In the last six years there have been three cases of serial killing in Mumbai—at least 13 known victims—and the police are yet to nab the killers. The investigation has been slipshod with numerous arrests of people who have been acquitted by the courts.
TEXT AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY GAJANAN KHERGAMKER
On a cold October morning in 2006, a taxi driver was found dead on a foot overbridge near Mumbai’s Marine Lines railway station. Vijay Gaud had been beaten to death. The incident was quickly forgotten in a city where more than 3,000 people die every year just by travelling in its overcrowded trains.
Two months later, on December 14, a homeless drifter’s body was found near South Mumbai’s Churchgate station. The man was beaten to death, like Gaud before him. An empty Kingfisher beer can was found next to him. The following weeks saw more killings; till mid-January 2007 seven bodies had been recovered between the Marine Lines and Churchgate stations. The victims had been clubbed or stabbed to death, and were naked below the waist suggesting a sexual assault. While the killer left beer cans next to only two of his seven victims, the case came to be known as the “Beer Man” murders.
The Beer Man murders were the start of something sinister in Mumbai. In the past six years, there’ve been three different cases of serial murders registered in separate police zones of the city—murders which have left at least 13 dead.
Arrests were made in every case, and save one accused everyone arrested was acquitted by the courts. The killers remain at large.
Serial murder is among the hardest crimes to solve and police investigations into the Beer Man murders didn’t seem to be going anywhere till a sniffer dog got scent of something. In a public toilet, near the Marine Lines railway station where the last victim was found, the dog retrieved an ironed grey shirt.
When asked by the police, pavement dwellers said it belonged to one Ravindra Kantrolu, 36, a member of the Dashrath Rane gang.
He had been arrested thrice, but said he had “given up crime” two years earlier when he converted to Islam. He had long ago married a commercial sex worker and lived with their 14-year-old daughter at a roadside shanty in Marine Lines.
Police told Kantrolu to write the expression by which Christians were colloquially known. He wrote “Maka Pav”. Police said they had compared it with handwriting on a slip of paper found near the last victim’s body and it was a match. They also recovered a chopper from Kantrolu.
The chopper wasn’t of much help to the police. Of the seven known Beer Man killings, only stones were used in two cases, and a chopper was not employed by the killer in any of the murders.
On January 22, 2007, police nabbed Abdul Rahim, the name Kantrolu adopted after conversion to Islam. However, to the public and the police he became notorious as the “Beer Man”.
After the arrest, the rumour mill began churning out chilling “facts”. That he had as many as 45 victims. That he had flung most of the bodies into the sea because he hated homosexuals and had decided to eliminate them from the face of the earth. That he killed them to take blood to a tantric at a nearby cemetery to practise black magic.
In January 2007, a Sessions Court found Kantrolu guilty of murder on one count and sentenced him to life. The public heaved a high of relief as the bearded “Beer Man” was led away.
Two years later, in September 2009, the High Court overruled the Sessions Court, acquitting the “Beer Man” of all charges. The chilling “facts” were not facts that could be proved or verified. By then, people had almost forgotten about the murders. Kantrolu walked free but according to him “condemned for life” owing to the Mumbai police and the media’s crusade. Meanwhile, the murderer remains free.
Police investigation in the other two cases of multiple murder—the victims were minor grils—has been equally shoddy and leaned heavily on DNA profiling in huge numbers rather than on-the-ground investigations.
“There are real issues that plague investigations,” says a source in the police force. “For one, Mumbai’s Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) is struggling with an acute manpower crunch and has approximately 30,000 investigations pending. Of these, more than 6,000 are examinations of viscera samples and 1,000 DNA tests. Mind you, these are only Mumbai figures.”
“It gets worse when you look at statewide figures,” he adds. “The number of pending viscera tests has crossed 11,000 and DNA investigations 2,100. Adding to the mess are umpteen samples of alcohol wash and narcotics and cases involving ballistics and fingerprinting. Then, there are cases of cyber-crime and voice analysis with pendency rates as high as a minimum of a couple of years.
“Often we wait forever for forensic reports to make our cases watertight. Without it we risk weakening our probe,” says another police officer. “Manpower shortage is the culprit. All the state’s six forensic labs are running with about 60 per cent of the staff needed. The Mumbai laboratory, with the heaviest burden, has 89 vacancies,” he says.
The absence of permanent experts makes it worse. “Most experts leave as soon as their contracts expire. Cyber-crime experts, for instance, need patience as solving a case can take months on end. Cases remain unsolved as the expert’s contract expires mid-way.”
Kalina Forensic Science Laboratory director M K Malvehas reportedly sent a proposal asking for permission to outsource some tests to private labs which could fill up the 190 positions in the lab within a month’s time. In other countries, a DNA sample examination doesn’t take more than two weeks, but in India police have to wait one to four months for a report.
It’s only in cases of high priority that a report arrives within a month. It’s worth noting that in the West there are parallel certified private labs that take much of the burden off state-owned labs.
In India, however, issues of accreditation and standardisation need to be tackled before examinations are privatised.
Until then, investigations, especially into serial crime, will continue to be slow even though these are
the cases that need maximum forensic assistance.
NITHARI AND THE
RAMAN RAGHAV CASES
In recent times, Nithari in Noida was the scene of the killings that had the public cringing in fear and disgust. On December 29, 2006, businessman Moninder Singh Pandher and his domestic help Surendra Koli were arrested after police found 15 skulls outside Pandher’s bungalow. The remains of four women and 15 young girls—who had been raped, killed and mutilated—were unearthed during investigations. It was a case that was alien to police and legal machinery alike. They had never come across anything like it. Koli, one of the accused, allegedly was a necrophiliac—he had an urge for sex with a corpse—and necrophagic—an urge to eat human flesh.
A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in early February 2007 convicted the master and his servant for raping and killing 14-year-old Rimpa Haldar, allegedly strangled and then cut to pieces by Koli with two kitchen knives and an axe. On February 13, Koli and Pandher got the death sentence for the “rarest of rare cases”. On September 10, 2009, the Allahabad High Court acquitted Pandher but upheld the sentence for Surendra Koli. It was the worst case of serial murder in India in 40 years.
No mention of serial killings is complete without the events that occurred on the outskirts of Mumbai in the 1960s. In 1965-66, a series of murders that looked like the work of one person occurred in the city’s eastern suburbs. As many as 19 people had been attacked. All the murders took place at night and a hard, blunt object was used.
The murders had triggered great anxiety among people, bordering on panic. Slum-dwellers and those living on the streets were petrified to sleep in the open. “What if the killer silently came up to them and smashed a roadside rock on their heads?” recalls septuagenarian hotelier Shrikant Shetty. Raman Raghav was known under aliases such as “Sindhi Dalwai”, “Anna” and “Thambi”.
When the killings resumed in 1968, the police team headed by Ramakant Kulkarni, then Deputy Commissioner CID (Crime) began a massive operation in the city. This time the police were successful. In August of that year, they picked up a homeless man, Raman Raghav, who had already found mention in police files. He had spent five years in prison for robbery. He also allegedly raped his sister before stabbing her to death. But since not a single person testified, they let him go.At first he refused to answer questions in the court of the Additional Chief Presidency Magistrate. But he began to talk after his request for a dish of chicken had been met. Raghav provided detailed testimony, describing his weapon and the entire process of murder. He confessed to killing 23 people in 1966 and almost a dozen in 1968.
His counsel pleaded that Raghav was incapable of knowing the nature of his acts or that they were contrary to the law. Evidence provided by a Nair Hospital psychiatrist said that he suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia and was hence unable to understand his actions were contrary to law.Members of the Special Medical Board interviewed him on five different occasions for about two hours each, during which he displayed systematised delusions of persecution and grandeur. Raghav believed he was a power unto himself and a representative of “kanoon”; others were trying to put homosexual temptations in his way so that he may succumb and get converted to a woman; and that he was “101 per cent man”.
Raman Raghav’s sentence was finally reduced to life because he was found to be incurably mentally ill and lodged at the Yeravada Central Jail. He died at Sassoon Hospital of kidney trouble in 1995.
On February 6, 2010, six-year-old Sania Siddique stepped out to play with her friends at Vatsalatai Nagar in Mumbai’s Kurla East. She never returned home. The next day, her body was found in a sack on the steps of a nearby building. She had been raped and murdered.
Twenty-nine-year-old rickshaw driver Mohammad Ajmeri was arrested soon after the body of the first victim was found.
The Nehru Nagar police, however, did a swift turnabout and claimed that they had no evidence against the man they had arrested.
What was unsaid was that public pressure had forced them to arrest Ajmeri a petty thief and a drug addict.
Medical tests and subsequent investigation proved he was not involved.
“Initially, the circumstances and the description of the accused matched with Ajmeri and so, we arrested him,” said an officer. Apparently, he had fresh injury marks—resembling scratches—on his body and he failed to explain them. Police also recovered a wristwatch they claimed would be “worn by children”.
Ajmeri’s arrest did shake things up: Prakash Kale, senior inspector of Nehru Nagar police station was transferred to the Local Arms Unit allegedly for framing Ajmeri. B. R. Kadam, then with the Worli Traffic Division, was appointed as his replacement.
In the next four months, there were two more murders. Nine-year-old Anjali Jaiswal was discovered dead on March 6 on the terrace of the police quarters and, on July 19, nine-year-old Nushrat Shaikh’s body discovered on the roof of a house in Vatsalatai Nagar.
Some 27 teams comprising local police officers from neighbouring zones and crime branch personnel were deputed in and around Kurla to track the psychopath. A reward of `2.5 lakh was announced for information connected with the case. Police questioned about 2,000 people, and took a large number of DNA samples.
Sources in the crime branch said that they had sent the Kalina-based forensic lab 750 DNA samples, of which 700 were tested. Out of this, 654 DNA samples were sent by by the Nehru Nagar police and the lab had tested only 435 of them, the source said, adding that this was why the murders of Siddique and Jaiswal remained unsolved.
The probe was handed over to the state CID on March 5, 2011.
It was an eight-year-old girl—the only child to escape unhurt despite being lured by the suspect—who helped nab the prime accused. The crime branch prepared two sketches of the person. Police arrested Javed Rehman Shaikh on suspicion of the rape and murder of Nushrat, whose body was found near Balwadi in Vatsalatai Nagar. Police said that his DNA was found on the victim’s body as well as crime scene samples. He was later held guilty for the rape and murder of Nushrat.
Two years on, two of the Kurla rape-murders are still unsolved.
Abdul Rahim (a.k.a Ravindra Kantrolu) has seen much in his life. A student of Our Lady of Dolours School at Marine Lines, he comes from a family of dhobis. Born in Cama and Albless Hospital, Kantrolu lived in a tenement in Dhobi Talao.
He left school in the fifth standard owing to family issues and first visited a police chowkey when he was 16. He had been called to Azad Maidan Police Station to bail out his father, charged with having stolen gold ornaments from the statue of Our Lady in the Church.
“Someone else stole them, but my father was blamed,” he says.
Kantrolu had started extorting money from hawkers and illegal country liquor outlets in his teens. He also worked as a police informer for years before being charged with the serial murders. His early tryst with crime brought him into contact with a number of gangsters.
When he was imprisoned in Arthur Road Jail his life changed dramatically. He learnt about Islam from a fellow prisoner and decided to convert. After his release, he went to the Garib Nawaz Dargah in Ajmer and became Abdul Rahim but is still better known as Kantrolu.
“Mujhe hamesha meri daadhi, baal aur mazhab ke vajah pakda gaya hai (I have always been targeted for my long hair, beard and religion),” says Kantrolu. “Sab chod badal ne ki koshish karoon toh bhi mujhe nahin chodte hain (Even if I try to leave it all and mend my ways, they don’t let me),” he adds.
Despite helping nab killers, diamond and gold robbers, solve cases of kidnapping and counterfeit currency rackets as an informer, he claims that he hasn’t been rewarded adequately. “The police took away my reward money,” he says.
“Ek aadmi ko jail mein daal do toh who sab kuch seekh jaata hai. (You put a man in prison and he’ll learn every crime possible),” says Kantrolu. In Arthur Road Jail he met a Dharavi-based inspector held for the murder of his wife as well as the Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar terror blasts accused.
City police even initiated externment proceedings against him in 2009, which he managed to get quashed.
On the talk about collusion with a tantric, he says it was an informer who set up the whole thing to ensure he got booked for the serial killings.
Today, Kantrolu, whose wife and daughter live in Madhya Pradesh, is doing “research in herbs”. He also works for an NGO in the area of human rights. Kantrolu is backed by his lawyer Sushan Kunjuraman who has even scripted the Beer Man’s story and wants to play himself in the movie.
The “Beer Man” tag has been nothing but trouble. In public places, Kantrolu often finds himself in the midst of hushed whispers. So he trimmed his hair and shaved off his beard. “Now few people recognise me,” he says.
Kantrolu can’t disguise his disgust of the Mumbai police who, he insists, keep trying to frame him in some crime or the other. If they pay what is legally due to him through the “rewards” he earned from the raids and tip-offs, he claims he “wouldn’t have to work ever again”.
Each time a new deputy commissioner of police takes charge in his zone he is summoned and introduced to the officer. When he’s told to extend his help by way of tips and information he accumulates through his network of friends on the streets, he agrees but isn’t exactly inclined to help.
On being charged with the serial murders, he says, “If I had to murder someone, why would I kill some homeless fellows? Why wouldn’t I kill a gangster in jail and come out as a Don instead?”
“Abhi mere pe ilzaam nahin laga sake to ek anadi ko pakda hai… uska toh nikal ne ka chance hi nahin hai,” (Now, when they could not prove the charges on me, they’ve caught a naïve fellow. He doesn’t stand a chance to get out easily either).
So, although Kantrolu claims that he wants to lead a clean life away from crime, the police and media refuse to let him to do so. For one, despite his non-involvement with any crime, the police tried to pin another serial murder on him. The media publicised his “involvement” in it without obtaining his version.
Police in fact made him undergo a DNA test following the Cuffe Parade murders of last year and early this year, the third case of apparent serial crime, still unsolved.
“Mujhe kaha ki adalat ne tujhe bari kar diya… hamaari nazar mein toh tu hi gunehgar hai,” (In the eyes of the court you’re innocent, but in our eyes you’re still guilty),” he says. “Now, isn’t that outright contempt of court,” he questions making a legally valid point.
On grounds of suspicion, the police may arrest a person and then, with permission from a magistrate, get him to take a blood test to investigate his complicity in a crime but in this case, the police have picked him up on “suspicion” and made him undergo a DNA test after getting him to “sign my consent” he wasn’t even aware of doing.
That the test was negative didn’t help much. Every newspaper said the “Beer Man was subjected to a DNA test for the Cuffe Parade rape-murders” suggesting his complicity in the crime.
“Simply picking him up and forcing him to take a DNA test was excessive,” says Sushan Kunjuraman, his lawyer. “It is a human rights violation that warrants a judicial rap from the court.”
The Cuffe Parade murders have exposed the city police. After the first body of a child, Jagruti Patel, was discovered in an empty patch of land on November 22, 2011, and a “crack team of specialists” began investigation, the second body was found, a child raped and mutilated, at the same spot, less than two months later.
During a routine inquiry in January this year, the Cuffe Parade police arrested 32-year-old taxi driver Yusuf M Shaikh because “he was driving his taxi at a place which didn’t match with his mobile call report”.
Oblivious of the peculiar reasons for the arrest, nearly everyone in the Cuffe Parade locality was relieved at the report. But then Jagruti’s father Ramesh himself went to support Yusuf’s claims of innocence, followed by supportive evidence before the court. Yusuf was released and exonerated of all charges.
Police resumed investigation. A few days later, on January 18, Karishma Chavan’s body was found at the same spot.
On March 15, 32-year-old Mohan Yadav was arrested by Cuffe Parade police after residents of the Shiv Shakti Chawl in Cuffe Parade nabbed him when he was “playing with a toddler”.
The locals roughed up Yadav who they thought was the killer and handed him over to the police who proclaimed they had got the killer.
Police recovered a packet of condoms from Yadav. Shekhar Kamble, the toddler’s uncle had said, “I saw my niece walking with a drunk stranger and pulled her away. Soon, passers-by joined me in bashing him.”
Yadav’s involvement was disproved when tests showed the DNA found on the victims didn’t match his. The police couldn’t be unaware that merely being drunk or carrying a packet of condoms didn’t warrant charges of kidnapping.
In April, police arrested a youth after locals caught him trying to “run away” with a five-year-old girl playing outside her chawl. Krishna Pawar had tried to lure her with a chocolate to whisk her away, it was said. An eight-year-old sister alerted their father Maula Chand Shaikh who raised an alarm and rescued the child.
Then, on April 19, the body of Angel Fernandes was discovered. She had been kidnapped from her great grandmother’s place at night, and was raped and murdered. Her body had been thrown into the sea off Cuffe Parade.
Once again, the police had been proven wrong. Pawar wasn’t the culprit, and they were back to searching for the killer. This time, they went a step further. They learned that Angel’s parents had separated due to domestic strife, and the mother, owing to an old grudge, had had a fight with the biological father over Angel’s maintenance.
They did not just place the onus of rape and murder on the father, Rajeev Sharma, separated from the mother, Suzan. In violation of all legal, moral and human rights norms they went ahead and informed the media that Sharma had raped and murdered his three-year-old child.
The theory they advanced was that Angel’s mother had remarried and her quarrel with her ex-husband had pushed him into committing the crime. In fact, the police spoke of an “absconding” father who had fled to Uttar Pradesh. Sharma, who was travelling to his hometown in UP, returned the next day, and was given a clean chit by police.
They then detained Angel’s grandfather James Fernandes, and questioned him for a crime he had himself reported to the police. “Koi nahin milta toh mere ko pakad ke leke jaate hain (They couldn’t get anyone, so they got me),” says James Fernandes. “Abhi bolte hain ki apni biwi ko Sion se leke aao aur mil ke jao. (Now they ask to come with my wife from Sion and meet them),” says James.
The grandfather alleged he was “tortured by police,” and “delivered electric shocks” to confess to the rape and murder of his own granddaughter. In the days to follow, James spoke at length of his torture to sections of the media. Police, incensed by his revelations, harassed him even further by calling him over and over for “questioning”.
Towards the end of April, the police chanced upon 26-year-old Promod Kumar Mahanto. He was an accused in a minor’s kidnapping back in 2005. Mahanto had called an electrician to tackle a power outage in Ambedkar Nagar colony where Angel lived. Her body was found dumped in the sea behind Maker Towers at Nariman Point a day after she went missing.
IN THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER
Serial killers may have been the true origin of werewolf stories, as the innocents who stumbled upon ravaged human remains could well believe that a man–turned-wolf had committed the act. Dr Richard von Krafft-Ebbing, a contemporary of Sigmund Freud and a pioneer psychologist, author of the 1886 textbook Psychopathia Sexualis, “conducted some of the first documented research on violent, sexual offenders and the crimes they committed”. Among them was Jack the Ripper—the most notorious Victorian-era serial killer.
There are a string of myths attached to serial killers that tend to interfere with investigations all over the world. In the US, it was first believed that “serial killers are mostly white males”, but that view was modified after other evidence came to light. There have been Asian, black, and Hispanic serial
killers—Charles Sobhraj for one. Another is Charles Chi-tat Ng, who with Leonard Lake was responsible for a total of 12 known murders. There have been female serial killers, too, notably Aileen Wuornos, who killed seven men between 1989 and 1990.
A recent study has noted that Nashville, Tennessee, killer Paul Reid was an example that belied another popular myth that “serial killers are only motivated by sex”. Reid would kill to eliminate witnesses during fast food robberies.
Also, another one that “serial murderers travel and operate interstate,” is a misconception. Like other criminals, serial killers too stay in an area where they feel safe, such as the Green River Killer, who stayed in the same place for all his life and committed his crimes (48 known murders) in the same stretch of highway over a period of three or four years. It was only when Ted Bundy, killer of over 35 women, was forced to flee from the law that he travelled across the country.
The myth that “most serial killers can’t stop killing,” popularised by Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling, summarising her first profile, “He’ll never, never stop” in the Silence of the Lambs isn’t true. BTK (“Bind, torture, kill”) strangler Dennis Rader committed 10 murders from 1974 to 1991, but then stopped. He was caught in 2005.
“Contrary to all the colourful celluloid stories, serial killers aren’t ‘evil geniuses,’ ‘loners’ or ‘dysfunctional losers’, ” maintains a senior police inspector investigating a series of murders in South Mumbai. “One of the things one probably finds out after encountering a serial killer is, ‘He looks so normal’!
“And, that is, strategically, his most potent weapon, making the task of investigating and nabbing him, all the more tough,” he says.
“There isn’t a single identifiable cause or factor that leads to the development of a serial killer… there are a multitude of contributory factors,” feels clinical psychologist Parul Kothari. “It could be just about anyone you know. The issues that trigger such behaviour are deep-rooted and refuse to surface in day-to-day communication. More often than not, killers pass off as normal for years before they are apprehended,” she adds. That was true of BTK who was caught by police smore than a decade after he stopped killing. He turned out to be a church deacon, among other things.
Promod told police he was an absconder in the kidnapping case of a 15-year-old girl in 2005. Like the previous arrests, he too, was found innocent of the serial rapes and murders.
The Cuffe Parade rape-murders led to DNA tests on 1,014 subjects on the basis of “pure personal will”, as the police claim. Police also recorded statements from more than 2,500 persons.
Now, they have been asked to “keep recorded entries aside” and “probe the cases all over again,” according to Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 1) Ravindra Shisve.
The area where the three victims were found has been converted into a virtual police zone with every second person either being taken for DNA testing or being questioned.
So far they have charged seven people at different times for the crimes. They include one victim’s grandfather, a taxi-driver, another victim’s father and “Beer Man” Ravindra Kantrolu, acquitted by the High Court of a serial killing that had occurred earlier in 2006.
The colossal scale of DNA testing was a violation of human rights, as police conveniently masked forced consent as procured by free will. In any event, they proved inconclusive. That DNA sampling in itself isn’t a legally sound move didn’t seem to matter. “Consent” was procured by routine signatures and thumbprints on forms with each suspect oblivious of his act or its implications.
The city police even tried to close the case with a completely unrelated kidnapping case where a couple’s child was whisked away from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus.
When a video grab of the “kidnapper” was relayed to railway stations across India, the city police widely protested the move saying it would “only deter the killer who would go into hiding”.
Within days of the video, Haridwar police found a man whose identity matched. Police found the kidnapper and also recovered the child from the man who ran a beggary racket. The serial killer remained uncaught.
“These are very sensitive and important cases, and the accused still remains at large,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (Zone 1) Ravindra Shisve said recently. “We’re now planning to re-investigate the cases from a fresh perspective. We will begin investigations from scratch and won’t use details that we have already collected so that anything we may have overlooked can be incorporated into our investigations now.”
Police claim that they will now “reinvestigate” the role of every person in the case. That “includes the 1,014 persons whose DNA samples were taken”.
That Kantrolu would get a clean chit in the Beer Man murders was a given considering the slipshod police investigation. Whatever the claim of “despite court orders, he continues to remain guilty,” in their eyes, the fact is that the evidence they presented was dubious, to say the least.
In the same way, the DNA tests in the Cuffe Parade murders too stand on fragile ground. Issues of consent and procedural impropriety will inevitably taint all findings.
“The Colaba rape-murders are the latest in the line of serial killings–the third in Mumbai after Kurla and Marine Line,” says an assistant commissioner of police who does not want to be named. “In each case the killer hasn’t been found. So we’ve got three serial killers on the loose.”
“The fear among residents in affected localities, like, say, the Cuffe Parade slums, is phenomenal. Just about every second stranger is perceived with fear,” psychiatrist Shailesh Bhonsle feels. “Why, even among middle-class families especially those living alone, and senior residents, a lot of anxiety follows news of this nature.
“Many suffer stress-related disorder, sleep disturbance and heightened anxiety levels as well as panic attacks during this period,” he adds. “That’s understandable. Police inability to solve such crimes only compounds the issue.”
At a recent medical conference at Sion Hospital, Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) Experts conceded that a lack of understanding of forensics and mindless application of rules is hampering the pace of investigation in Mumbai.
Policemen and doctors who conduct post-mortems often send unnecessary samples for testing, which ends up delaying investigations, they maintained. At the conference, FSL experts levelled charges against policemen and doctors.
FSL’s assistant director Dr Vijay Thakre reportedly said there were “several instances in which the viscera of a victim has been sent to us, despite it being a case of burns, electrocution, hanging or snake bite. If the police and medical examiner conducting the post-mortem are aware of the cause of death, why take a viscera sample and send it to us for examination when it is not required? Because of such unnecessary work, other cases suffer.”
The experts pointed out that such “stupid” sampling leads to lengthy delays and only keep them “busy for no reason for days. The end result is that a lot of cases are delayed and it takes months for us to deliver reports,” the expert added.
The United States has an unmatched database in the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program/ViCAP Web. It is the largest investigative repository of violent crime cases. India has a long way to go in this connection.
ViCAP—a web-based data centre designed to collect and analyse information about homicides, sexual assaults, missing persons, and unidentified human remains—provides users with the means to compare information in an attempt to identify similar cases and help move investigations forward.
Since 1985, when it was created by the US Department of Justice, more than 4,000 agencies have submitted cases to ViCAP and there are over 84,000 cases in the database. With more than 4,000 investigators and analysts being registered users of the system, they form a powerful nationwide network of professionals collaborating on a daily basis.
In India, it’s more of a blame game between agencies. So, when the railway police opting to circulate photographs of a kidnapping accused who picked up a child from a railway station throughout the nation, the city police sleuths slammed the move saying that it impairs investigation by putting the accused on guard. When he was nabbed at Haridwar, it blew the cover off the city police claims of having got their serial killer.
The police have failed on all counts to nab the killers, even close in on suspects.
“It isn’t as easy as one may think,” says retired Mumbai Assistant Commissioner of Police Sam Patel, “You must remember that the Mumbai police was second in the world, only to Scotland Yard, when it came to detection,” he adds.
“In days of yore, when the police had to contend with age-old methods of investigation and archaic means, we managed to detect crime and keep order in the city. But now, with criminals so much smarter and inter-city migration on the rise, it’s difficult to maintain the same standards.”
“Where crime is concerned, the police depend on a huge network of khabris (informers) who sometimes are criminals themselves who have an axe to grind with the accused and tip the police off. But, this is true with known offenders or criminals. In the case of a closet killer it’s near impossible to find one,” says Patel. “A serial killer doesn’t look anything like the men you see in the movies. They’re as common as you and me, making the job of detection nearly impossible.”
“Sadly, the police generate only fear in the mind of the common man,” says Krishna Pawle, president of the South Mumbai-centric NGO Aadhar Pratisthan. “Criminals are more than sure of the force’s inadequacies and the legal system’s impotence. Look at the Cuffe Parade murders. The killer has not just repeated his act, he even dumped the second child’s body at the same spot as he dumped the first, as if to mock the police,” he says.
Police officers disagree. “It isn’t easy to nab a serial killer who may not have a fixed modus operandi or anything that can set him apart from others by way of identity,” says a senior police inspector.
“During the investigation, we need to apprehend any suspect as it may be our best bet in leading us to the killer. With overworked forensic laboratories unable to provide results at the speed we would like, our investigations are really hampered,” he says.
“It just isn’t possible to have a conclusive investigation in this environment.”
(Gajanan Khergamker is a senior editor and legal research analyst based in Mumbai and heads DraftCraft—a media-legal firm.)
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