LIMA, Peru: Nov. 20, 2009 Members of a gang arrested the Peruvian jungle has been killing people and draining fat from the corpses to sell on the black market for use in international cosmetics.
Three men were tracked down in the jungle of remote Huanuco province, where officials also found human remains and two bottles of fat. The gang has been referred to as the Pishtacos, after an ancient Peruvian legend of killers who attack people on lonely roads and murder them for their fat, allegedly targeted people on remote roads, luring them with fake job offers before killing them and extracting their fat.
Peruvian authorities said at least six men, including two Italian nationals, remained at large including alleged gang leader, Hilario Cudena, who is 56 years old. One of the men in custody reportedly told police Cudena has been killing people for their fat for more than 30 years. Police said the gang could be behind the disappearances of up to 60 people in Peru’s Huanuco and Pasco regions.
Colonel Jorge Mejia, chief of Peru’s anti-kidnapping police, told reporters the trio admitted to the murder of five people and to draining the corpses. Remains from some of the victims were found at a rural house in the region of Huanuco where the group worked, according police video. Police showed reporters two bottles of fat recovered from the suspects and a photo of the rotting head of a 27-year-old male victim. Suspect Elmer Segundo Castillejos, 29, led police to the head, recovered in a coca-growing valley last month, Mejia said. Mejia said Castillejos recounted how the gang cut off its victims’ heads, arms and legs, removed the organs, then suspended the torsos from hooks above candles that warmed the flesh as fat dripped into tubs below. The men revealed one liter of human fat could fetch $15,000, he added. The group stored the fat it collected in used soda and water bottles, which police showed reporters.
However, Col Mejia conceded police could not confirm any fat had been sold.
At a news conference in the capital, police showed two bottles containing human body fat and images of one of the alleged victims. One of the alleged killings is reported to have taken place in mid-September, with the person’s body tissue removed for sale.
Police Commander Angel Toledo told a news agency some of the suspects had “declared and stated how they murdered people with the aim being to extract their fat in rudimentary labs and sell it”.
It was then sold on to intermediaries in Peru’s capital Lima, before heading to cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies in Europe. The group allegedly sold body fat to be used in cosmetics in Europe. Human fat is used in modern cosmetic procedures but in most cases it is the patient’s own fat that is used and under strict legal guidelines.
Medical authorities have expressed skepticism about a black market for human fat, partly because of the wide availability of fat for use in surgical procedures.
Gen. Felix Burga, head of Peru’s police criminal division, said there were indications that “an international network trafficking human fat” was operating from Peru. Mejia said police received a tip four months ago that human fat from the jungle was being sold in Lima. In August, he said, police infiltrated the band and later obtained amber fluid, which a police lab confirmed as human fat.
At the beginning of November, police arrested Serapio Marcos Veramendi and Enedina Estela in a Lima bus station with a liter of human fat in a soda bottle. Their testimony led to the arrest of Castillejos three days later at the same bus station.
The three are charged with homicide, criminal conspiracy, illegal firearms possession and drug trafficking, said a Lima court. Police are searching for the alleged buyer.
The first person was arrested earlier this month in a bus station in Lima, carrying a shipment of the fat.
A dermatology professor at Yale University, Dr Lisa Donofrio, speculated that a small market may exist for “human fat extracts” to keep skin supple, but she said that scientifically such treatments are “pure baloney”.