Art & Culture

Behind the lives of the other Indian serial killers

Puja Changoiwala
Puja ChangoiwalaApr 10, 2017 | 15:45

Behind the lives of the other Indian serial killers

Behind the lives of India's non-aristocratic serial killers

"I like children, they are tasty."

- Albert Fish, American child rapist and cannibal, killed over ten children.

"I just wanted to see how it felt to shoot Grandma."

- Edmund Kemper, American necrophile, cannibal, killed ten.

"I believe the only way to reform people is kill them."

- Charles Panzram, American homosexual rapist, arsonist, killed twenty-two.

"What I did was not for sexual pleasure. Rather it brought me some peace of mind."


- Andrei Chikatilo, Soviet mutilator, necrophile, killed fifty-two to fifty-six.

The Western world has been fraught with such psychopathic serial killers, men and women who killed because they enjoyed killing, mutilating and eviscerating.

There were those who relished the egocentric control over their victims, killed out of hatred for the world at large, for sexual dominance, for spiritual pleasure, and even those who deemed it their "duty" to kill.

Some of our own home-grown serial killers killed for hedonistic comfort. Photo: Silence of the Lambs/YouTube

But when I researched on Indian serial killers, I learnt that closer to home, serial killings have little to do with psychopathology.

India has seen only a handful of mentally unstable serial killers - Auto Shankar who murdered nine teenage girls over six months in Chennai, and blamed it on the "influence of cinema", the Nithari killers in Noida, Haryana, who were accused of paedophilia, rape and cannibalism, Darbara Singh aka the Baby Killer from Punjab, who slit the throats of 17 children and celebrated each of his killings with liquor and good food, and Amardeep Sada, the country's youngest serial killer, who killed three toddlers in Bihar at the age of eight, and only smiled when confronted.

It is not as though India hasn't seen its share of serial killers - we most certainly have. But during my research, I learnt that our killers have largely been non-aristocratic, driven to multiple murders mainly due to poverty.


Their intentions, like Vijay Palande's, have been to rob, and murder, in most cases, has been collateral damage, a seemingly insignificant fall-out of the hunt for material gains.

According to Peter Vronsky, a Canadian journalist and author of Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters, such serial killers are classified as "comfort killers" - those who kill for tangible profit. They are perhaps the oldest recognized and simplest type of serial killers, writes Vronsky, murderers who were highly prevalent in previous centuries of anarchic disorder or in frontier territories where institutions of justice were weak and the value of life was low.

Pirates, bandits, slumlords, landlady killers, medical cadaver harvesters - all these categories dominate the lists of comfort killers from the past. And if you look closely, you'll see that Indian serial killers, who are still the oldest, simplest kind, never evolved. Our monsters, according to my research, don't kill for pleasure or because of a psychopathic disorder; they still kill for money and the lack of it - probably a first in favour of the economic divide and disorder in our country.

The following are some of our own home-grown serial killers who killed for hedonistic comfort:


Assassin thug

Number of victims: 931

Victims' profile: Travellers, businessmen, random

Modus operandi: Strangulation - murder and robbery Years active: 1790 to 1835

Current status: Executed by hanging

Known as one of the "most prolific serial killers in the world", Thug Behram was a leading member of the Thuggee cult, a group of robbers who did not believe in attacking individual men, but aimed for an entire caravan of travellers. They spoke a cryptic language they had invented, and used the most primitive, yet most lethal weapon to strangulate their victims - a handkerchief with a large coin, like a medallion, sewed in it.

The Front Page Murders; Puja Changoiwala; Hachette

With practised skill, Behram, who is said to have had a troop of 200 men, could land the weapon on his victim's throat in a way that the coin pressed against his Adam's apple, choking him further. The gang would then dispose of the bodies. Entire convoys of travellers would disappear, without a trace.

Weary of the growing fatalities, the East India Company formed a special team, but Behram was arrested only four decades after his first murder. There is a manuscript by James Paton, an East India Company officer working for the Thuggee and Dacoity Office in the 1830s, that quotes the serial killer as saying he had "been present" at 931 cases of murder, and "I may have strangled with my own hands about 125 men, and I may have seen strangled 150 more."

Slaughering sisters

Number of victims: five

Victims' profile: Toddlers - one- to three-year-olds kidnapped from beggar women

Modus operandi: Petty thefts, kidnapping, murder Years active: 1990 and 1996

Current status: On death row

If you believe that children, especially toddlers, don't deserve merciless beating, Seema Gavit and her sister Renuka Shinde will not agree with you. The sisters have been found guilty of killing five children, though the police believe they kidnapped 13 and murdered nine.

In one instance, the sisters killed a two-year-old boy and chopped his body into pieces. But that isn't the most terrifying part. After the murder, they packed his remains in a gunny bag, grabbed a snack, and casually watched a movie at a cinema hall with the child's remains placed between their feet.

In another instance, they hung a two-year-old boy upside down, and slammed his head against a wall. Once, they sat munching on vada pav and watched their mother as she beat a toddler on the head with an iron rod. The mother, however, was never officially accused, booked or arrested.

Petty thieves, the women used children as a shield while pick-pocketing at busy temple compounds, railway stations, fairs and bus stations.

If the thieving sister was caught, the other one would fling the child to the floor, distracting attention away from the pickpocket. If the child cried or troubled them too much, he would be killed, casually.

Death devotee

Number of victims: six Victims' profile: Housewives

Modus operandi: Cyanide poisoning - cheating, murder, robbery

Years active: 1999 to 2007

Current status: Serving life sentence

After her chit fund business went downhill and her husband divorced her, KD Kempamma, alias Mallika, decided to turn to murder and robbery to support herself.

She noticed how religious some women were, especially housewives from middle-class families, and decided to target them by exploiting these beliefs.

Mallika would scout for victims outside temples in Bangalore and Mysore, and when she spotted one, she would pose as a pious woman, befriend the target, patiently listen to her woes, and offer to organise a special puja to rid the woman of her problems.

On the day of the puja, she would make her victims drink 'holy water' mixed with cyanide, wait for them to start vomiting and die, and decamp with their jewellery, leaving the body lying in the temple.

After her first murder in 1999, Mallika is said to have killed five women in 48 days in 2007, four of them within eight days of each other. During her court trial, 'She was found begging for the death penalty', a newspaper wrote. Cyanide Mallika was given death, but the sentence was later commuted to life.

Healer killer

Number of victims: 20+ Victims' profile: Taxi drivers

Modus operandi: Assault, disposing bodies in canals, decamping with taxis

Years active: 2002 to 2004

Current status: On death row

Devendra Sharma was a practising doctor who spoke gently, had soft, innocent eyes and a pleasing personality. He was also a serial killer. Sharma, an Ayurveda doctor, murdered over twenty taxi drivers in one-and-a-half years across the states of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and the National Capital Region before his arrest in 2005.

Posing as a tourist, he would hail a cab for a long-distance trip, have his accomplices join him on the route, and take the taxi to a secluded spot. The gang would then beat its driver to death. "I wouldn't even spare a boy or a woman if I found them driving a taxi," the doctor would apparently tell his victims.

After dumping the bodies in the canals, the gang would flee with the vehicle, sell it on the grey market, and divide the money. His over twenty killings are said to have made Sharma richer by Rs 15 lakh. Other than the money, the cops could never ascertain what drove the medical practitioner to crime, except that the doctor "enjoyed the bloodshed".

Indian ripper

Number of victims: Seven Victims' profile: Mostly women

Modus operandi: Bludgeoning to death - burglary, murder and robbery

Years active: 2003 to 2006

Current status: On death row

KP Jayanandan is known as "Ripper Jayanandan" because of the sheer brutality in his murders. Once, he cut off the hands of a woman to rob her of her jewellery, and would use iron rods and crowbars to attack his victims. He is also said to have poured kerosene on one of the women and left the cooking gas on, before fleeing with her valuables.

Originally a burglar, Jayanandan took to serial killing along with his robberies. He bludgeoned seven people to death over three years during 35 robberies, most of them women attacked inside their homes. All murders involved the theft of gold ornaments, cash and other valuables like video cassette players.

After he was arrested, he was sentenced to death; however, he managed to escape from a maximum security prison in Kerala. He used a long rope made of prisoners' clothes to scale the 25-feet-high prison wall. Amidst major media and public outcry, he was rearrested three months later, and is currently awaiting execution.

Cyanide lover

Number of victims: 20

Victims' profile: Young, unmarried women

Modus operandi: Cyanide poisoning - murder and robbery Years active: 2005 to 2009

Status: On death row

Mohan Kumar aka Cyanide Mohan was a physical education teacher at a primary school in Karnataka. He had two wives, and another that he had divorced, and four children. He looked ordinary, definitely not somebody who could go on a murderous rampage, and it was this banality that he exploited to prey on 20 unsuspecting women.

Mohan's modus operandi was simple - find an 'impressionable-looking' woman, befriend her, propose marriage to her, convince her to elope with him, take her to a lodge, have sex with her, and then get her to swallow cyanide-laced pills before fleeing with her jewellery. He would tell his victims that the pills were contraceptives that should be consumed as they'd had unprotected sex, and the women would fall for it. 20 of them did.

Mohan is said to have approached his targets with perhaps the oldest, simplest of pickup lines - "Do I know you? I've seen you somewhere." He was 45 years old when he was arrested, and now, while awaiting execution, he forbids his women to visit him in jail.

His concern, ironically, is, that "other men are eyeing my wives".

(Excerpted with permission from Hachette India.)

Last updated: April 10, 2017 | 15:58
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