Off the Edge of the Map: Peru’s Fat Killers?

Just when you think the world can’t get any weirder, a story comes along to make you question absolutely everything.

Case in point: Peru’s alleged fat harvesting gang.

In mid-November Peruvian police warned the public of a gang of killers stalking people in the Peruvian jungle for three decades to harvest fat and sell it to the European cosmetics industry. Police named the gang pishtacos – based on traditional folklore of a tall, white male in a big hat who roams the countryside stealing the fat and eyes of unsuspecting travelers. According to the allegations the killers would cut off “victims’ heads, arms and legs, remove the organs, and then suspend the torsos from hooks above candles that warmed the flesh as the fat dripped into tubs below.” Police produced suspects who claimed a gallon of the human fat was worth $60,000. Sounds like something out of a Stephen King novel, right? Uber yucky….

But then the story got worse …. Within a week or two the cops’ allegations began to unravel as medical professionals and local journalists attacked the veracity of the claims.

Human fat, apparently, is near impossible to store beyond a few hours and the fat-harvesting process described is a medical impossibility. (So don’t try this at home, kiddies …) The organs police suspects spoke of would be worth tens of thousands of dollars on the black market, yet the killers were allegedly only interested in fat. Surgeons who perform liposuction routinely throw away gallons of human fat every week – there is simply no market for it.

Peruvian journalists also came forward with documented cases of extrajudicial killings by a police unit – a death squad journalists charge is responsible for 46 deaths between 2007 and 2008.

On December 1, authorities suspended the officer that levied the original gang charges – head of the national police’s criminal investigation – and admitted doubts over when such a fat-harvesting gang ever existed. Duh ….

Shock value aside, this very disturbing story does contain some valuable lessons.

For the die-hard capitalist – before you start a business  make sure you’ve chosen a product with demonstrable market demand, or you may find your warehouse overflowing with stock.

For the public relations guru – when you concoct spin to turn a negative into a positive, make sure your angle will survive a bit of scrutiny.