Gang 'killed victims to extract their fat'

Peruvian police have arrested a gang which allegedly killed scores of peasants, drained their bodies of fat and sold the liquid abroad as an anti-wrinkle cosmetic.

Three suspects have confessed to killing five people for their fat, said Colonel Jorge Mejia, chief of Peru’s anti-kidnapping police, but the number of victims was believed to be much higher and to date back decades.

Two of the suspects were arrested at a bus station in the capital, Lima, carrying bottles of liquid fat which they claimed were worth up to $60 000 a gallon.

At a news conference police displayed two bottles of fat, which laboratory tests confirmed were human. “The fat was extracted from the thorax and thighs,” said Eusebio Felix Murga, chief of police of Dirincri district. Police also showed a photo of the rotting head of a 27-year-old male victim discovered last month in a coca-growing valley.

Medical experts said human fat had cosmetic applications to keep skin supple but were sceptical about an international black market.
“It doesn’t make any sense at all because in most countries we can get fat so readily and in such amounts from people who are willing and ready to donate,” Adam Katz, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Virginia medical school, told the Associated Press.

Police named the band the “Pishtacos” after a myth dating to pre-Columbian times of killers who slaughtered victims with machetes to extract fat. The gang allegedly operated in Huanuco, a rural province dotted with Inca temples between the jungle and Andean peaks. Six members remained at large including the alleged leader, Hilario Cudena, who has been killing to extract fluid for more than three decades, said police.

Sixty people were listed as missing in Huanuco this year alone, though the province is also home to the Shining Path, a drug-trafficking leftist rebel group.

Mejia, the police chief, said his force received a tip four months ago about a trade in human fat. It infiltrated the gang and arrested Serapio Marcos Veramendi and Enedina Estela at a Lima bus station with a litre of human fat in a soda bottle.

Their testimony led to the arrest of another alleged member, Elmer Segundo Castillejos (29) who led police to the severed head and supplied grisly details: the gang would sever victims’ heads, arms and legs, remove organs and suspend torsos from hooks above candles which warmed the flesh as the fat dripped into tubs below. Castillejos claimed other gangs were engaged in similar killings.

The three suspects were charged with homicide, criminal conspiracy, illegal firearms possession and drug trafficking, according to Lima’s superior court.

Police said they were searching for alleged buyers. -

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