Jerry Davich: ‘Chicken man’ animal rapist ‘smart as a fox’
Jerry Davich email@example.com March 14, 2013 11:40PM
Michael Bessigano of New Chicago, Ind., charged with bestiality. March 9, 2013. Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 16, 2013 3:13PM
In 1992, then-Lake County Superior Court Judge Bernard Carter ordered psychiatrists to examine a St. John Township man accused of “bizarre crimes against animals.”
The 21-year-old man stole a Rottweiller dog and broke its neck even though he was on probation for pleading guilty the previous year to killing a rooster and a goose in separate incidents.
Previous to that, the man’s neighbors suspected he was behind a series of disappearances of sheep, goats, a calf, and other pets from the rural area. And he always rode his bicycle to conduct his twisted acts of perversion with animals.
Have you guessed the identity of this obviously mentally ill man? Yes, of course, it’s Michael Bessigano, the now 42-year-old headline-grabber from New Chicago. Last week, he was arrested yet again on felony charges of bestiality, killing a domestic animal, and mutilating a vertebrate animal.
When cops searched his home, they found feathers from a dead bird, bestiality pornography, a rubber wolf-head mask, and an altar surrounded by candles.
“And the pants he was wearing were covered in blood,” added Lake County Sheriff’s Police Detective Michelle Dvorsack, the lead investigator in Bessigano’s case since 2007.
Go ahead and snicker before we collectively shake our heads in disbelief. Again, after 20-plus years of reading about his misdeeds. We do it every time we hear about this guy, the “chicken man,” whose most infamous act was having sex with a live chicken in a hotel room back in 2001.
OK, are we done laughing at this long-running punch-line of a case that’s been in the national spotlight? Let’s also consider more serious sidebars involving our region’s mental health woes, our backlogged courtrooms, and the obvious silver lining of this lingering dark cloud – Bessigano isn’t instead obsessed with guns, women, or children.
“He knows what he’s doing,” explained Dvorsack, who has met with Bessigano a handful of times through the years. “He’s very manipulative and smart as a fox.”
Always another excuse
Bessigano first began visiting mental institutions as a kid after torturing the family cat in a microwave oven. He also became close to the family dog after allegedly having a “very abusive childhood,” he once told police.
So close to that dog that he enjoyed first stroking its fur, then showering with it, and then having sex with it. Repeatedly.
“It all progressed from there,” said Dvorsack, who has thoroughly explored his case for several years. “He has since used animals to replace his relationships with people.”
His mother once testified that her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and he became obsessed with animals as a way to cope with the cruelty of his classmates. They reportedly mocked his strange behavior, odd looks and thick eyeglasses.
Police aren’t so sure. “He always has some new excuse,” Dvorsack said.
Bessigano once told a judge and a courtroom of stunned witnesses, “I’ve sought animals as comfort, for companionship. I’m an animal trapped in a human’s body.”
Court date after court date, Bessigano explained himself as a tortured man longing for normalcy, but unable to control his compulsions.
“I see an animal ... it’s like a drug,” he told one judge.
“Anger builds up inside of me. It helps me express my anger,” he told another.
Psychiatric experts have diagnosed Bessigano with a variety of mental health problems, including schizophrenia, bestiality and necrophilia (sexual attraction to corpses).
In 1992, Bessigano agreed to undergo court-ordered counseling with a psychologist. Carol Craig of St. John Township, whose dog was killed by Bessigano, left the courtroom that day with mixed emotions.
“This is good for now, but there will be another case and I guess we will be back in court again, unless he gets one of us,” she said.
One judge publicly stated her concern that Bessigano would turn his perverted crimes toward children, recounting one childhood incident where he chased his sister with a knife. But Bessigano is strictly obsessed with animals.
Won’t accept treatment
In 2002, he received a 10-year prison sentence for stealing, mutilating, and having sex with that live chicken. He served five years before being released and after getting beat up by a fellow prisoner.
In 2008, Bessigano was arrested again after federal agents found images of bestiality on his computer. The following year, U.S. Judge Philip Simon sentenced him to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
But, obviously, he was released again and on the loose. His latest known offense came last November, which is why he is now in Lake County Jail. Again.
I requested a jailhouse interview with Bessigano, who I’ve never written about before, but it was denied due to confidentiality laws and pending police charges. I also asked to talk to his current therapist or the jail’s mental health director, but I would first need court approval, I was told.
Finding him professional treatment has been problematic, said Dvorsack, noting that he served a couple of years in a federal mental institution in New York. “But he refused to take part in treatment so they let him go.”
“No one in the mental health field knows what to do with him. It’s like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole over and over.”
The criminal justice system and mental health industry know how to deal with a rapist, a child molester, or a serial killer. But not a sexualized serial rapist and killer of animals. (I can’t believe I just wrote that previous line.)
“Most animals wind up dead but no one really cares about a random chicken or duck it seems,” she added, regarding public opinion and the lingering punch-lines.
Police suspect he’s also behind the recent disappearance of several animals from the Buckley Homestead in Lowell, but they can’t prove it.
“We’d love to keep him in prison for the rest of his life,” Dvorsack said, speaking for all of us.
But that’s unlikely, even with new stricter animal cruelty laws on the books with “more finite definitions.” a habitual offender statute to be used, and a reinstated bestiality law in this state.
Why? Because the charges Bessigano faces are all D felonies, the lowest level. His next court hearing is March 20, and his omnibus hearing is May 8.
Dvorsack plans on retiring in seven years, but it won’t be soon enough in regard to Bessigano, who will most likely be released from prison – yet again - before then.
“Oh yeah, I’ll probably have to see him again,” she said.
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