A town in Siberia is stumped by the discovery of 248 mummified dead fetuses as old as 26 weeks, crammed into industrial barrels. The gruesome discovery was made by a hapless local fisherman.

The New York Times was the first to report on the mystery of the 248 dead fetuses but this is not the first horror to plague the town. The impoverished village, Lyovikha, was the site of another gruesome discovery in 2007, when the bodies of 15 women and girls were found. The bodies belonged to girls and women in an area prostitution ring; some of the girls were as young as 13.

The speculation runs rampant to explain the fetuses’ corpses. One prominent theory is that the fetuses were used to obtain stem cells for cosmetic or medicinal purposes. While that theory has not been verified, it would not be the first time that someone had capitalized on the idea of stem cell research for a profit – or for nefarious purposes.

Stem cell research has been clung onto for hope for sufferers of a variety of illnesses, from multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s disease. While science does look promising, stem cell research is still in its infancy, and has yet to cure anyone of anything.

But that has not stopped “clinics” and “doctors” from trying to capitalize on what the public believes. In China and Ukraine, clinics claim to have cured people of everything from autism to allergies. Their websites emphasize the benefits, and not the possible drawbacks to their procedures – and certainly not the cost, which can run upwards of $21,000.

In the United States, too, people have preyed on people desperate for solace for their ails. A “60 Minutes” exposé depicted a man in Florida who claimed to be curing Parkinson’s disease in people using stem cells.

While the mystery of the fetus remains, they were likely not used for any legitimate stem cell research. In the United States, for one, any stem cell research needs to be approved by the FDA and has to go through a variety of legal channels. Similar systems have been put in place by other countries.

Regardless, many illegitimate operations thrive by these means. Some operations make claims about fetal cells eliminating wrinkles and disease.

Unfortunately, with no explanations, it is easy to fill in the gaps with our worst fears.