NEW YORK - In Internet chats as breezy as they were bizarre, a police officer accused of plotting to kidnap and eat as many as 100 women was once cautioned not to be wasteful when cooking a victim because "there is nearly 75 pounds of food there."
But no one was ever actually harmed in Gilberto Valle's alleged plot, let alone eaten. And a defense attorney says the officer was merely engaging in harmless Internet fantasy.
Where exactly the line is drawn between bizarre talk and a true plot has emerged as the key question in a case that has shocked even the most jaded New Yorkers.
In this courtroom drawing Federal Defender Julie Gatto requests bail for her client, New York City Police Officer Gilberto Valle, right, at Manhattan Federal Court, Thursday, in New York. Valle was charged with leading a ghoulish double life by using a law enforcement database and fetish chat rooms to dream up a plot to torture women and then cook and eat their body parts.
Indeed, experts say many people have a compulsion to create horrific scenarios about cannibalism, and that the Internet allows them to indulge in their dark side anonymously and - usually - safely.
"There is a big difference between discussing, and even fantasizing about this type of activity and actually carrying it out," said Jeffrey Parsons, a psychologist at Hunter College. "Not all the people who fantasize about it will go on to carry it out."
One website called "Devoured" - devoted to a fetish called "vore"- is almost comical in its approach, saying it's "where everyone's on the menu."
The site defines "vore" as a sexual interest that "occurs from the idea of being eaten whole and alive, eating another alive, or watching this process."
A chat room named "Yum Chat" spells out strict rules for participation: "In-character taunting between predator and prey that's all in good fun as part a role play is just fine, but player to player attacks" aren't allowed.
The online banter attributed to Valle is not characteristic of a sexual disorder, but more indicative of some type of psychotic behavior or a personality disorder, Parsons said.
"Certainly, there are people who are going to sort of address a disorder or problem by letting it out, by venting," he said. "They think, 'If I can express, let it out in an email, or a chat, that's satisfying enough, I don't have to go out and engage in that behavior.'"
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly declined to comment Friday on a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan that read like "Silence Of The Lambs" and earned Valle instant tabloid infamy.
The Daily News dubbed him "Finest Young Cannibal." The New York Post blared "Cook 'em Danno."
There also were reports of an odd disconnect between the horrendous allegations and Valle's softer side on social media.
In his profile on a dating site, he wrote that he considers himself "a true gentleman, and chivalry is huge with me. ... I'm on here simply because I haven't been able to find a girl who I want to spend some of my free time with." Valle is a six-year NYPD veteran, a college grad and father of an infant child.
At a bail hearing on Thursday, defense attorney Julia Gatto argued that he never posed a threat. Charges of kidnapping with the intent to murder are overblown, she said.
Her client "at worst is someone who has sexual fantasies about people he knows and he talks about it on the Internet, but not act on it," she said. "Nothing has happened. We may be offended. ... But it's just talk, your honor."
But prosecutors won the argument to jail Valle by claiming his fantasies had morphed into a very real threat.
At the time of his arrest, Valle was on the verge of "kidnapping a woman, cooking her and actually eating her," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Hadassa Waxman.
The government cited evidence that Valle compiled a dossier on women he knew - and hoped to turn into meals.
"How big is your oven?" an unidentified co-conspirator asked in a July chat about one alleged target.
"Big enough to fit one these girls if I folded their legs," Valle responded, according to the complaint.