Fact Check

Self-Mutilation While on Drugs

Man high on drugs slices off pieces of his face and feeds them to his dogs?

Published Feb 21, 2001


Claim:   Man high on drugs slices off pieces of his face and feeds them to his dogs.

Status:   Undetermined.

Origins:   One of the creepier scenes in Thomas Harris' 1999 novel Hannibal involves a character named Mason Verger. After the sinister Hannibal Lecter slips Verger some amyl nitrate (or "poppers"), he convinces Verger to scrape off pieces of his own face and feed them to his pet dog.

Is this scene not only creepy, but based on a real-life incident as well?

A photograph found in Practical Homicide Investigation, a book by former New York homicide detective Vernon J. Geberth, purportedly depicts a man who, while high on PCP, sliced off pieces of his face with a broken mirror and fed them to his dogs. (We don't reproduce this picture on this page because it might be a bit too much for the squeamish, but if you have the stomach for it, you can view it
here.) The caption reads:

While under the influence of Angel Dust this man decided to peel off his own face using pieces of a broken mirror and feed the strips of flesh to his pet dogs. He survived due to the large amounts of drugs anesthetizing his system. The dogs were removed by police to the animal shelter, where their stomachs were pumped, resulting in the recovery of pieces of the man´s face, lips, and nose.

This case, whose details were supposedly contained in "closed medical records" published only in Geberth's book, involved a black male in his late twenties who — while under the influence of PCP — used a broken mirror to slice up his entire face, dig out an eye (and render the other eye useless by severing the optic nerve),

and cut off his ears, nose, and lips, all the while feeding pieces of his own flesh to his two dogs. The PCP provided enough of an anesthetizing effect that he reportedly survived the ordeal, although the drugs "destroyed his brain function," left him "a ward of the state," and created "a plastic surgeon's nightmare" for the hospital authorities who had to undertake the task of performing reconstructive surgery on him.

We're not going to claim that the photograph and its explanation are all phony, but some of the details sound a bit odd to us. How did police know the man "decided to feed the strips of flesh to his pet dogs"? — he certainly wasn't in any condition to disclose what had happened. And why pump the stomachs of dogs who were not in any imminent danger? Were surgeons going to re-attach partially digested bits of the man's face (after rushing them over from the animal shelter)? Why even bother performing any type of reconstructive surgery on a man who had allegedly irreparably destroyed both his sight and his brain function? Why is this case part of a "closed medical record," and if it was indeed "closed," then how did it come to be published in a book?

A 1989 book by Joseph Sacco, M.D., apparently picks up this story at the hospital:

One of the most famous intravenous drugs for generating stories about bizarre behavior was phencyclidine: "angel dust," or "PCP." Although little is heard anymore about angel dust, it was well known for its ability to both addle and confer superhuman powers upon its abusers, or so the stories went. Tales of "some guy who was dusted" going berserk and beating up six cops before fifteen more managed to subdue him abounded. In my work in the [New York General Hospital], I witnessed some exceedingly strange dust-induced behavior, including one patient who'd done the most bizarre thing to himself I'd ever seen or heard of in my life.

This man smoked dust one day and surprised his friends by politely excusing himself to the bathroom, bringing along his two Doberman pinschers. In the bathroom he opened the medicine cabinet, removed a straightedge razor, cut off his own facial features one by one, and fed them to his dogs. He emerged from the bathroom with no ears, nose, eyelids, lips, or cheeks, and two happy-looking dogs.

His friends, now fairly distraught, brought him to the NYG emergency room, where the plastic and head and neck surgeons pissed in their pants with excitement. They took him straight to the operating room. Jokes emerged immediately. The man lost face, the surgeons tried to save face, etc., etc.

In order to create a new face for this unfortunate patient, the surgeons did a "pectoral flap," a fascinating procedure in which the pectoral (chest) muscle is removed and reimplanted at another site on a patient's body. The surgeon's don't remove the muscle completely, but leave intact is main artery and vein. The muscle is then "flapped" to the spot where it's needed, presumably a hole that is too deep to be filled by mere skin grafting, and sewn in place. Eventually, it grows a new blood supply at the transplant site and the surgeons remove the original artery and vein. The man with no face had two pectoral flaps done, one from each side of his chest to each side of his face. Once the muscles were well established in their new locations the surgeons took him back to the OR about two hundred times to cut and shape and revise the graft to create a new face for him.

I know the story of the man with no face is true because I saw him walking down the hall a few weeks after he was admitted. He was wearing a surgical hood turned back in front, with two holes cut out for his eyes, like the "elephant man."

I whispered to a co-resident, "Who's that?"

He looked at me with wide eyes. "That's the man with no face!"

It was the most bizarre story I'd ever heard.

Some of the details differ between the two versions (e.g., the victim using broken pieces of mirror vs. a straightedge razor), and it sounds as if both of the people quoted may not have been directly involved in the case but were instead reporting second-hand information. Given this and some other incongruities of the story, we're not quite ready to put it in the "True" column yet.

Last updated:   28 January 2007

Sources Sources:

    Geberth, Vernon J.   Practical Homicide Investigation.

    New York: CRC Press, 1996.   ISBN 0-8493-8156-8.

    Harris, Thomas.   Hannibal.

    New York: Delacorte, 1999.   ISBN 0-385-29929-X.

    Laughlin, Meg.   "The Hunt for Thomas Harris."

    Houston Chronicle.   15 August 1999.

    Sacco, Joseph M.D.   Morphine, Ice Cream, Tears: Tales of a City Hospital..

    New York: William Morrow, 1989   (pp. 95-96).

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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