Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

A Dangerous Mind

Illustration by Zohar Lazar  

And perhaps most important, Valle’s DFN user profile announces that he is just fantasizing—that he doesn’t mean what he says. The kidnapping plans in the chats and web searches of women who interested him all come and go without follow-through, like fantasies one resumes with different names and details. “Three different women were going to be kidnapped on Presidents’ Day,” says Edward Zas, another of Valle’s defense lawyers. “That day comes and goes, nothing happens. Then it was going to be Labor Day. Nothing.”

Even so, the defense understood the task ahead of them—how to make a jury get past the image of the Cannibal Cop. “The only way you can defend this case practically was to take on the burden of convincing this jury somehow, really to a certainty, that he could never do this,” says Zas. “And how do you do that in a case where the guy is admittedly interested in this stuff?”

On the afternoon of ­December 31, 2012, a forensic psychiatrist named Park Dietz traveled downtown to the Manhattan Detention Center to conduct a psychiatric examination of the Cannibal Cop.

No one on either side of this case had ever claimed that Valle was insane. But since the case against him revolved almost entirely around his chats, Valle’s lawyers felt they needed a forensic ­psychiatrist to weigh in on the central question of how real his web persona was—and how real it might become. And very few marquee-name criminals of the last three decades have made it through the justice system without being ­examined by Dietz. In his 30-year career, he’s interviewed John Hinckley Jr., Betty Broderick, Arthur Shawcross, Andrea Yates, and Joel Rifkin.

Pre-crime and psychiatry often go hand in hand. Legal instruments like institutionalization and sex-offender registration all share the goal of preventing crime from taking place, and for better or worse, they’re based on a psychiatric rationale. Those opinions, however, have a fairly poor track record when it comes to forecasting future behavior. For pedophiles and other potential sex offenders, every diagnostic tool has a spotty success rate in predicting when a person might go operational with his fantasies. (With ­Valle, Dietz employed elements of the Static-99, one straightforward assessment geared toward predicting recidivism for rapists and child molesters, and saw no red flags.)

Still, being able to anticipate behavior remains the holy grail to some in law enforcement. “We need to understand more about the signs that show somebody is either becoming deranged or becoming a terrorist,” former Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff said after the 2012 shootings in Aurora, Colorado. The military is at work on a way of predicting suicidal behavior, tracking soldiers through stressful situations like divorces and beefing up screening in basic training and before and after deployments. Last October, Attorney General Eric Holder recommended “new strategies” to prevent mass shootings, citing how the FBI helped to disrupt or prevent nearly 150 shootings and violent attacks in 2013, in part by steering potential attackers toward ­mental-health professionals.

What Dietz potentially had to offer the Valle defense was something similar to all these systematic attempts at pre-crime analysis. The doctor already knew from Valle’s NYPD psychology file that the officer had been administered the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, a standard test meant to identify personality structure and detect signs of ­psychopathology. “The MMPI showed no clinical psychopathology,” ­Dietz says. “And that’s not something I run into very much.”

But then there were those e-mails. When he’d first read them, Dietz honestly didn’t know what to think. “From the chats and e-mails, there was no way to tell. Chats and e-mails allow for multiple inferences. Taken at their worst, they would be very alarming.”

In eighteen hours of interviews with Dietz spanning three days, Valle discussed openly, for the first time with another human being, everything about his sex life, starting with a traditional ­Catholic-school childhood. He was not inhibited or ashamed about masturbation, but he was repressed and inhibited around others. “He was quite shy about approaching girls,” Dietz says, “in a way I haven’t seen since the fifties.” His fantasy life took a turn when in high school he saw the film The Mask and locked in on an image of Cameron Diaz, abducted and tied up. By the end of high school, he discovered bondage websites, and in college he found fetish websites, including Muki’s Kitchen, a campy site that specializes in staged cannibalism pornography—women tied up on spits, with apples in their mouths. Valle was turned on while, in real life, he treated women respectfully, never threatened anyone, and did not have sex at all, until he met Kathleen Mangan. And then he discovered DFN.