PETA, renowned for its open-mindedness and subtlety, released an ad for American Thanksgiving equating eating turkey with cannibalism.
In the video, Gillian Anderson, one of the stars of the TV show Hannibal, the latest ode to Dr. Lecter, is seen at the head of a table topped with a holiday feast. The centerpiece is a roasted human leg.
“Eating meat – it’s a matter of taste,” says Anderson, before the camera pans down to a bandaged stump at her knee.
More than 40 years ago, well before novelist Thomas Harris created Hannibal Lecter and Anthony Hopkins played him in movies, I traveled to the Northwest Territories to write about a real tale of cannibalism.
The flesh-eater in this case was Martin Hartwell, a 47-year-old German immigrant – Germans really love the Canadian wilderness – and professional bush pilot.
On November 8, 1972, he was flying from Cambridge Bay, in the High Arctic, to Yellowknife.
His passengers were Judy Hill, a 27-year-old territorial government nurse originally from Kingsbridge, England, and her patients: Neemee Nulliayok, an Inuit woman who was eight months pregnant, and her 14-year-old nephew, David Kootook, suffering from appendicitis.
Shortly after takeoff on the 500-mile flight, they ran into a fierce storm. The small plane went down, killing both women.
The boy was not hurt seriously. Hartwell had two broken legs.
Thirty-one days after the crash, the boy was dead and Hartwell was rescued.
The story came out that he had survived by eating flesh he carved from the body of Judy Hill. This became an instant sensation around the world.
One British tabloid carried the news under the headline: KRAUT EATS BRITISH NURSE.
I was at UPI-New York when the story broke, but was the wire service’s correspondent in Vancouver at the time of the coroner’s inquest, in late February 1973.
I traveled to Yellowknife for the inquiry, as did reporters from across Canada and Britain – Fleet Street couldn’t get enough of it.
About a half dozen of us were booked on the same Pacific Western Airlines milk run from Vancouver, with stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Fort Smith and Hay River, N.W.T.
It took all day to get to Yellowknife on a chubby Boeing 737, with the flight attendants needing to replenish the bar cart at every stop to keep the reporters from rioting.
The entertainment was supplied by the pilot, Captain Carlson, who yakked away on the PA.
“I’d like to tell you the one about the chicken and the pig,” he began one story. “Now, the chicken, she contributes to our lives by laying eggs for our breakfast. But the pig, he sacrifices his life for the bacon that we have for breakfast.
“And that’s just what my first officer and I are doing up here with you today. If anything goes wrong, we’re on the same plate as you are.”
If this wasn’t disconcerting enough for a fearful flyer on his way to cover the story of a plane crash and cannibalism, Carlson dedicated every takeoff and landing:
- “This takeoff is for little Johnny Andreychuk, travelling with his mom, Hilda, to visit his aunt in Fort Smith.”
- “This landing is for little Suzie Simpson, who’s taking her first flight, with her mom, Edith. And in honor of Suzie, I think I’ll let the first officer take this one – he needs the practice.”
My airborne anxiety kicked in each time the alcohol wore off. By the time we got to Yellowknife I wanted to carve up Captain Carlson and send a takeout order to Martin Hartwell.
We checked into the Yellowknife Inn, the only place in town that wasn’t a dump. The inquest was held in a ground-floor meeting room.
Each morning, I passed through the lobby, noting the locals and their kids assembled. The kids remained alone after the bar opened in the afternoon. When it closed, the adults staggered out, kids in tow.
Most evenings, in the early dark and arctic cold, after filing our stories at the telegraph office, we reporters trudged across the street to a decent steakhouse to eat and drink the night away.
My great triumph of the trip came when the New York Times picked up one of my UPI stories, though the bastards dropped my byline.
The key testimony came from a statement Hartwell gave to the RCMP. (Hartwell did not attend the inquest.)
The police had asked Hartwell: “Did you eat or consume any part of Miss Judy Hill?”
“Yes, no one else did. David didn’t,” he replied, referring to the teenager, David Kootook.
“I asked him if he would eat their bodies,” Hartwell added. “We had talked about it before but he stated that he would not eat them because his aunt had been so good to him.”
So sad. So funny – for reporters schooled in gallows humor.
We joked about Hartwell only eating the “white meat” and that the Germans got their “pound of flesh” from the Brits decades after losing the war.
Hartwell never faced any legal consequences for his cannibalism. He lost his pilot’s license for a brief time, then went back to flying for a living.
He died in Nova Scotia, in 2013, at the age of 88.
A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.