Karen Greenlee (born 1956) is an American criminal who was convicted of stealing a hearse and having sex with the corpse it contained. She is considered as the "best-known modern practitioner of necrophilia" and her case was the subject of much research due to her sex (only ten percent of known necrophiles are women) as well as because of the highly detailed interview she gave about her extensive practice of necrophilia in the anthology book Apocalypse Culture.
Greenlee worked as an apprentice embalmer at the Memorial Lawn Mortuary in Sacramento, California. On December 17, 1979, she stole the 1975 Cadillac hearse she was driving to a funeral along with the body of a 33-year-old man (who had died a week before) it was carrying. According to Lynne Stopkewich, who directed Kissed, a film based on Greenlee's story, she was driving the hearse to the funeral as intended until she saw the departed's family, then "did a big donut and took off". She was found days later near Alleghany in Sierra County. According to Dr. Robert Rocheleau, the physician who pumped Greenlee's stomach, she was "extremely depressed" and had attempted to commit suicide by overdosing on about 20 pills of Tylenol and codeine, but survived. She was found with a four-and-a-half page long written confession where she admitted having had sex with 20 to 40 other bodies of young men, calling it "an addiction".
Because necrophilia was not illegal in California at the time, Greenlee was only accused of stealing the hearse and interfering with a funeral, for which she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to pay a $255 fine and spend 11 days in jail. After her release, her probation included mandatory therapy, which she says helped her make peace with herself.
Greenlee and Memorial Lawn Mortuary were sued for $1 million by Marian Gonzales, mother of victim John L. Mercure, for "severe emotional distress". At the Superior Court hearing, the defense psychiatrist, Dr. Captane Thomson, said he did not think the event had "much of a lasting impact" on the victim's mother, who he said had a history of alcoholism and depression. Richard A. Kapuschinsky, a fellow embalmer and former colleague of Greenlee, testified to the jury that "there was no reason to suspect" Greenlee would commit such a crime, describing her as quiet and competent. The lawsuit was eventually settled for $117,000 in general and punitive damages.
A few years later in 1987, Greenlee gave a detailed and very frank interview entitled The Unrepentant Necrophile about her necrophiliac interests to Jim Morton for his book Apocalypse Culture, published by Feral House. To get a better impression of how she saw herself and her preferences, a selection of the statements from the interview are cited directly.
― about the relationship to her brothers, after they learned that she had stolen a hearse to spend two days with the corpse of the 33-year old John M.: “One of my brothers (...) still isn't comfortable around me. My other brother was more supportive, but even he had to ask How'd you do it?”(page 28)
― answers to the question on how she prefers to interact sexually with a corpse; “People have this misconception that there has to be penetration for sexual gratification, which is bull! The most sensitive part of a woman is the front area anyway and that is what needs to be stimulated. Besides, there are different aspects of sexual expression: touchy-feely, 69, even holding hands. That body is just laying there, but it has what it takes to make me happy. The cold, the aura of death, the smell of death, the funereal surroundings, it all contributes. ”(page 28)
― on the smell of death: “I find the odor of death very erotic. There are death odors and there are death odors. Now you get your body that’s been floating in the bay for two weeks, or a bum victim, that doesn’t attract me much, but a freshly embalmed corpse is something else. ” (page 28)
― on working at funeral homes: “That's where I did a lot of my extracurricular activities. I had keyes so I'd slip back in after hours and spend all night in there.” (page 30)
- on suicide: “I had tried to kill myself and I was living in a halfway house a couple of blocks from this funeral home. I decided to go to the mausoleum and try and kill myself again. The mausoleum had a door connecting it to the mortuary. I was sitting in there, real depressed, when, just for the hell of it, I decided to try running my driver’s license along the edge of the door and click! the door popped open. I couldn’t believe it, so I tried it again and the door popped open again! I went into the prep room and there happened to be a body in there. I had me some fun, did my thing and forgot all about killing myself.” (pages 32-33)
- about how frustrating it is, when everybody wants to cure or change you: “It is [frustrating]. For a while I found myself thinking, “Yeah, this isn’t normal. Why can’t I be like other people. Why doesn’t the same pair of shoes fit me just right?” I went through all that personal hell and finally I accepted myself and realized that’s just me. That’s my nature and I might as well enjoy it. I’m miserable when I try to be something I’m not.” (page 33)
- on psychotherapy: “The more I talked to these people [social workers, therapist..], the more I realized necrophilia makes sense for me. The reason I was having a problem with it was because I couldn’t accept myself. I was still trying to live my life by other people’s standards. To accept it was peace.” (page 34)
Greenlee later reportedly regretted the interview, changed her identity, and moved to another city.
Greenlee's story inspired Barbara Gowdy's 1992 short story "We So Seldom Look On Love", which in turn inspired the 1996 Canadian independent film Kissed, directed by Lynne Stopkewich. Like Greenlee, the movie's main character was a young woman working as an embalmer fascinated with dead bodies and who engages in necrophilia. Molly Parker's portrayal of the controversial role earned her an award for "Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role" at the 18th Genie Awards. As of 1996, Greenlee was reported to be touring North America with her poetry, conferencing about necrophilia and sexual liberation.
According to Esoterra, a leading extreme culture and horror magazine of the 90s, Sally Jessy Raphael taped an interview with Karen Greenlee but refused to air it because Greenlee refused to show repentance for her actions.
Greenlee contributed a chapter to The Gospel of Filth, a book detailing the history and occult influences of extreme metal band Cradle of Filth. Greenlee's story was also the inspiration for a "raucous rock musical" entitled The Unrepentant Necrophile created by The Coldharts presented at festivals like the fourth edition of the Twin Cities Horror Festival and the 2017 Orlando Fringe Festival.
Greenlee described herself as a "morgue rat" and considered necrophilia an addiction.