Stealing Fat: Peruvian Pishtacos

A CNN article recently reported Peruvian police arresting four members of a gang that allegedly murders people and then sells their body fat. Apparently, European laboratories are paying $15,000 per liter for human fat to be used possibly for cosmetics and in cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. The four men were arrested in association with the disappearance of at least 60 people in two mountainous states in central Peru. Authorities are calling the suspects "pishtacos," which are Andean mythological creatures. The lead prosecutor Jorge Sanz Quiroz acknowledged the uniqueness of the allegations. "We are not making this up," he said. "They have confessed to this. That's what's coming out now."

In Maria Vargas Llosa’s 1996 book “Death In The Andes” he follows two Lima detectives as they travel to Andean Peru to investigate the murder of three people in a local village. While everyone seems to think that the murders were done by the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), when they talk to the locals in the village they get a different story. The locals place the blame on the pishtacos. Vargas Llosa describes pishtacos in the book: “A stranger. Half gringo. At first glance you didn’t know what he was because he looked just like everybody else in the world. He lived in caves and committed his crimes at night. Lurking along the roads, behind boulders, hiding among haystacks or under bridges, waiting for solitary travelers. He would approach with cunning pretending to be a friend. His powder made from the bones of the dead was all ready, and at the first careless movement he threw it in his victims’ faces. Then he could suck out their fat. Afterward he let them go, emptied, nothing but skin and bone, doomed to waste away in a few hours or days. These were the benign ones. They needed human fat to make church bells sing more sweetly and tractors run more smoothly, and now, lately, to give the government help pay off the foreign debt. The evil ones were worse. They not only slit their victims’ throats but butchered them like cattle, or sheep, or hogs, and ate them. Bled them drop by drop and got drunk on the blood”

A few months ago, as we were driving back from a trip to an orphanage, Señor Alcides, the director who also has 27 years of police experience, pointed to a village on the road about 20 minutes outside of Cusco. He told me of an unsolved crime in that town, which was supposedly full of brujas (witches). The crime involved a murder where some of the victim’s organs were missing. Señor Alcides said that everyone in town suspected pishtacos. After a year of no leads in the case, the police hired some brujas, who “guaranteed” they could help solve the case. The witches held séances with the policemen present and everyone heard eerie voices during these sessions. Despite the voices, no progress was made on the case even though the brujas were continuing to get paid. One day during a séance, one of the policeman, a turned the light on when the voices started and a small boy, who was making the voices from behind a bookshelf, ran out of the room saying that his mother, one of the brujas, made him do it. The brujas voluntarily gave the money back, the case was never solved and no pishtacos were ever caught.


  1. Creepy... I remember my Spanish teacher telling me about the pishtacos - she described them as being able to turn themselves into donkeys, and as she lived up in the hills above Cusco she would often run home late at night thinking she heard donkeys braying.

  2. Oooh...I haven't heard of that one. Donkeys? Since you're down in Cusco, perhaps you can start a little business combining pishtacos who steal fat with liposcution clients in the US??