Pishtacos: The Human Fat Vampires of Peru
While European vampires are content to suck the blood from hapless victims, the vampires of South America do them one further and go after the victim’s fat! In 2009, an old Peruvian legend got a new life when Peruvian police announced a gang of real life pishtacos attacking innocent people in the forest.
According to Peruvian legend, the pishtaco is a pale-faced foreigner who sucks the fat from its victims after luring them away from the safety of town. These legends were first recorded by Europeans in the 1500s, but ever since then, the specter of the pishtaco has been a common one in Peruvian tales.
A pishtaco was usually European, but there were versions of the story where he was black or even mestizo, a person of mixed race. He might wear any variety of disguises, and depending on the version or on the teller, he might suck the fat out with his mouth or use a large syringe. Fat was historically used as a sacred offering by the people of the Andes, and the fat of various valuable animals, like the llama and alpaca, was often used for religious rituals. Back during the Spanish conquest, there were constant stories of European invaders stealing fat from local people, as it was thought that Europeans had an inferior kind of fat inside themselves.
Those legends gave birth to an incident in 2009 that, though revealed to be a hoax, was still quite chilling.
Peruvian police reported discovering a gang of pishtacos deep in the jungles of Huánuco, and the tale that they brought back was a grisly one.
According to the national police report, this gang would lure people deep into the jungle or outright kidnap them. Then, after bludgeoning the victims to death with clubs, they would dismember them and hang their torsos up over a set of hot burning candles. The heat would cause the victim’s fat to run down into a funnel where it would be collected into old bottles.
The image of the fat-filled bottles was what stuck with many frightened people who read the story, and according to some of the newspaper reports of the time, those bottles had been recovered at the gang’s campsite. Many could not believe that human beings could be harvested in such a cruel manner.
What became of the bottles of fat after they were collected? The answer turned out to be more fiendish than that of the pishtacos themselves. According to the police reports, the killers would sell the bottles of fat to Europeans who met with them in Lima. Those Europeans would take the bottles of fat and sell them overseas for immense profits. The fat was destined for the European beauty industry, where it would be used in formulations to soften dry or rough skin.
The story was quite terrifying, but it wasn’t long before it started being questioned. Where was this gang located, and who had they killed? The police had reported that the pishtacos had taken more than 60 people into the woods and killed them, but further investigation discovered the death of only one man, Abel Matos Aranda, who seemed to have fallen victim to a simple murder.
On top of that, the Peruvian police in general were under attack from journalists for corruption and the killings of 47 suspected criminals in Trujillo.
The story quickly lost any credibility at all, and soon it became clear that the pishtacos of Peru were just one more corrupt government cover-up.