New York Maps Boundaries of Fantasy

Mar 13, 2013 • Crime

Jury finds Gilberto Valle Guilty

Yesterday, a jury comprised of six men and six women found Gilberto Valle guilty of conspiracy to kidnap and of illegally gaining access to a restricted law enforcement database.

This case has gotten a lot of media attention due to its grisly details, which I’ll get to in a moment so as not to prejudice readers who are unfamiliar with the case. The reason this is important is that some portion of the evidence was discovered on Darkfetish, a social network for people with a kinky bent that hosts the fantasies of many individuals around the world, and there is some question about whether his were real plans or simply the stuff of a lurid imagination.

People who use sites like Darkfetish may write about things which are distasteful and even illegal but, as we all know, there is a big difference between fantasizing about things and actually doing them. Indeed, in the case of Valle, no victim came to harm. Thus, failure on the part of prosecution to convince the jury that Valle had both intended to commit a crime and engaged in an overt act of preparation to do so, would essentially put everyone who has ever fantasized and communicated about anything outside of legal boundaries in hot water. This shouldn’t hold: crime is something we commit, after all, not something we think.

Having gotten that out of the way, allow me to get to the details: Gilberto Valle dreams of abducting women and cooking them.

He came to the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation when Valle’s wife, Kathleen Mangan-Valle, contacted authorities about something very disturbing she’d found on his laptop. First, she followed his browsing history to a picture of what appeared to be a dead woman on Darkfetish. Next, she uncovered chat logs filled with discussions about Valle’s desire to torture and kill women — including her.

Along with more grisly images of violence against women, e-mails and chats logs, investigators soon uncovered a collection of documents filled with details and at least one photo of over a hundred women. One of these women was Kimberly Sauer, a college friend of Valle’s.

In the charges against Valle, Anthony Foto, special agent with the FBI, describes some of the communications that Valle had with a British nurse by the name of Dale Bolinger (who appears in court documents as “co-conspirator 1” or “CC-1”) regarding Sauer (who, in turn, appears as Victim-1).

BOLINGER: How big is your oven?


VALLE: Big enough to fit one of these girls if I folded their legs … The abduction will have to be flawless … I know all of them. Kimberly, I can just show up to her home unannounced, it will not alert her, and I can knock her out, wait until dark and kidnap her right out of her home.

BOLINGER: You really would be better to grab a stranger. The first thing the police force will do is check out a friend.

VALLE: Her family is out of state.

BOLINGER: I have anesthetic gasses.

Valle: I can make chloroform here.


BOLINGER: It’s really hard to dislocate a jaw. Also, how would we put her over the fire, spitting kills the girl. Have to put her into a kind of cage. What is your favorite cut of meat?

VALLE: I was thinking of tying her body onto some kind of apparatus … cook her over low heat, keep her alive as long as possible.


VALLE: I love that she is asleep right now not having the slightest clue what we have planned. Her days are numbered. I’m glad you’re on board. She does look tasty doesn’t she?

BOLINGER: You do know if we don’t waste any of her there is nearly 75 lbs of food there.


BOLINGER: Have you got a recipe for chloroform?

VALLE: I found a website a couple of nights ago, let me see if I can get it again.

According to Foto’s affidavit, Valle sent Bolinger a link for a website with a recipe for chloroform a few minutes after his response. The bulk of this conversation occurred over the course of eight days, between July 9 and July 17, 2012.

On July 10, Valle had created a document on his computer titled “Abducting and Cooking Kimberly: a Blueprint,” which he also shared with Bolinger. This file contained a variety of details about the intended victim, including her photo, birth date, height, weight, ethnicity, and bra size. It listed September 2 as the target date for her abduction and included the items necessary to carry it out. Valle wrote:

– Car (I have it)
– Chloroform (refer to website for directions)
– Rope (Strongest kind to tie her up)

On July 19, Bolinger pinged Valle on IM, asking, “how was your meal?”

“I am meeting her on Sunday,” Valle responded, referring to July 22, 2012. “I’ll be eyeing her from head to toe and licking my lips, longing for the day I cram a chloroform-soaked rag in her face.”

When Sauer was interviewed by the FBI, she confirmed that Valle had contacted her that same week in July and that they had met for brunch, along with Valle’s wife and daughter. After the brunch, Valle emailed Bolinger, saying that Sauer “looked absolutely mouthwatering. I could hardly contain myself.”

Fortunately for Sauer (though perhaps unfortunately for the prosecution), the planned abduction was not carried out. Valle’s wife found the images, chat logs and documents and contacted not only the FBI, but Sauer herself.

Kimberly Sauer testified about receiving the message from Valle’s Facebook account, which informed Sauer that Valle was planning to abduct her and sell her into “white slavery.” The message was from Valle’s wife, but Sauer had no way to know the severity of the situation; she took a screengrab and sent it to Valle, jokingly asking if his account had been hacked or if he was really thinking about selling her into white slavery.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Valle responded. Not long after, Valle closed his account on Darkfetish, telling Bolinger that it was a necessary measure so that he would not “get caught.”

The FBI moved in not long after.

In another exchange, which unfolded in February of last year, Valle offered to kidnap a woman on behalf of a man named Michael Vanhise. Foto’s affidavit recounts the exchange:

VANHISE: I definitely want her and how much again, I’m sorry to ask but I don’t remember.

VALLE: $5,000 and she is all yours.

VANHISE: Could we do 4?

VALLE: I am putting my neck on the line here. If something goes wrong somehow, I am in deep shit. $5,000 and you need to make sure she is not found. She will definitely make the news.


VALLE: It is going to be so hard to restrain myself when I know her out, but I am aspiring to be a professional kidnapper and that’s business. But I will really get off on knowing her out, tying up her hands and bare feet and gagging her. Then she will be stuffed into a large piece of luggage and wheeled out to my van.

VANHISE: Just make sure she doesn’t die before I get her.

VALLE: No Need to worry. She will be alive. It is a short drive to you. I think I would rather not get involved in the rape. You paid for her. She is all yours and I don’t wan to be temped the next time I abduct a girl.

VANHISE: I understand. Also, is there anything I can trade you that might knock down the price a bit?

VALLE: No nothing at all. Like I said this is very risky and will ruin my life if I am caught. I really need the money and I can’t take under $5,000.

In his affidavit, Special Agent Foto disclosed that cell phone data indicated that Valle had been on the same block as Victim 2’s building on March 1. When interviewed, Victim 2 told the FBI that she had never invited Valle to her home and that she does not know him well.

It’s worth mentioning that Gilberto Valle was a police officer, who — until his arrest — had worked in the 26th Precinct in Manhattan. While conducting surveillance on potential victims, Valle had used his uniform and car to get the sort of advantage no civilian predator could hope to have. His favorite ruse to get female contacts to give him their current home addresses was telling them that he could give them a police union card.

“Just keep it hush-hush because I can’t give one to everyone,” Valle told Kimberly Sauer when he wrote her to get her home address. He couldn’t offer any guarantees, he said, but assured her that a card like that is essentially “like a free pass for a minor traffic violation.”

Another overt move, as prosecutor Hadassa Waxman pointed out, was Valle’s unauthorized access of the National Crime Information Center database to collect information on one of his proposed victims — a decision that clearly posed serious risk to his career if discovered.

During the interrogation with Special Agent Anthony Foto, Valle told him that he had developed an interest in cannibalism in college and had started visiting Darkfetish in 2010. He told Foto that he “did not enjoy” visiting the site “and that he didn’t know why he was doing it,” Foto testified during the trial. Valle told Foto that “the activity began to bleed into his personal life.”

Valle offered to help the FBI determine which users of the site were real and which were simply engaging in fantasy. Indeed, during the trial, the defense would move to point out many of Valle’s chat friends were only engaging in fantasy role-playing and that the prosecution was cherry-picking the most damaging messages to portray the fantasy as a plot to execute a real crime.

Of some two dozen people with whom Valle communicated about his fetishes, only three were deemed to have been involved in actual planning, according to investigators. Corey Walsh, another agent with the FBI, testified about the factors used to determine which communications were fantasy role-play and which were taken as plans to commit real crimes: identifiable details, specifics about past crimes, and lack of language that suggested story-telling or fantasy role-playing. In exchanges with co-conspirators, investigators found no references to fantasy, “stories” or any other words associated with role-playing that had appeared in exchanges with the other 21 people with whom Valle has communicated.

Valle did not testify at his own trial. Neither did the defense call on Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist and criminologist, who planned to testify as an expert in “sexual fantasy, extreme or bizarre sexual role play, sexual sadism, sadomasochism and BDSM subculture, and the extent to which persons involved in such alternative sexual lifestyles carry out their fantasies or role playing.”

Part of Dietz’s testimony would have stressed that “men who find themselves sexually aroused to sadistic images” are not necessarily dangerous and that role playing over the internet as Valle was doing is an effective coping mechanism. He was expected to testify that Valle did not suffer any major mental illness, psychosis, or personality disorder associated with violence or criminality, but does, in fact, meet the criteria for paraphilia — recurrent, intense sexually-arousing fantasies, sexual urges, or behaviors that occur over a period of at least six months — though in his opinion, Valle “lacks any of the risk factors for violence … with the exception of some bouts of intoxication … and various psychosocial stressors.”

The jury deliberated some 16 hours before returning the guilty verdict on both counts.

The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, said yesterday that Valle’s “detailed and specific plans to abduct women for the purpose of committing grotesque crimes were very real. The Internet is a forum for the free exchange of ideas but it does not confer immunity for plotting crimes and taking steps to carry out those crimes.” Valle faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the conspiracy to kidnap conviction and up to a year for his unauthorized access of the National Crime Information Center database.

Valle’s court-appointed attorney Julia L. Gatto and his additional defense lawyer, Robert M. Baum, told the New York Times they would consider all appeal options available to Valle.

It’s difficult to see, from only the court documents and what has been made available by news reports, the picture that jurors saw in that courtroom. Though this varies from one state to the next, there is a lot of room in New York between preparation and attempt. The concern many have raised in this case is that a jury of peers is selected to determine whether the accused is guilty or not based on evidence presented, not to interpret the law.

As one considers the details, other questions invariably arise — why did the FBI move in so quickly? If Valle’s wife reported him in September, why did they bring him in a month later instead of collecting more evidence to build a stronger case? Were they concerned Valle would destroy all the evidence, as he did with his Darknet profile? Did they fear waiting could put any one of one hundred women at risk? Why did none of this come up when the prosecution had agents on the stand? If this had been suppressed, the defense would have steered clear of the topic, but they didn’t.

What do you make of this case?

Header image is a collage of photos by Joe Wolf and Brian Turner.

  • avflox

    Elsewhere, Michael Vanhise — the man who offered to pay Valle to kidnap a woman — was arrested in New Jersey in January. He was arraigned on charges of kidnapping conspiracy and is being held without bail.

    In February, two men were arrested in Canterbury in the U.K. in connection with the Valle case for “conspiracy offenses, grooming and possession of child abuse images,” reported the New York Times. No further information was disclosed.