8763 Wonderland

Previously Published Journalism and Short Fiction by Rodger Jacobs

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Snuffed Out

by Rodger Jacobs
Feature Article for Eye Magazine
October 1999

"Snuff films are those in which the final act is sexual murder. No hard evidence has ever been presented that such films do exist, but rumor has it that there are a very few 8mm films to be had at a very high price. The major trouble with producing this sort of film is that you are constantly forced to be on the lookout for new talent."--- Stephen Ziplow, "The Film Maker’s Guide To Pornography"

It’s like walking into that seedy bar on the wrong side of town. The stench of stale beer, spent cigarettes, and moral decay assaults your nostrils. All eyes are on you with suspicious and hostile glares as you push through the door, bringing with you a momentary glimpse of the sun outside, the harsh rays spilling over the darkened room and illuminating the nasty bit of business going down in the corner. There’s a sudden sharp pain at the back of your head and seconds before you slump to your shaking knees to embrace the piss-stained floor with your face you realize that someone had come up from behind and struck you with a blackjack. God only knows what they have planned next.

That’s how I felt upon receiving the ominous warning; like I had stepped into a sordid establishment I had no business being in and it was time to back out the door, pretending I never saw the place before. Forget the address, forget the street it’s on, forget even what city it’s in.

"Stay away from the snuff film angle," the strongly worded advisory from Henry, a fellow journalist, began. He sent me the e-mail on May 11, less than a week after I began probing into a ghastly tale that debunked the widely held notion that snuff films are nothing more than an urban myth. "Stay away from the topic completely as a journalist, in conversation, and in every way you can think. Just stay away from it."

Henry is a trusted friend and advisor, a seasoned writer with keen insights and a few friends in law enforcement. If someone like that tells you to back away from a story you had better do as told or ponder the reality before proceeding any further that you may spend the rest of your life living in fear.

The macabre story of Ernst Dieter Korzen and Stefan Michael Mahn, both sentenced to life imprisonment in Germany for committing murder during the production of a snuff film, fell into my lap quite by accident. On the morning of Thursday, May 6, 1999, I stumbled bleary-eyed to my computer and went on-line to summon up my daily dose of porn industry gossip from Luke Ford’s website. Luke, a porno outsider, is the leading purveyor of tabloid journalism targeted at the billion dollar smut industry. His reporting is often sloppy and inaccurate and he has been rightfully accused on several occasions of running with a story before pausing to verify the facts, which is why I immediately phoned him after seeing the story on his website that morning.

"Where the hell did you get this story about the German snuff film, Luke?"

"A source sent it to me last night," Luke replied lazily in his soft Australian accent. I could hear him clacking away at the keyboard while we talked, no doubt adding more salacious chunks of gossip to his website from the modest bungalow he occupies literally in the shadow of the monolithic structure of glass and steel that houses Larry Flynt Publications in L.A.’s Wilshire District. "I think they pulled it off a wire service."

"Is it a reputable wire service? Send me everything you have on this. I need to verify that the story isn’t a hoax."

"Why?" He seemed bored and distracted, still banging away at the keyboard, unaware or indifferent to the gravity of the story. Over the years gallons of ink have been shed in magazines and newspapers to discredit the existence of snuff films, most naysayers citing the lack of direct evidence as proof that the trade is as mythical as Hydra. No such film had ever been discovered by any police force in the world --- until now.

"I want to run with this, Luke," I said through a burst of adrenalin, that certain surge all writers get when pursuing The Big Story. Six weeks had passed since I turned in my last feature article for Hustler magazine; titled Beyond Extreme the 3,000 word dispatch was a dark and gritty expose of the underground porn market. The article only vaguely touched upon the subject of snuff films. Now, with this horrific story filtering out of Hagan, Germany, I might have the perfect follow-up piece: SNUFF FILMS EXIST.

"I find it hard to believe that there are people that get off on seeing other people murdered in a sexual situation. I think it’s a myth. Of course, it makes a good story."
--- Larry Flynt, Premiere Magazine, March 1999

Three months of research for the Hustler article on underground porn led me into some dark alleyways that should never see the light of day.

Discussion groups on the World Wide Web are perhaps the best venue to locate purveyors of taboo pornography like bestiality and rape videos but be careful where you step because there are some twisted souls posting missives of perversion beyond your imagination. In a discussion group devoted to sexual sadism I followed one very busy and popular conversation thread devoted to "building the perfect guillotine to slice off a woman’s breasts." A fan of the rather unpleasant subject wrote, "I can think of nothing sexier than seeing the sharp blade of a guillotine cutting through a plump breast." If anyone ever needed the Lorena Bobbitt treatment it’s this group of gleeful psychopaths. Moving on to another subject in the same discussion group I stumbled upon a posting from a demented contributor who wanted to know if anyone shared his fantasy of "seeing naked young women burned alive at the stake." Backyard barbeques must offer up some intriguing fare at his house.

There are demons walking among us, far too many to count, and I pored over their maniacal writings for weeks on end. Some of their fantasies are simply unspeakable, played out on the Internet in a blazing Hieronymous Bosch-like tableau of sexual mayhem, mutilation, and torture.

On a bad day Hell can look a lot like the World Wide Web.

Within this context it was hard for me to believe that snuff films produced for a commercial profit did not exist --- certainly there are monsters out there who would buy the product --- but my editor at Larry Flynt Publications urged me to "stay away from snuff films" in my article "because LFP’s editorial position is that they are an urban myth."

But if the laws of science and metaphysics have taught us anything it’s that you cannot discount the existence of something just because you can’t see it.

Through a discussion group devoted to underground videos I happened upon the man who calls himself Snuff King, a Denmark-based collector of esoterica and a student of the snuff film phenomenon who assured me that "a few real snuff films exist." While he has never seen the films himself Snuff King avows that "one (of the movies) showed a young, Asian female being strangled to death in a hotel room. It was impounded by the police before it reached the public. The other case that I know of is from the Bosnian War and was apparently recorded in a Serbian prison camp. It showed the rape, torture, and murder of several Bosnian women."
I believed Snuff King. After three months of reading a laundry list of sadistic lust to prepare for my article I had more reason to accept his word than to dismiss it.

"Soon ... hardcore films will be medical films. People will be jerking off to women laying around with open wounds. There’s nowhere else for it go."--- from the screenplay "8MM" by Andrew Kevin Walker

"Even the people involved around the fringes of that crap are extremely dangerous," Henry’s e-mail warning me off the snuff film story continued. "You don’t want to be on their radar, not at all. Even as a journalist you don’t get a free pass with those types of people."

To underscore the danger inherent in pursuing such a story Henry invoked the account of a New York City newspaper reporter who disappeared while investigating a similar story.

With Henry’s warning bouncing around in the back of my head like a wild pinball I contacted one of two reporters who contributed to the snuff film story for the news service bureau referenced on Luke Ford’s web site. It was after midnight in Vienna, Austria, when the very British and baritone voice of Nigel Glass, a frequent contributor to the BBC and London Times, came on the phone. I explained that I was a freelance journalist in the States looking for more detailed information on the murder trial of Korzen and Mahn.

"What exactly do you want to know?" Glass asked in a most accommodating fashion.

"Is it true? Did they actually make a snuff film?"

"Oh, it’s quite true," Glass replied placidly.

The gruesome nightmare began on a November evening in 1997 when 36 year old Ernst Dieter Korzen and 27 year old Stefan Michael Mahn picked up Juleyha Akpinar, a 21 year old prostitute, on the streets of Cologne, Germany. Wolfgang Rahmer, the Chief Prosecutor in Hagan, Germany, would later describe Korzen as "a very dangerous man" known to police for his history of sexual violence, but the authorities had been unable to snare him because his victims were too terrified to testify against him.

Korzen and Mahn took their victim to a bungalow in Kierspe-Roensal, near the city of Hagan, where they repeatedly raped and tortured her while a video camera recorded the details. And then the story takes an even darker twist: the intended "star" of their snuff film died too quickly, strangling to death by the rope knotted around her neck, so the would-be producers of the most heinous film on earth were forced to procure another player for the grim drama that they hoped to sell in the United States, according to prosecutors, for the odd sum of $16,000.

"The second woman that they captured to complete the video managed to befriend one of the men" Nigel Glass related to me, "and as a result was able to escape and alert authorities."

Mahn and Korzen were promptly arrested. Police withheld details of the crime for over six months while embarking on an international investigation into the snuff film trade, an industry that prosecutor Wolfgang Rahmer believes exists, telling the London Sunday Times: "We know that there is no sexual perversion that cannot be marketed, and you would be amazed at the sums offered for such perverse videos."

"The greatest harm buyers of these films do is to provide incentive for producers to continue having innocent victims murdered."--- Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices

"This is a major story, David. This is the first time that police have direct evidence of a snuff film being made for profit."

David Buchbinder, features editor at Larry Flynt Publications, judiciously considered my proposal to interview the key figures in the case --- mainly police and prosecutors --- before putting a damper on the whole affair by suggesting that I step deeper into the shadows.

"The only way I see this as a feature story," David said, "is if you can interview the perpetrators, the girl who got away, and maybe the family members of the victim."

That’s when that small inner voice started speaking to me, the same voice that suddenly begs you not to get on an airplane, for instance; you follow the voice’s commands, even though it seems paranoiacally illogical at the time, only to turn on the TV news two hours later and learn that the plane burst into flames after making a crash landing in a remote farm field. "All passengers and crew were killed upon impact," the news anchor says in somber tones as you stare transfixed at the TV and try to wipe the sweat away from the palms of your hands.

I lived in Munich, Germany for two years, 1972 and ‘73. I watched the Olympics massacre unfold on television, a bloody and tragic episode occurring no less than half a mile from where I was living. Furthermore, the rabidly anti-American terrorist group The Baader-Meinhoff gang was merrily setting off pipe bombs all over Munich during this time. And if that’s not enough, I had Thanksgiving dinner in 1973 at a U.S. Army facility outside the gates of the notorious Dachau Prison Camp.

I have the misfortune to associate Germany with death and tragedy, and suddenly the idea of traipsing around the Deutsche countryside poking and prodding with a journalistic stick at things better left alone had a smell of bad fate about it. On an instinctive level I knew that snuff films had to exist even before I ever heard the names of Ernst Dieter Korzen and Stefan Michael Mahn, so what benefits could I possibly derive from pursuing the story any further? They don’t award the Pulitzer Prize for this kind of journalism --- it’s the kind of story people do not want to know about, a little bit of horror that everyone wants to believe is an urban myth, evidenced by the fact that American news services have been slow to respond and offer coverage of the apprehension and trial of Korzen and Mahn.

But I can understand why nobody wants to hear about this story. Let’s face it: if we have evolved as a species to the degrading point where sexual murder caught on film or video tape is considered entertainment to even a small percentage of the population at large then it’s time to change your name to Noah and start building an ark because a hard rain is gonna fall, baby

I’ve been in the darkness far too long. When your work and research can compel you to make the casual conclusion that such acts of barbarism as snuff films do indeed exist then it’s time to lighten your load a bit, maybe bury your head in the sand with the rest of the human race and pretend that there is indeed some limit to human cruelty.

"There are some stories that really aren’t stories, but something for law enforcement," my friend Henry wrote to me the day I decided to back off of the story.

Henry is right. Korzen and Mahn will spend the rest of their days rotting behind bars in a German penal institute, and hopefully they won’t spawn any imitators. If they do, I won’t be there to cover the story.

(c) 2004-05, Rodger Jacobs


Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:50 AM  
Blogger Jerky LeBoeuf said...

When you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss begins to stare into you. You made the right decision.

12:47 PM  

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