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'Thought Crimes' Explores the Story of the 'Cannibal Cop' and Our Right to Have Demented Desires

Former NYPD officer Gilberto 'Gil' Valle's was almost locked up just for having fantasies of kidnapping and slowly roasting women on a spit. Erin Lee Carr's new documentary takes a deeper look at his story and the implications it has for our society.

by Danielle Neftin
Apr 18 2015, 5:45pm

All photos courtesy of HBO

Gilberto 'Gil' Valle's fantasies of kidnapping and slowly roasting women on a spit earned him the tabloid moniker, 'The Cannibal Cop.' The desires never calcified into actual crimes, however, and the moral gray area he inhabited is the focus of the new HBO documentary, Thought Crimes, that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in Manhattan on Thursday.

Gil's conviction was overturned on appeal in June 2014, and the film starts with frequent close-ups of him during a subsequent house arrest. Here is a portrait of your average Queens bro: a guy with an uneven flat-top haircut , showing evidence of a shaved-off widow's peak, dirty white Nikes, and a mom who couldn't be happier to have her son home. We are not looking at a manicured sociopath, because Gil is very much the guy next door. In an often-intimate portrayal, Gil addresses the camera with his simple hopes of getting to go to the beach or taking a cross-country trip once he is granted his freedom.

The initial arrest was made in 2012 after Gil's wife Kathleen installed spyware on his computer and found dozens of disturbing chat logs, some which centered on his desires to hang her by her feet and watch her bleed out. Gil had also been sharing photos of his wife, and other women he knew, with random users on a site called DarkFetishNet.

Our technology has become sophisticated enough to capture secrets and emotions, but it is also now being used against us. As Gil's wife Googled, "my husband doesn't love me," Gil was running searches on recipes for chloroform, how to kidnap girls, and the sounds bones make when being sawed into. The prosecution used Gil's search history to convince a jury that he wasn't just having sexual fantasies about torturing and eating women, but also had a high probability of manifesting them into physical crimes.

Still, mere ideas—even those as disturbing as Gil's—do not always lead to action. Thought Crimes explores how our legal system can use those ideas against us.

At the film premier's panel, Harvard Law Professor Dershowitz, who also appears throughout the movie , said that although other online users like terrorists and child molesters share similar dark thoughts, "There is nothing more dangerous than a government with a power to oppress."

We met with the film's director—and former VICE staffer—Erin Lee Carr to get into the meat of who Gil Valle really is, and learn about how an NYPD officer's erotic fantasies triggered the greatest thought crimes trial in New York City history.

VICE: There was a quote in the movie by [New York writer] Robert Kolker, "He's not just the cannibal cop. He's patient zero in the Thought Police epidemic that can sweep the nation." What does that mean?
Erin Lee Carr: Gil Valle plays patient zero, [and] he also plays the villain, and the victim.

But who is Gil the victim?
Gil the victim is the most straightforward of the characters. He is somebody that lost his wife and child because he was looking at scary things on the internet. He was in prison at a federal facility for 22 months. He was in solitary confinement for seven months. And [he is] somebody who got out, but his life has changed forever.

What kind of cop was he?
He was an NYPD officer, a beat cop—somebody who patrols an area. He would often drive his sergeant around.

What brought a guy like this to the NYPD in the first place?
He has always maintained that it was to help people.

So when did his dark thoughts begin?
In middle school. He basically started having BDSM-type fantasies of tying female classmates up.

Related: An Interview with a Cannibal

What kind of sexual stimulation was Gil getting from these thoughts?
There is something that somebody talked about that was really interesting that didn't make it into the film called instructional masturbation. People were so confused, they were like, 'How could these Google searches be fodder for his fantasy? How is this sexual in nature?' It is hard for people to recognize that this is being used for a sexual act. But if you look at sexual routines or how people do it, it adds to Gil's fantasy that he was researching how to kidnap women, how to make chloroform—it added to the build up.

He was mainly using DarkFetishNet. How do these websites work?
It's a Facebook for fetishes. You have a profile with an interest, whether it be beheading or cigarette play. So basically, you sign up, it's free, and you talk and look at pictures of content that you like. This is like any other porn site but for things that most people find kinda scary. There's 40,000 people on the site and, the last time I checked, 6,000 active users on DarkFetishNet.com.

How does cannibalism work in this situation? You put someone in an oven? What are the logistics?
Vore is not uncommon as a fetish. It is the most sort of dominant that you could ever be. So the fantasy mainly relied on these scenarios of kidnapping a woman, having her be helpless, putting her in an oven, putting her on a spit, roasting her, beheading her, and having her head—with a face of terror—be the centerpiece of the table.

Were there women on the other side who wanted to be dominated in this type of way?
His particular fetish is called non-consensual cannibalism. There is a fetish called consensual cannibalism. This is when a woman wants to be eaten and devoured. Non-consensual cannibalism is a non-willing victim. You are kidnapping somebody and torturing them.

Coming out of this experience, what are some tips for how we should be using Google now?
You should not change your Google searches. I think, of course, if you're harboring dark fantasies, maybe don't Google, "the best place to kidnap somebody"—that actually happened. Or, "the best place to hide a body"—somebody actually asked Siri that. If I recall, Siri responded, "There's some woods nearby." If you're not doing overt criminal behavior, you should Google whatever you want.

Are you afraid Gil is going to stalk you once he sees the film?
He knows where I live. We sent letters back and forth from prison. I think that he has a lot to lose if he crosses the boundary, and he hasn't yet.

You've made a polarizing film. I thought he was innocent at first and by the end of Thought Crimes , I grew terrified that Gil was walking around NYC unrecognized. What do you think of his freedom?
I vehemently don't think this person should be in prison. I don't think we can put people in prison for their thoughts. I think his thoughts are unorthodox and uncomfortable, and he has been getting therapy. Had he gone into the real world and [stalked] someone and [took] the next step, then he should be in prison—but he did not. It was before that line. I don't think we can put people thinking about evil things in prison.

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Erin Lee Carr
Thought Crimes