The world was shocked when the story broke that people were being murdered for their fat in Andean Peru, fat that was then supposedly sold on through an underground trading ring to cosmetic companies in Europe.
This long told urban myth in Peru about the “Pishtacos” that has now gone global – like many of Peru’s inventions – currently has police chiefs in hot water.
So little progress has been made on the investigation, and so little evidence uncovered that the regularly ridiculed national police of Peru are being taken even less seriously. “What’s next?”, people ask, “ghosts, goblins and vampires?”.
Tony Dunnell, a freelance writer living in beautiful Tarapoto, talks about his surprise on hearing this myth turn, according to police officers in Huánuco at least, into a real life investigation.
I first heard about the Pishtacos just over a year ago when I was in Tingo Maria. The girl who told me this story (who later became my girlfriend, despite her tall stories) assured me that it was true. Needless to say, I’ve been pulling her leg about the Pishtacos for the last year or so – at least up until the last few days.
She told me that these men, these Pishtacos, abducted travelers on lonely roads, killed them, and then hung them upside down over a flaming candle in order to slowly extract the fat from their bodies. This valuable fat was then sold to major airlines as a lubricant for their aircraft.
Now, would you believe that?
Well, imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a breaking news article on the BBC website: “Four people have been arrested in Peru on suspicion of killing dozens of people in order to sell their fat and tissue for cosmetic uses in Europe.” The Pishtacos, it would seem, have passed from myth into reality.
This gang, operating in Peru’s Huanuco department where Tingo can be found, have apparently been killing for human fat for the last 30 years. The similarities with the ancient Peruvian myth are nothing short of bizarre.
Equally baffling is the absence of any black market for human fat. Supposedly, these Pishtacos are operating through Lima and selling on the human fat to European cosmetics manufacturers. The abundance of human fat available from medical sources would normally make this illegal trafficking obsolete. Quite how these Pishtacos are making enough money to warrant 60 (at least) murders is yet to become apparent.
The hunt continues for the other gang members (including two Italian nationals) and the buyers themselves.
Fat-thieving murderers may not be number one on your list of things to read up about today, but I highly recommend Tony’s article The Legend of the Pishtacos.