NEW YORK – Struggling to stay composed, the estranged wife of a New York City police officer testified Monday that she was shocked to find he had visited a website featuring a photo of a dead woman and other gruesome images — a discovery that led to a federal prosecution accusing him of plotting to abduct, torture and eat dozens of women.
"It was porn. It was disturbing," Kathleen Mangan told a Manhattan jury about the darkfetishnet.com site.
"I know S&M is popular with 'Shades of Grey,'" she said in reference to the popular book series by E.L. James, "but this was different."
When her testimony was interrupted by a break, Mangan dropped her head and started sobbing. Her husband, Gilbert Valle, also looked upset, rubbing his brow and putting his head in his hands.
Mangan, 27, was the first government witness in the unusual federal case against Valle, who's accused of conspiring to kidnap a woman and unauthorized use of a law enforcement database that prosecutors say he used to help build a list of potential targets. A conviction on the kidnapping count carries a possible life sentence.
The online discussions of cannibalism — what Valle claims was harmless fetish fantasy — was instead a dangerous plot by a would-be killer to target "very real women," a prosecutor said earlier Monday in opening statements.
"Make no mistake," Assistant U.S. Attorney Random Jackson told a jury. "Gilbert Valle was very serious about these plans."
Defense attorney Julia Gatto argued that her client "never intended to kidnap anyone." She added: "You can't convict people for their thoughts, even if they're sick."
A college graduate and father of a young child, Valle appeared to be leading a normal life before "things got bad," his wife said. "Weird stuff started happening."
She testified her husband began asking questions about where she liked to jog, what the lighting was like and whether other people were around.
Once Mangan reported his strange behavior to the FBI last year, agents uncovered "a heinous plot to kidnap, rape, murder and cannibalize a number of very real women," Jackson said.
The officer had attempted to contact potential victims, including a New York City elementary school teacher, to learn more about their jobs and residences, the prosecutor said. His Internet research also included the best rope to tie someone up with, recipes, human flesh, white slavery and chemicals that can knock someone out, Jackson said.
Gatto countered that there was "no proof of a crime here. The charges are pure fiction."
Valle, she said, had always been aroused by "unusual things" including the thought of a woman boiled down on a platter with an apple in her mouth, his lawyer said. He found a home at darkfetishnet.com with its 38,000 registered members, where regulars discuss "suffocating women, cooking and eating them," she said.
The defense has denied that Mangan was a potential victim. Valle had made clear that his wife "was unavailable for any kidnapping fantasy," the defense has said in court papers.
Valle, 28, a baby-faced tabloid sensation known as the "Cannibal Cop," is expected to take the stand to make the case that it was all role-playing fantasy.
The defense also is planning to show jurors the videotaped testimony of darkfetishnet.com co-founder Sergey Merenkov in which he describes the site as a "social media network."
Merenkov called the site "a clone of Facebook, but it is oriented to people with fetishes that are not considered standard."
Asked about the most popular fetishes, Merenkov responds, "All sorts of asphxiation" and "peril cannibalism."
Tiger Howard Devore, a psychologist and certified sex therapist who specializes in dealing with sexual dysfunction and fetishes, said the cannibalism fetish known as voreaphilia isn't common.
"For most laymen, they're going to think about it as cannibalism," Devore told The Associated Press on Monday. "But what it really is, is an obsession about consuming the flesh of the other, and this can have a whole range of expressions. ... It is mostly played out in fantasy, mostly played out in role-playing."
There are well-known criminal extremes like Jeffrey Dahmer, who saved pieces of his victims' body parts and ate the flesh, Devore said, though "the instances of this kind of violence are extremely rare."