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6 Horrifying Modern Cannibals

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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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London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
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UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

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Thinking of Disinfecting Your Sponge? It’ll Do More Harm Than Good
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Common house-cleaning wisdom advises you to clean your sponges periodically. Some experts advise running them through the dishwasher, while others suggest microwaving a wet sponge. But a new study says that both of those techniques will do more harm than good, as The New York Times reports.

A trio of microbiologists came to this conclusion after collecting used sponges from households in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany, a city near Zurich. As the researchers write in Nature Scientific Reports, they asked the 14 houses that gave them sponges to describe how they were used—how many people in the house handled them, how often they used them, how often they replaced them, and if they ever tried to clean them.

Analyzing DNA and RNA found on those sponges, they found a total of 362 different bacterial species living on them. The sheer number of the bacterial colonies was staggering—some 82 billion total bacteria were living in a cubic inch of sponge. (As co-author Markus Egert told the Times, that’s similar to what you’d find in your poop.)

As the researchers discovered by analyzing the bacteria found on sponges whose users said they regularly cleaned them, disinfecting a sponge using a microwave, vinegar, or a dishwasher is worse than useless. It seems that when you attempt to clean a sponge, you kill off some bacteria, but in doing so, you provide an environment for the worst species of bacteria to thrive. Sponges that were regularly cleaned had higher concentrations of bacteria like Moraxella osloensis, which can cause infections in humans. (Though it’s unclear how likely you are to get infected by your sponge.) It’s also the reason dirty laundry smells. By microwaving your sponge, you’re probably just making it smellier.

Sadly, there’s not much you can do about your dirty sponge except throw it away. You can recycle it to use as part of your cleaning routine in the bathroom or somewhere else where it’s far away from your food, but the best way to get a clean sponge, it seems, is to just buy a new one. May we suggest the Scrub Daddy?

[h/t The New York Times]

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