Oct. 19: A hole in the head.
That bullet wound ' not the imperious thicket of a moustache which had lost its sweep and flourish overnight ' was the most striking feature on the face of Kuse Munusamy Veerappan as he lay dead in a decrepit hospital.
Caked in blood, the bullet mark also had the imprint of what many would consider poetic justice, though questions remain on how it was delivered.
Veerappan, who had lured many a policeman to his death, was driven to his in a police decoy ambulance in Tamil Nadu's Dharmapuri. A commando of the special task force set up to hunt him down was at the wheel, in disguise.
At Padi, 8 km from here, a special task force team led by Tamil Nadu chief K. Vijayakumar was lying in wait. Police said Veerappan was asked to surrender and killed after he opened fire. 'It was all over in 20 minutes (10.50 pm to 11.10 pm),' said Vijayakumar.
The 'ambulance' driver was produced at the news conference. 'I would have been very happy to capture him alive. But when he opened fire, we had to retaliate,' Vijayakumar said.
The police, who had failed and lost lives in attempts to get the bandit in the forests that he knew like the back of his palm, this time waited till he was squeezed out of his hunting ground.
However, questions were raised about how Veerappan received surgical bullet wounds ' on his head, chest and hip ' when he was inside the 'ambulance'. But Vijayakumar angrily brushed aside suggestions of a fake encounter. 'I do not want to answer this question,' retorted the additional director general of police, who has been promoted to DGP.
Vijayakumar had been shunted to the STF after falling foul of chief minister Jayalalithaa in a high-profile case when he was commissioner. Part of the first batch of Special Protection Group officers detailed to protect Rajiv Gandhi after Indira Gandhi's assasination, Vijayakumar was handpicked by the then Prime Minister to provide security to his family.
It was 'no flash in the pan operation', Vijayakumar said, describing the 'extraordinary intelligence operation' that trapped the 52-year-old sandalwood and ivory smuggler who had murdered over 100 people and killed 2,000 elephants for their tusks. The operation was codenamed Cocoon.
Four STF men had penetrated the bandit's inner circle last year and come back with a 'wealth of information'. They had also convinced him that the commando who drove the 'ambulance' last night was the man to summon for medical help.
A diabetic, Veerappan had an eye problem and was finding it increasingly difficult to get 'men and material support' from fringe Tamil extremist groups, police said. Vijayakumar felt that Veerappan might have set out last night either to consult a doctor or in search of a new friend who could assist him.
Another version is that he was trying to escape to some other place. This would explain the civilian clothing and the 'trimmed' moustache.
Jayalalithaa announced a reward of Rs 3 lakh, a plot and a promotion to all the 752 special task force personnel. 'My government's resoluteness has paid off,' she said in Chennai, as supporters likened her to Durga slaying Mahishasura, pointing out that the killing coincided with Navratri. Jaya is another name for Durga.
Asked if many 'political secrets might have died' with the bandit, Jayalalithaa said: 'Well, that cannot be helped.'
The bodies of Veerappan and his associates were handed over to their families after post-mortem. Veerappan's wife, Muthulakshmi, was inconsolable as she was led to the mortuary. After identifying her husband, who looked different in plainclothes and with his moustache trimmed, she took the body.
Veerappan's last rites, slated to be held in a village near Mettur, 50 km from Salem, have been put on hold as his lawyer said a close relative of the bandit wanted the body to be buried. Officials are also waiting for the arrival of Veerappan's second daughter Vidyarani. Both Vidyarani and sister Prabha are school students and in their teens.
A forensic scientist said DNA profiling should be done to confirm the bandit's identity. But police said the identity has been established 'by thumb rule'.
Veerappan hunt, See Nation