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6 More Cannibal Killers

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In comparison to the worldwide murder rate, cases of cannibalism are rare, but they stand out because of the horror they instill in the rest of us. In addition to the six cases featured in the post 6 Horrifying Modern Cannibals, I found these six cannibal stories from all over the world.

1. Nikolai Dzhurmongaliev

Nikolai Dzhurmongaliev eventually became known as "the Metal Fang". He worked as a laborer in Alma-Alta in Kazakhstan, which was part of the Soviet Union in 1980, the year a rash of disappearances gripped the town. Dzhurmongaliev was constantly trying to pick up women, many who were never seen again. He threw parties for his friends in which he served generous dishes of meat. Two men who were invited to his home found body parts and alerted authorities. After his arrest, he claimed he had killed many prostitutes, ate their flesh, and also served them cooked to his friends. Authorities linked 47 disappearances to the Metal Fang, and committed him to a mental institution. He escaped during transport in 1989 and was recaptured in 1991. Soviet authorities kept Dzhurmongaliev's two-year adventure a secret to avoid panic.

2. Surender Kohli

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The village of Nithari, Uttar Pradesh, India experienced a rash of disappearing children between 2004 and 2006, with a total of 38 missing. Prominent businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his house servant Surender Kohli were arrested when the skeletal remains of 17 children were found in a large culvert behind Pandher's home. Local residents found the first evidence and contacted the local welfare agency to investigate because they suspected a police cover up. The servant Kohli confessed to murdering six children and one adult after sexually assaulting them, then eating some victim's livers and other body parts. Village residents protested as police took credit for the investigation, claiming their complaints had been ignored until the bodies were found. Under pressure, two police supervisors were suspended and six officers were fired. Both Pandher and Kohli were convicted of one murder and given death sentences in early 2009. In September, Pandher was acquitted by an appeals court, but may still face charges for other victims. Kohli's conviction was upheld.

3. Alferd Packer

211AlferPackerThe curious case of Alferd Packer is debated to this day. Packer answered the call of the Colorado gold rush in 1873 and set out from Utah with a group of men bound for the Los Pinos Indian Agency in Colorado. A blizzard trapped Packer and five companions and they ran out of supplies. In April of 1874, Packer met up with other travelers that had split from the group before the blizzard. His story changed several times. Packer claimed that his companions were forced by hunger to eat those who had died of exposure, and he was the last survivor. However, Packer had possessions of the deceased men, and when the bodies were found they showed signs of a struggle. Packer then claimed self-defense and later confessed to murder, but escaped before his trial. Captured nine years later, he again confessed and was found guilty of the murder of one man. His death sentence was vacated on a technicality. Packer was tried again in 1886 for the murder of the four others and sentenced to forty years. He was paroled by the governor of Colorado in 1907 and died a free man a few years later.

4. Sergey Gavrilov

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27-year-old Sergey Gavrilov of Samara, Russia murdered his mother because she refused to give him money, assuming he would spent it on vodka and gambling. He then took the money and spent it as she thought he would. On returning to his mother's apartment two days later, he was again out of money and soon ran out of food. The body of 55-year-old Lyubov was out on the balcony, frozen, so Gavrilov removed her legs and cooked them to eat over a month's time. Gavrilov was arrested after the body was found (minus the legs) and convicted in 2009. Gavrilov was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but the judge reduced the sentence by nine months because the convict was starving at the time he decided to eat his mother.

5. Tsutomu Miyazaki

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Tsutomu Miyazaki killed four little girls in Saitama Prefecture, Japan in 1988 and 1989. He also sexually molested their corpses and in at least one case drank blood and ate the hands. The victims were between four and seven years old. Miyazaki also sent taunting letters to the families, going so far as to send ashes and teeth to one victim's parents. He was caught molesting another girl in July of 1989 and arrested. Police found pictures of the victims and body parts in Miyazaki's home. His trial began in 1990, but psychiatric evaluations delayed his sentencing until 1997. Miyazaki's death sentence was appealed until 2006, and he was hanged for his crimes in 2008.

6. Albert Fish

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Albert Fish was a house painter with strange sexual appetites in New York City. In 1928, he answered a classified ad placed by the family of 18-year-old Edward Budd, who was looking for a job. Fish was attracted to Edward, but decided his 10-year-old sister Grace would be an easier victim. Fish, who went under the name Frank Howard at the time, offered to take Grace to a birthday party, from which she never returned. Six years later, Fish sent a horrifying letter to the Budd family explaining that he kidnapped the little girl in order to eat her flesh, which he did over a period of nine days. Police traced the stationery used in the letter to the boarding house Fish had recently left, and arrested him when he returned for his mail. Fish confessed to the murder of Grace Budd and also that of 4-year-old Billy Gaffney in 1927. Fish pleaded insanity and relied on his cannibalism and sexual perversions to prove his instability, but a jury found him guilty in 1935. He later confessed to murdering 8-year-old Francis McDonnell in 1924. Fish is also suspected in several other missing child cases. Hamilton Albert Fish was executed by electric chair on January 16, 1936.

See also: 6 Horrifying Modern Cannibals.

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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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Stephen Missal
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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