Murders most foul

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By In the last three years, at least seven serial killers have been nabbed by the police. Varuna Verma on the growing incidence of psychopathic murderers in India today
  • Published 8.11.09

There was a stunned silence in the courtroom. S. Dore Raju, the state public prosecutor, Karnataka High Court, had asked his ace witness — teenager Suresh Subbaiah — to testify against accused Umesh Reddy. And Suresh recalled — to the horror of the court — how he found his mother with blood all over her.

In February 1998, Suresh, then nine, had returned from a tuition class when he saw Reddy walking out of his house. “Reddy told the boy that an evil spirit had entered his mother. So he had tied her to the window grill and was going to fetch a doctor,” recalls Raju. Suresh entered the house and found his mother — tied up and dead.

When Reddy, a constable with the Bangalore police, was arrested, he confessed to raping, beating and killing 18 women. “Two gunny bags full of women’s undergarments were recovered from his house. He told the cops he liked to wear them at night,” says Raju. The High Court has sentenced the mild-mannered, 36-year-old to death.

Serial killers are no longer confined to pulp fiction and cinema halls. They are everywhere — in villages, towns and cities. They can be a constable, a school teacher or an alumnus of a prestigious college. They are, experts hold, psychotic killers who murder people, often without a qualm.

Two weeks ago, the Mangalore police arrested a man on charges of poisoning 20 women to death. A former government school teacher, Mohan Kumar would pick his victims — all single women — at bus stands, shops or hospitals. According to the police, he would promise them marriage and have sex with them. Then he’d give them a contraceptive pill to pop as a precautionary measure. The pill would be laced with cyanide. In his confession to the police, Kumar said he killed for money and sex. Kumar confessed to killing 20 women across Mangalore district in the last five years.

Alarm Bells

In the last three years, at least seven serial killers have been nabbed by the police. The killers are mostly regular people next door. But their tales can put fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter to shame.

V. Kuppusamy, arrested in July from Tamil Nadu’s Pudukottai district on charges of killing eight women, is now known as “Killer Kuppusamy.”

It took two special police teams to nab the mystery man on a green moped who strangled women and then had sex with the corpse. “It was purely a lust-driven crime,” says Karan Singha, inspector general of police (IGP), Pudukottai.

“Today, serial killers are less motivated by class deprivation. Instead, there is a marked sexual perversion,” stresses G.K. Karanth, professor of sociology, Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. The reason, he says, is a combination of sexual openness and repression in Indian society. In September, a 30-year-old driver, Jayashankar, was arrested from the neighbouring Tirupur district for killing 20 women. “He roamed the highways looking for victims whom he raped and stabbed to death,” says P. Shanthi, SP, Tirupur.

“Serial killers can be mild- mannered people. But such people do not value another person’s rights. They are usually blinded by passion, lust, envy or greed,” says Vasudeo Paralikar, head, psychiatry unit, KEM Hospital, Pune.

One of the most gruesome cases in recent times was that of the Nithari killings. Moninder Singh Pandher, who is now at the Dashna jail in Ghaziabad, Uttar Pradesh, was accused of killing several children and young women along with his domestic help, Surinder Koli, in Nithari, on the outskirts of Delhi. Pandher, who studied in Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, was acquitted in one case by the Allahabad High Court in September, but faces trial in five other murder cases along with Koli.

In many cases, families insist that the accused is innocent. “My father is an inspiration for me. Despite the allegations levelled at him, he continues to be my role model,” says Pandher’s son Karandeep Singh. Though the son believes his father is innocent, Pandher was estranged from his family. “He came across as a disturbed man who had little to do with his family. I would say he was an asocial man,” says a lawyer.

Koli’s lawyers describe him as an introvert. “Though Koli does not come across as a mastermind in any of the killings, his persona was intriguing. There would be days when he seemed perfectly normal and on other days he came across as a clever person,” says Bhagwat Prasad Chandras, a lawyer with Ghaziabad district court who handled Koli’s case initially.

Neighbours of Mahanand Naik also thought he was reserved and courteous. But the unemployed Panjim resident allegedly killed 16 women. “Naik had a soft-spoken, charming personality. He liked to win a woman’s trust,” says C.L. Patil, station house officer, Ponda police station, Panjim, who cracked the case of 16 mysterious murders earlier this year.

Naik went for good-looking, working women. He would propose marriage and then ask them to come to meet his parents. “Naik would take the woman to a lonely spot, have sex, strangle them and walk away with the jewellery, phone and money,” says Patil.

Not all serial killers are young and male. Two years ago, a Bangalore-based social worker Elizabeth Smith ran into a matronly woman called Mallika, who promised to help her sort out her problems with her husband. Mallika asked Smith to come for a séance session in a city lodge. “Smith’s body was recovered a day later when the lodge manager broke open the door. She had died of cyanide poisoning. All valuables were missing,” says Inspector S.K. Umesh, Bangalore police, who arrested 43-year-old Mallika in 2007 on charges of 12 murders.

There’s a method in the madness of serial killers. The first time Kuppusamy tried to molest a woman he was thrashed by villagers when she complained. “That’s when he realised to get away with having sex, he would have to kill his women victims,” says Pudukottai IGP Singha.

In many cases serial killers get away with a series of deaths before they are nabbed because cases dealing with missing people and unidentified bodies are not given priority by the police. After the Nithari murders and Kumar’s killing spree, the police brass now plan to pass fresh orders to treat reports on missing people on a priority basis, adds Rao.

Pune-based psychiatrist Hemant Sangarkar feels mental illnesses in India do not receive the medical attention they need. “People visit doctors to cure a cold. But a psychiatric illness is often brushed away because of a lack of awareness,” he says.

The police say that one way of countering a serial killer is by fighting back. “Kuppusamy was arrested because his last victim, a 35-year-old woman, fought back. Not expecting a counter attack, the killer backed away,” explains Singha. “Also, if some stranger approaches you, don’t turn your back on him. Face him,” he suggests. That could mark the end of a psychopath’s killing spree.

Additional reporting by Smitha Verma