Original image

The Monster of the Andes, The Meanest Man in America, and 7 other Prolific Serial Killers

Original image

by Anna Shaw

1. Thug Behram

Estimated Body Count: 931
The Story: Between 1790 and 1830, Behram was the leader of India's infamous Thugee Cult. The death toll attributed to this cult varies from 50,000 to 2,000,000 people. They were an organization of thieves who would befriend travelers before robbing and killing them. Cult members believed that every person they killed prevented the coming of the goddess Kali for another millennium. As the leader of the gang, Thug Behram confessed his involvement in the 900+ murders, and admitted to personally strangling at least 125 people.
Capture: The British Government finally created policies against the Thugee Cult in the 1830s. The government recruited spies from the inside, who would eventually lead to the cult's downfall in the 1870s.
Punishment: Thug Behram was never tried for his action, as he became an informer for the government after his capture.

2. Elizabeth Bathory

elisabeth20bathory.jpgEstimated Body Count: 600+
The Story: Elizabeth Bathory was a Hungarian countess in the 16th century. Her husband was killed in the Long War, leaving her in charge of the family estate. During her reign, many young girls began to disappear. Bathory and her servants would keep them captive, torturing and eventually killing them.
Capture: Local parish priests began to complain about Bathory's action in court, leading to an investigation. Upon searching her castle, they found many bodies, as well as many dying girls.
Punishment: Because of her position, Elizabeth Bathory was never tried. But her servants were. Their method of execution was rather brutal itself: they were thrown into a fire. Bathory was confined to a single room in her castle. The door was cemented shut, leaving only a slit to allow food to be slipped in. She died four years later, in 1614.

Keep reading for a scarier version of Dr. Kevorkian, history's creepiest tea parties and more.

3. Giuseppe Greco

greco.jpgEstimated Body Count: 300
The Story: Giuseppe Greco was a hitman for the Sicilian Greco Mafia Family during the Second Mafia War during the 1980s. He would assassinate enemies of the Family, including family members of those considered threats. Giuseppe's tactics varied, but his favorite weapon was the AK-47. His talent for killing helped him quickly gain power with the Mafia, so when the war ended, he became a target of his own family.
Capture: It is believed that after the war ended, Giuseppe fled to the United States. However, the Mafia eventually caught up with him, killing him in his home sometime in September of 1985.
Punishment: Death was not the end for Greco. Even after he was killed, the Sicilian government charged him with 58 counts of murder. He was given a life sentence.

4. Pedro Lopez

pedrolopez.jpgEstimated Body Count: 300+
The Story: Pedro Lopez was also known as the "Monster of the Andes." He would attack young girls in Peru, Colombia and Ecuador. He would rape and kill them, burring their bodies throughout the countryside.
Capture: The main investigation began in 1980 when a flash flood uncovered the grave of one of his victims. Lopez was arrested after an attempted abduction went wrong, and the connection to the murders was later made. He then confessed his series of killings to the police, leading them to more bodies.
Punishment: Lopez's cooperation with police helped to reduce his sentence to a mere sixteen years. Good behavior moved his release date up two years. He was released from prison in 1998, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

5. Harold Shipman

shipman.jpgEstimated Body Count: 284
The Story: Shipman was an English doctor who would give his patients lethal doses of morphine or diamorphine. Unlike Jack Kevorkian who gave his patients lethal doses consentingly, Shipman would give healthy patients these drugs, and forge medical notes stating that they were in ill health. In most cases, there was no apparent benefit to this. In only one case did Shipman get money in someone's will.
Capture: Shipman was placed under investigation after his local coroner noticed the high fatality rate of his practice. This investigation was abandoned due to lack of evidence, but after more suspicious deaths, Shipman was arrested.
Punishment: Shipman was charged with, and found guilty of 15 sample cases of murder. He received 15 life sentences, but committed suicide in his cell on January 13, 2004.

6. H.H. Holmes

HHHolmes.gifEstimated Body Count: 230
The Story: Herman Webster Mudgett used the name H.H. Holmes or his illegal activities. He bought property in Chicago, eventually constructing a large hotel. But this was no ordinary hotel "“ its rooms were built to seal shut and fill with deadly gas. There were special chutes built to funnel bodies directly into the furnace or into pits of hydrochloric acid. He would fire employees after two weeks to avoid paying them. He opened this hotel during the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893, so he easily filled his hotel with potential victims.
Capture: In 1895, one of his life insurance schemes fell through, leading to his arrest and a police investigation. The search of his hotel uncovered many dismembered bodies.
Punishment: There were only 27 confirmed murders, but using the missing persons list, the police identified some 230 murders that are attributed to Holmes. He was hanged on May 7, 1896.

7. Gilles de Rais

Gilles.jpgEstimated Body Count: 140+
The Story: Gilles de Rais was a French noble who fought alongside Joan of Arc against England. He had a habit of decapitating and torturing young boys from the local villages. Rais also had his servants kill young boys while he watched.
Capture: His downfall stemmed from a failed attempt to kidnap a clergyman. This led to an investigation.
Punishment: He was hanged on October 26, 1440.

8. Donald Henry "Pee Wee" Gaskins

peewee.jpg Estimated Body Count: 200
The Story: Unlike the others on this list, Gaskins found his victims by driving around the American south, picking up anyone he felt like. He would also kill people he knew, but only if he had a specific reason to do so. He was eventually dubbed the "Meanest Man in America."
Capture: On December 4, 1975, Gaskins led police to a mass grave. He was arrested on the spot.
Punishment: Gaskins was sentenced to death, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison when South Carolina outlawed the death penalty. However, after killing a fellow inmate, he was once again put on death row, and executed on September 6, 1991 "“ the fourth person to be executed after the ban on the death penalty was lifted.

9. Luis Garavito

luis.jpg Estimated Body Count: 140
The Story: Garavito, also known as "Le Bestia" or "The Beast" was a serial killer in Colombia between 1992 and 1998. He would convince poor peasant children to follow him into secluded fields, where he would kill them. He would then prop up the bodies and have "tea parties" with them, until he grew bored and found others to kill.
He was captured in April 1999 while attempting to kidnap a child. He then admitted to 140 murders, and led the police to several mass graves.
Punishment: Garavito received a 22-year sentence, which he is currently serving in Colombia.

Anna Shaw is an occasional contributor to

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]