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

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.
Capture:
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 mentalfloss.com.

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

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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