Topic: Miscellaneous
Resource: Conference Proceedings and Abstracts
Record Upload Date: March 24, 2009
Presenter Author: Vernon J. Geberth
Meeting Title: The Real Mason Verger: The Man Who Fed His Face to the Dogs; American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) 61st Annual Scientific Meeting 2009
Meeting Location: Colorado Convention Center DENVER, CO
Date: 02/16/2009-02/21/2009
Notes Comments:

According to the meeting program (available in .pdf at "Educational Objective: After attending this presentation, attendees will appreciate the impact of an overdose of hallucinatory drugs. The goal of this presentation is to present to the members of the forensic community a bizarre and unique case of self-mutilation involving a man under the influence of PCP. The man literally sliced off his entire face with pieces of broken mirror and fed the flesh to the dogs. The man survived due to the analgesic properties of the drug phencyclidine, which can cause users to feel less pain, as well as the excellent medical care he received which included facial reconstruction using a pectoral flap procedure.

Impact Statement: This presentation will impact the forensic community by examining this highly unusual case and demonstrating the need to conduct a complete and thorough investigation to ascertain the entirety of the circumstances surrounding such a bizarre event. The principle of taking each point to its logical conclusion proved invaluable when unexpectedly this self-mutilation became a theme in an award winning Hollywood movie entitled, 'Hannibal,' as well as a topic of discussion on the internet. Mason Verger was a fictional character in the novel 'Hannibal' written by Thomas Harris about a despicable character and avowed pedophile who was hideously disfigured by the serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lector. In the novel while Verger was demonstrating his autoerotic asphyxiation, Dr. Lector offered him amyl nitrate and several other mind-altering drugs convincing Verger to tear his face off with a shard of mirror and feed it to his pet dogs. Verger does so, also gouging out one of his eyes, and eating his own nose. So, 'Does Art Imitate Life? Or, Does Life Imitate Art'? This scenario was literally taken right out of the author?s textbook by Mr. Harris without acknowledgement or citation of source and is actually based on a case that the author investigated as a commander in the NYPD.

PCP has potent effects on the nervous system, altering perceptual functions (hallucinations, delusional ideas, delirium, and/or confused thinking). The drug has been known to alter mood states in an unpredictable fashion, causing some individuals to become detached and others to become animated. Intoxicated individuals may act in an unpredictable fashion, driven by their delusions or hallucinations. Included in the portfolio of behavioral disturbances are acts of self-injury including suicide, and attacks on others or destruction of property.

This bizarre self-mutilation case concerned a young man named Michael who was high on 'Angel Dust' or phencyclidine (PCP). PCP is a powerful psychedelic and anesthetic drug known for its dissociative effects at higher doses. It is also associated with the strange and sometimes violent behaviors of people under its influence.

While under the influence of the PCP, Michael had taken his clothes off at a woman's apartment. He began to act strange and was 'talking nonsense.' PCP gives a feeling of being disconnected from one's body and environment. After his actions with the woman in the apartment, another male neighbor asked him to leave and directed him back to his basement apartment. Michael apparently continued to use the PCP, which obviously induced a psychotic state. There was evidence that he had smashed a mirror, which he then used to mutilate himself. The analgesic properties of the drug can cause users to feel less pain and persist in violent or injurious acts. The investigation revealed that Michael had literally fed his face to the dogs that were in the basement and gouged out one of his eyes with a piece of glass from the mirror that he had smashed.

The Investigation: The investigation began with simultaneous calls from North Central Bronx Hospital and the patrol sergeant at the crime scene both requesting detectives. EMS had transported the seriously injured and mutilated man under the influence of drugs to the hospital. Michael told EMS, 'The dogs did it,' then passed out. At the hospital as he was being stabilized, he mumbled something about movies and that, 'Someone was trying to peel off his face.' He then uttered, 'I did it myself. It's an offering to Big Bird.'

The crime scene had been secured by the patrol sergeant, who reported that they had also locked some dogs in a back room of the basement. EMS had removed the victim from the bathroom after uniform officers had corralled the dogs. Detectives noted that there was little blood in the bathroom considering the extensive injuries of the victim. At this point investigators were still considering this case a possible assault due to these extensive injuries.

Detectives were able to determine that the actual cutting took place in the living room area, specifically on a reclining leather chair. There was blood soaked into the chair and pieces of a smashed mirror on the floor with blood drops as well as bloody fingerprints. One shard of mirror glass had been used by the victim to peel his face and had a partial print on it. These fingerprints were matched to the victim's prints, which were on file from previous drug arrests. Examination of the crime scene revealed that after the victim had peeled his face, he had apparently laid down on the basement floor with the three dogs. Detectives located the dog's owner who gave them permission to take the dogs to the ASPCA for forensic examination. The ASPCA was contacted and were requested to have a doctor available to examine an adult female german shepherd and two puppies. The veterinarian induced vomiting, which resulted in the recovery of human tissue consisting of pieces of the victim's lips, skin, and nose.

Investigation at the Hospital: As the investigation continued at the hospital, the emergency room was filled with doctors and nurses attending to the mutilated victim. The man's face had been wrapped with moistened gauze strips and the medical personnel were administering an IV as he was being monitored.

Detectives photographed the victim and his injuries and informed the Emergency Room doctors of what had transpired at the scene as well as the medical operations at ASPCA. Detectives noticed that the victim had gouged out one eye and the other eyeball was sitting on his face like a cyclops. The detectives had brought the pieces of flesh that the ASPCA doctor had removed from the dog's stomachs to the emergency room. However, these materials were in no condition for grafting. Detectives advised the doctors that they would try to get a statement from the subject in their presence. The doctors were asked to remove the gauze from the victim's mouth so that the subject could attempt to talk. As one of the detectives spoke into the subject's ear, 'What happened to you'? The subject suddenly began to mumble and then shout, 'AYAH, AYAH, AYAH, AYAH' over and over again with his teeth opening and closing like a mechanical box.

The Medical Aspects: The man survived even though he had peeled his face from his skull. Apparently, the PCP had provided the victim with an anesthetizing effect during his self-mutilation. However, the amount of drugs he had ingested had also damaged his brain function. He became a 'Ward of the State.' He also became the plastic surgeon's major project as they began to implement reconstructive surgery using a pectoral flap procedure. During the procedure, the pectoral (chest) muscle is removed and implanted at another site on the victim's body. The surgeons leave the artery and veins intact. The muscle is then 'flapped' to the site and sewn into place where it eventually grows a new blood supply. Michael had two pectoral flaps done one from each side of his chest to each side of his face. Once the muscles were established in their new location the surgeons would cut and revise the grafts to create a new face for the subject.

Apparently Art Does Imitate Life: When Thomas Harris' book 'Hannibal' and the subsequent movie came out, a number of news outlets made inquiries about the development of this character. Mason Verger was obviously based on 'Michael' and the character and story obviously been taken from Practical Homicide Investigation: Tactics, Procedures and Forensic Techniques (CRC Press, LLC). The author contacted Mr. Harris who did acknowledge that Mason Verger was in fact based on the case in Practical Homicide Investigation and is now cited in the subsequent printings.

Conclusion: This presentation and discussion should clear up any misconceptions or errors that some outside self-appointed experts have rendered. This investigation, which is a matter of official record, was completely documented and each point was taken to its logical conclusion. This presentation affords the forensic community with a frame of reference for a unique and bizarre case of self-mutilation of a man who was able to inflict such devastating injuries and survive due to the analgesic properties of an overdose of phencyclidine."