Peru suspended its top organized crime investigator on Tuesday after he misled the country by saying he had caught a gang of serial killers who acted out an ancient Andean legend and sold their victims’ fat.
Eusebio Felix was put on leave from his job for telling Peruvians last month that four suspected murderers apprehended by police were pishtaco — legendary killers who roam the mountains extracting fat from travelers.
In the legend, pishtaco strung up the torsos of their victims above candles and heated them to collect fat.
Police initially said the gang murdered up to 60 victims and exported their fat for thousands of dollars a liter to Italian cosmetics makers. In the end, there may have been only one victim.
When they announced their big find, police held a news conference and displayed what they said was human fat stored in an empty bottle of Inca Kola, the electric-yellow soft drink popular in the Andes.
They also showed a video of police pulling body parts from a shallow grave at a house in the mountainous region of Huanuco.
But on Tuesday, after weeks of doubts about the case, police in Lima, the capital, said the investigation had been botched.
General Miguel Hidalgo, the head of Peru’s police, said he was embarrassed: “This affects the image and respectability of the police.”
Police in Huanuco, who complain they were excluded from the inquiry, said there was only one murder victim and that he was linked to the cocaine trade.
They believe the four alleged killers, who are still in custody, may have bottled his fat to intimidate their rivals in an area rife with drug trafficking and violence.
Anthropologists said investigators foolishly believed the pishtaco legend when searching for a motive for the murder, and then played on people’s fears.
“It seems a myth that has been in Peruvian culture for a long time was used to explain a very strange crime,” said Juan Rivera of the Catholic University in Lima.
Doctors said it would be pointless to kill people to harvest their fat when it could be easily collected from plastic surgery clinics that perform tummy tucks.
“We wouldn’t throw out hundreds of liters of human fat if it were worth US$15,000 a liter,” said Julio Castro of Peru’s board of medicine.
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