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6 Horrifying Modern Cannibals

Cannibalism, as repulsive as it is, can be understood in cases where consuming the deceased is an alternative to certain starvation. Those who eat human flesh by choice, however, tend to be the kind of people who will torture and murder to satisfy their curiosity. Be warned that some of the following links are disturbing.

1. Dorangel Vargas

Dorangel Vargas is known as "the Hannibal Lecter of the Andes". He was confined to a mental hospital in 1995 after the remains of a missing man were found in his home, but Vargas was released two years later. In 1999, police in San Cristobal, Venezuela again found human remains in Vargas' possession. This time, at least ten skulls and fresh entrails were found. Vargas admitted eating the bodies, but denied murder charges, saying the bodies were given to him. This statement led to conjecture that Vargas was being used to cover up an organ trafficking operation. Vargas was homeless and already known to be mentally unstable. During an interview, Vargas claimed that eating people was like eating pears. Vargas is confined to a mental institution.

2. Kevin Ray Underwood

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Kevin Ray Underwood was arrested in April 2006 for the murder of 10-year-old Jamie Bolin in Purcell, Oklahoma. Although there is no evidence that Underwood actually cannibalized the body, police found meat tenderizer and barbecue skewers among the tools used to commit the murder. Underwood confessed to the murder and his plans to eat Bolin's flesh. His videotaped confession is full of gruesome details.

3. Robert Maudsley

158maudsleyRobert Maudsley committed his first murder in 1974. He sold sexual services to support his drug addiction, and killed one of his clients. Maudsley was sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. In 1977, he and another inmate took a third inmate hostage for nine hours before authorities could break into the cell. The victim, a pedophile, had been tortured and killed. His skull was cracked open and a part of his brain was missing. A spoon in the skull led guards to believe Maudsley had eaten part of his victim. He was convicted of manslaughter and sent to Wakefield prison, where he soon killed two more men before being sent to solitary confinement. In 1983, a special cell was constructed for Maudsley at Wakefield prison, where he is held in solitary confinement behind glass with no human contact. Food is passed to him through a slot. This cell is believed to be the model for Hannibal Lecter's enclosure in The Silence of the Lambs.

4. Issei Sagawa

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Japanese student Issei Sagawa studied at the Sorbonne in Paris and became infatuated with Dutch student Renée Hartevelt in 1981. Instead of courting her, he shot her in the back of the neck. Then Sagawa lived out a fantasy he'd had since childhood as he cut her flesh and ate it raw. He then had sexual intercourse with Hartevelt's body, cut it into pieces, put some of the flesh in his refrigerator for later, and stuffed the rest into suitcases to dispose of at nearby Bois de Boulogne park, where he was noticed. Police retrieved Hartevelt's body parts and arrested Sagawa a few days later. Sagawa confessed to the murder. He was held for two years, then committed to a hospital for the criminally insane. While there, he wrote his autobiography In the Fog, which became a best seller in Japan. Sagawa was deported to Japan, where he underwent mental examinations and was found sane. Japanese officials could not prosecute him because France did not send the necessary paperwork. By 1986, he was a free man, and willing to talk about what he did to Renée Hartevelt. Sagawa is the "celebrity cannibal" of Japan. He has written more books, worked a short time as a restaurant critic, granted interviews, painted nudes, and even acted in porn films. In short, he is making a living off his crime.

5. Armin Meiwes

200_Armin_Meiwes14Armin Meiwes posted a personal ad online to solicit a victim for murder and cannibalism in 2001. Bernd Juergen Brandes, who did not know Meiwes, volunteered to be his victim through a German chatroom. The two met and carried out the plan, which is documented in gruesome detail. Meiwes consumed the remains of Brandes over several months. He was reported to police after posting another personal ad. Meiwes was convicted of manslaughter amid questions of whether a murder victim can give consent. He was retried in 2006 and convicted of murder, and sentenced to life in prison.

6. Jeffrey Dahmer

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In the summer of 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was on probation after serving time for fondling a young boy, but his overworked probation officer never visited his Milwaukee apartment. Police were called when a 14-year-old boy tried to escape Dahmer's clutches, but Dahmer convinced officers that the boy was an adult and the situation was a lover's quarrel. They left Konerak Sinthasomphone, who did not speak English, in Dahmer's hands. He was never seen alive again. When another victim, Tracey Edwards ran screaming from Dahmer's apartment, police investigated and found a house of horrors. In Dahmer's apartment were body parts belonging to 11 people. Some were found in the refrigerator and freezer, some packed into a barrel of acid, and some were dried and cleaned to be souvenirs. In his confession, Dahmer alluded to cannibalism and sexual acts with the deceased bodies, activities he expanded on in a 1994 interview. Dahmer pleaded insanity but was convicted and sentenced to life terms for each of 15 murders. He later pleaded guilty to another murder in Ohio. In 1994, another prison inmate bludgeoned Dahmer to death with an iron bar.

Researching my extensive list of modern cannibals is psychologically exhausting. This look at cannibalism will continue next week.

Update: see part two of this post, 6 More Cannibal Killers.

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7 Fast Facts About Animal Farting
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Anyone who’s had a pet can testify that dogs and cats occasionally get gassy, letting rip noxious farts and then innocently looking up as if to say “Who, me?” You may not have considered the full breadth of animal life passing gas in the world, though—and not just mammals. In a new book, ecologist Nick Caruso and zoologist Dani Rabaiotti detail the farting habits (or lack thereof) of 80 different animals. Here are seven weird animal farting facts we learned from Does It Fart?.

1. FOR ONE FISH, FARTING IS AN EMERGENCY.

A black-and-white illustration of a fish floating upside down on the surface of the water
Ethan Kocak

The diet of the Bolson pupfish, a freshwater fish found in northern Mexico, can lead to dangerous levels of gas. The pupfish feeds on algae, and it can inadvertently eat the gas bubbles that algae produces in warm temperatures. The air inflates the fish’s intestines and distends its belly, messing with its equilibrium and making it difficult to swim. Even if it tries to bury itself in sediment at the bottom of a pool, as Bolson pupfish are wont to do, the air causes the fish to rise to the surface, where it’s at risk of being eaten by a bird. If the fish doesn’t fart, it will likely die, either from predation or because its intestines rupture under the pressure of the trapped gas.

2. MANATEES USE FARTS AS A SWIMMING TECHNIQUE.

The Bolson pupfish isn't the only animal that needs healthy farts to maneuver underwater. Buoyancy is vital for swimming manatees, and they rely on digestive gas to keep them afloat. The West Indian manatee has pouches in its intestines where it can store farty gasses. When they have a lot of gas stored up, they’re naturally more buoyant, floating to the surface of the water. When they fart out that gas, they sink. Unfortunately, that means that a manatee’s ability to fart is vital to its well-being. When a manatee is constipated and can’t pass gas properly, it can lose the ability to swim properly and end up floating around with its tail above its head.

3. TERMITE FARTS ARE A SIGNIFICANT SOURCE OF GLOBAL EMISSIONS.

A black-and-white illustration of a termite farting
Ethan Kocak

They’re not as bad as cars or cows, but termites fart a lot, and because they are so numerous, that results in a lot of methane. Each termite only lets rip about half a microgram of methane gas a day, but every termite colony is made up of millions of individuals, and termites live all over the world. All told, the insects produce somewhere between 5 and 19 percent of global methane emissions per year.

4. FERRETS ARE SURPRISED BY THEIR OWN FARTS.

Ferrets are quite the fart machines. They not only let ‘em rip while pooping—which they do every few hours on a normal day—but they get particularly gassy when they’re stressed. The pungent smells are often news to their creators, though. According to the book, “owners often report a confused look on their pet’s face in the direction of their backside after they audibly pass gas.” And you don't want your ferret to get really scared: Their fear response involves screaming, puffing up, and simultaneous farting and pooping.

5. A BEADED LACEWING’S FARTS CAN BE DEADLY.

A black-and-white illustration of a beaded lacewing standing triumphantly over a prone termite
Ethan Kocak

A winged insect known as the beaded lacewing carries a powerful weapon within its butt, what Caruso and Rabaiotti call “one of the very few genuinely fatal farts known to science.” As a hunting strategy, Lomamyia latipennis larvae release a potent fart containing the chemical allomone, paralyzing and killing their termite prey.

6. WHALE FARTS MAKE QUITE THE SPLASH.

A black-and-white illustration of a whale farting above water while a woman on a boat speeds behind it
Ethan Kocak

As befits their size, whales produce some of biggest farts on the planet. A blue whale’s digestive system can hold up to a ton of food in its multiple stomach chambers, and there are plenty of bacteria in that system waiting to break that food down. This, of course, leads to farts. While not many whale farts have been caught on camera, scientists have witnessed them—and report them to be “incredibly pungent,” as Rabaiotti and Caruso tell it.

7. NOT ALL ANIMALS FART.

Octopuses don’t fart, nor do other sea creatures like soft-shell clams or sea anemones. Birds don’t, either. Meanwhile, sloths may be the only mammal that doesn’t fart, according to the book (although the case for bat farts is pretty tenuous). Having a belly full of trapped gas is dangerous for a sloth. If things are working normally, the methane produced by their gut bacteria is absorbed into their bloodstream and eventually breathed out.

The woodlouse has an odd way of getting rid of gas, too, though it’s technically not flatulence. Instead of peeing, woodlice excrete ammonia through their exoskeleton, with bursts of these full-body “farts” lasting up to an hour at a time.

The cover of 'Does It Fart?'
Hachette Books

Does It Fart? is available for $15 from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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Can You Really Lose Weight by Pooping? It Depends on What You Eat
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If you’re obsessed with either your scale or your bowel movements, you’ve probably wondered: How much of my weight is just poop? A teenage cousin of mine once spent an entire restaurant dinner arguing that he could lose up to 3 pounds if you just gave him a few minutes to sit on the toilet. As you might imagine, he was wrong. But not by that much, according to Thrillist, a site that’s been truly dominating the poop science beat lately.

You can indeed see the effects of a truly satisfying bowel movement reflected on your bathroom scale. (Wash your hands first, please.) But how much your feces weigh depends heavily on your diet. The more fiber you eat, the heavier your poop. Unfortunately, even the most impressive fecal achievement won't tip the scales much.

In 1992, researchers studying the effect of fiber intake on colon cancer risk wrote that the daily movements of poopers across the world could vary anywhere from 2.5 ounces to 1 pound. In their sample of 220 Brits, the median daily poop weighed around 3.7 ounces. A dietary intake of around 18 grams of dietary fiber a day typically resulted in a 5.3-ounce turd, which the researchers say is enough to lower the risk of bowel cancer.

A Western diet probably isn’t going to help you achieve your poop potential, mass-wise. According to one estimate, industrialized populations only eat about 15 grams of fiber per day thanks to processed foods. (Aside from ruining your bragging rights for biggest poop, this also wreaks havoc on your microbiome.) That's why those British poops observed in the study didn't even come close to 1 pound.

Poop isn’t the only thing passing through your digestive tract that has some volume to it. Surprisingly, your fabulous flatulence can be quantified, too, and it doesn’t even take a crazy-sensitive machine to do so. In a 1991 study, volunteers plied with baked beans were hooked up to plastic fart-capturing bags using rectal catheters. The researchers found that the average person farts around 24 ounces of gas a day. The average fart involved around 3 ounces of gas.

This doesn’t mean that either pooping or farting is a solid weight-loss strategy. If you’re hoping to slim down, losing a pound of poop won’t improve the way your jeans fit. Certainly your 24 ounces of gas won't. But to satisfy pure scientific curiosity, sure, break out that scale before and after you do your business. At least you'll be able to see if your fiber intake is up to snuff.

[h/t Thrillist]

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