How Long Do Mafia Victims Take to Dissolve In Acid?

The Sicilian Mafia is known for its "lupara bianca," or "white shotgun," murders, whereby victims mysteriously vanish without a trace. According to informants, a common method of disposal is to dissolve the bodies of victims in vats of sulfuric acid. Not only does this satisfy any Mafioso's sadistic side , it also destroys the evidencei.e. the corpsewithin minutes. Or so it is said.

"We put the people in acid. In 15, 20 minutes they were no more they became a liquid," said one talker. [10 Weird Things People Do Every Day (and Why )]

Recently, a group of forensic scientists decided to engage in a gruesome act of myth-busting, and tested whether or not flesh really does disintegrate within minutes when dunked in acid. Massimo Grillo of the University of Palermo in Italy and his colleagues presented their results at a Feb. 23 meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

When the researchers placed pieces of pig carcasses in sulfuric acid, the flesh took several days to dissolve. When they added water into the mix, they were able to reduce the dissolving time to 12 hours for muscle and cartilage, and two days for bones.

"But it is impossible that they completely destroyed a corpse with acid," Grillo told Science News.

Perhaps there are worse acts than a bit of exaggeration.

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Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.