files with pictures of more than 80 women he’d downloaded from Facebook and other sources. And she read e-mail conversations Valle had had with three different people in which he discussed the various ways he might kidnap, rape, kill, and cook these women. Mangan was one of them, but there were others: an old friend of hers from work; Valle’s supervisor at the 26th Precinct; a teenage girl who had just graduated from Valle’s old high school; and quite a few of Valle’s college friends—about one of whom he once wrote, “I’ll be eyeing her from head to toe and licking my lips, longing for the day I cram a ­chloroform-soaked rag in her face.”


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