This sentiment is echoed by Ken Lanning, a cult expert at the FBI training academy at Quantico, Virginia. "I've not found one single documented case of a snuff film anywhere in the world. I've been searching for 20 years, talked to hundreds of people. There's plenty of once-removed sightings, but I've never found a credible personality who personally saw one."
Yet the rumour of snuff persists. The scenarios are invariably the same - a remote jungle village in South America, a deserted beach in Thailand, the landscaped garden of a German industrialist, a lonely Everglades swamp. The victims are usually women, often performing a sexual act, their deaths sensational and unexpected.
One of the most resilient snuff rumours concerns convicted "Son of Sam" killer David Berkowitz, who allegedly filmed the murders of some of his victims. Maury Terry, author of "The Ultimate Evil," a book about Berkowitz and cult killings across America, tells me, "Its believed Berkowitz filmed his murders to circulate within the Church of Satan. On the night of the Stacy Moskowitz killing, there was a VW van parked across the street from the murder site under a bright sodium street lamp.
"Witnesses have confirmed this, although the van never appeared in the police report. Berkowitz or an accomplice filmed Moskowitz's murder, using the street lamp to light the subject as she sat in her car across the street." The 20-year-old Moskowitz was killed in 1977 in Brooklyn.
Terry says the film was apparently made for Roy Radin, the Long Island impresario and "wannabe Cotton Club financier." "Radin was known for his huge porno collection and wanted to add a snuff film to it. I've heard there are ten copies of this film floating around, although I've never seen it."
Rumours of snuff have surfaced in many Asian and western European countries, including Great Britain. In 1990 The Times printed a story recounting a 1975 American investigation in which police had discovered evidence of Mexican immigrants being killed in snuff films, "in lurid detail to satisfy the insatiable demands of the pornography industry." It goes on to tell the story of a Californian who in 1985 murdered 25 women on film; video tapes of the actual killing were said to be doing a thriving business at video rental stores.
In the same Times piece, Dr. Ray Wyre, clinical director of the Gracewell Clinic for convicted paedophiles in Birmingham, England, is quoted as having viewed snuff films firsthand in America. When contacted, however, Wyre indicated that the films he saw were "sophisticated simulations" but insisted that the FBI had a number of snuff films in their possession. He said snuff films were definitely available in England, but that he had never seen one.
Detective Mick Hames, head of the Obscene Publications Division at Scotland Yard, responded to Wyre's assertions. "I'd be the first to know if there were any in Britain," says Hames. "But there just aren't. Though I understand snuff films exist in America."
For all its lack of verifiable evidence, one wonders why the mythology of snuff survives. Ask any L.A. hipster, and although they themselves haven't seen a snuff film, they know someone who has. It's become an accepted truth, like global warming: Snuff films are out there because it seems...