No idea where I read this short story, but probably 1975-85 and in an anthology.

There has been a murder in a cult community. The unique thing about this cult is that they don't believe in uniqueness.

To join them each applicant has to undergo extensive plastic surgery, and even bone shortening, to conform to a very strict set of vital statistics. Cult members are all of identical height, weight, apparent gender, hair and facial features.

I think they were referred to as "Barbies", after the doll, or something similar.

Since it's impossible to identify one member from another it appears to have been a perfect crime.

The protagonist is a female detective (private?) who despite being very attractive agrees to undergo the surgery so she can infiltrate the cult undetected.

Inside the community, she is able to solve the murder when she realises cult members can actually recognise individuals by something unique...

...their irises.

Afterwards she has surgery to restore her body.

  • 3
    fyi: Even after 100 surgeries your DNA doesn't change. So you could still find criminal via DNA.
    – cybernard
    May 10, 2022 at 18:47
  • 2
    @cybernard: The book cited below appears to have been published before DNA profiling was developed. Nevertheless, wouldn't they have fingerprints?
    – Kevin
    May 10, 2022 at 23:26
  • @Kevin They would have fingerprints also. I suppose they could cut a few layers of skin off, but when it grew back I assume the fingerprints would return.
    – cybernard
    May 11, 2022 at 0:33
  • @Kevin, sufficiently deep damage to the skin of the fingertips will permanently remove the fingerprints.
    – Mark
    May 11, 2022 at 1:28
  • The problem wasn't just how to identify the murderer. The problem was figuring out how the murderer was identifying the victims, and why they were selected. There was a subgroup of "perverted" Barbies who were turned on by looking and acting like non-Barbies - non-conforming clothes, pubic wigs, regular wigs, etc. The murders were confined to that group. Now you've got two mysteries - how did the murderer recongize the victims outside the pervo meetings, and how did the perverts recognize each other at their gatherings.
    – JRE
    May 11, 2022 at 14:49

1 Answer 1


Pretty sure this is "The Barbie Murders" by John Varley.

  • 2
    Yes, sorry. I just remembered the Barbie bit as I typed it in. When I googled it there it was. Oops. But you were super fast. ;) May 10, 2022 at 0:25
  • 1
    Sometimes you get lucky with timing :) Anyway, no apology is necessary - I got reputation points!
    – user888379
    May 10, 2022 at 1:43

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