The stories began to appear in the Soviet press in the autumn of 1921, each one more gruesome than the last. There was the woman who refused to let go of her dead husband’s body. “We won’t give him up,” she screamed when the authorities came to take it away. “We’ll eat him ourselves, he’s ours!” There was the cemetery where a gang of 12 ravenous men and women dug up the corpse of a recently deceased man and devoured his cold flesh on the spot. There was the man captured by the police after murdering his friend, chopping off his head, and selling the body at a street market to a local restaurant owner to be made into meatballs, cutlets, and hash. And then there was the desperate mother of four starving children, saved only by the death of their sister, aged 13, whom the woman cut up and fed to the family.
The stories seemed too horrific to believe. Few could imagine a hunger capable of driving people to such acts. One man went in search of the truth. Henry Wolfe, a high-school history teacher from Ohio, spent several weeks in the spring of 1922 traveling throughout Samara Province, in southeastern Russia, intent on finding physical evidence of cannibalism. In the district of Melekess, officials told him about a father who had killed and eaten his two little children. He confessed that their flesh had “tasted sweeter than pork.” Wolfe kept on searching, and eventually found the proof he had been looking for.