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Cosmetic killers: Gang extracted victims’ body fat

Police say a gang in the Peruvian jungle has been killing people and draining fat from the corpses to sell on the black market for use in cosmetics, although medical experts say they doubt a major market for fat exists.

world Updated: Nov 21, 2009 00:12 IST

Police say a gang in the Peruvian jungle has been killing people and draining fat from the corpses to sell on the black market for use in cosmetics, although medical experts say they doubt a major market for fat exists.

Three suspects confessed to killing five people, but the gang may have been involved in dozens more, said Col Jorge Mejia, chief of Peru’s anti-kidnapping police.

He said one suspect claimed the gang wasn’t the only one doing such killings.

Mejia said two of the suspects were arrested carrying bottles of liquid human fat and told police it was worth $15,000 a litre. The fat was sold to intermediaries in Peru’s capital, Lima, and police suspect it was then sold to cosmetic companies in Europe, Mejia said on Thursday, but he could not confirm any sales.

Medical experts expressed doubt about an international black market for human fat, though it does have cosmetic applications.

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.”

At a news conference, 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.

Six members of the gang remain at large, Mejia said.

Among them was the band’s alleged leader, Hilario Cudena, 56, who Castillejos told police has been killing people to extract human fat for more than three decades.

Medical authorities contacted by The Associated Press said human fat is used in anti-wrinkle treatments — but is always extracted from the patient who is being treated, usually from the stomach or buttocks.