Mumbai/Pune, Oct. 6: The killer struck as they slept, smashing their heads with a stone and a wooden rod before slinking away into the night.
This morning, shopkeepers found the five bodies sprawled in the vegetable market outside the railway station in sleepy Lonavala, a popular hill resort 125km from Mumbai.
Police said the five, all middle-aged labourers, were sleeping in their handcarts when the killer struck, barely 200 metres from a local police station.
Four were injured in the attack, two of them critically.
Later in the day, Pune police, who had earlier suspected that a psychopath was on the prowl, arrested a 24-year-old watchman, identified as Manish Pande.
Sources said the man, a resident of Khandala, a hill station next to Lonavala, had confessed to killing the five with a stone and a wooden rod with the intention of robbing them.
The police are looking for Pande’s accomplice, identified as Baban, the sources said.
The attack came as a gruesome reminder of the serial killings in Mumbai, where the police found seven bodies between October 2006 and January 2007.
On January 11, the police arrested a 36-year-old man who confessed to killing 21 street-side sleepers and leaving behind empty Kingfisher beer cans as his signature.
In Lonavala, in Pune district, police sources said two of those killed have been identified as Barkya and Yashwant Shinde.
The four injured were identified as Madhukar Bharle, Dilip Patil and Ashok from Lonavala, and Bakaram Kaikadi from Karnataka.
The police also questioned the injured to get a description of the murderer.
“The killer could be a psychopath. We have got a man whose son told us that an unknown man visited his house at 3am and asked for a change of clothes saying he had murdered many people. We have recovered the blood-soaked clothes of the suspect,” Vishwas Nangre Patil, superintendent, Pune police (rural), had said earlier.
By evening, however, the police had arrested watchman Pande.