Emotions like greed, vengeance, power and ideology as in the case of the murder of activist-editor Gauri Lankesh in 2018, drive people to commit the most atrocious acts. From K.D. Kempamma, or ‘Cyanide Mallika’ — India’s first female serial killer to be convicted — to organised crime and Abdul Karim Telgi, Karnataka has spawned its fair share of ‘high-profile’ criminals.
Among the more sensational cases in Karnataka in the last five decades, these were on the top of of my mind
The ritual killer
There was public outrage when the body of six-year-old Uma was found with her throat slit near Minerva Mills on March 9, 1979. People recollected similar murders in the vicinity: Selvi (6), March 4, 1977, and Vasantha (7), October 6, 1976. But seven-year-old Sudha, who was attacked on October 5, 1975 survived. None of these cases could be detected. Initially, the police were frustrated by the lack of leads. Even a Kerala tantrik weighed in on where to look for the killer.
After many false leads and patient investigation, the police zeroed in on Baba Lakshman Giri (78) and his associates, Shanmugam and Laxmamma, at Harishchandra Ghat (HG) Srirampuram.
Giri hailed from Bihar and trained under a tantrik in Sindh in Pakistan. He settled down at Srirampuram HG where he started practising his rituals. The rich and powerful of the city were said to be his clientele. During the investigation, the police seized a blood-stained photo of the goddess Kali and other religious items.
It was his associate’s job to kill girls and bring their blood for Giri’s rituals. Giri, however, died of cardiac arrest in custody. The acquittal of Shanmugam and Laxmamma owing to insufficient evidence does not however take away the commendable effort of Shivaswamy , Investigating Officer.
Kempa, the psychopath
Kempa from Nandihalli village, Tumakuru district, operated in a gang that went on a killing spree between 1981 and 1985 in Tumakuru, Bengaluru, and Mandya. They would smash the heads of victims with boulders. Poor sex workers would be killed after being gangraped. In Koratagere and Magadi, they raped the wives of temple priests in the presence of their husbands after robbing and tying them up.
They also pierced the ear of a victim with an iron rod and placed the body in a sitting position against a pole. They killed for a pittance.
One of their victims in Magadi was a poor watchman, Bachan Singh, whose murder yielded merely a blanket, a dagger, and ₹7. When the police arrested Kempa and the gang, they recovered all of ₹45,000.
Kempa made a ‘fatal’ mistake of letting off a petty thief, Narayana, when he refused to join the gang. At the same time, the police, who were sifting through crime records, stumbled upon Kempa’s dossier . He had been in and out of jail for the theft of livestock, but was ‘out of view’ for five years.
This and Narayan’s information enabled police to arrest Kempa and his gang. During interrogation, Kempa confessed that he did not remember the number of people he had killed. The gang was prosecuted in 14 cases of murder, rape, dacoity, and robbery. They were convicted with imprisonment in the cases which had eye witnesses.
Robbery of explosives after the Bombay blasts
The serial blasts in Bombay [now Mumbai] on March 12, 1993, left 373 people dead and 1,400 injured. The police here were on high alert owing to intelligence reports that explosives were transported to Karnataka to set off explosions. On April 6, 1993, a case of robbery involving five tonnes of gelatine sticks was reported in Gokak rural police station, Belagavi district. The police tried every trick in the book to detect the case but were unsuccessful. They decided to keep blacklisted contractors under surveillance.
On May 10, 1993, the police apprehended Mani and three others, and recovered the gelatine sticks that were hidden under haystacks in Kanchakarwadi village. Mani was a small-time contractor, who had sustained losses in business and staged a robbery in desperation. Unfortunately, despite meticulous investigation the case ended in acquittal.
Church blast cases and the Pakistan connection
A series of bomb blasts at churches at Wadi in Kalaburagi, Keshavapur in Hubballi, Jagjivan Ramnagar in Bengaluru, and near Minerva Mills between June 8 and July 9, 2000 rocked the State. Around the same period, similar blasts had occurred in Goa, and Andhra Pradesh also.
Investigation by the Corps of Detectives revealed that the explosions were caused by members of the banned ‘Deendar Anjuman’ (DA), founded in 1924 by Syed Siddique Hussein Deendar Channabasaveswar in Gadag, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Basaveswara.
Siddique died in 1952 and his son Saheb Zada Syed Ziaul Hasan, who migrated to Mardan in Pakistan, took over the reins. He established branches in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Ten DA activists visited Pakistan for training in firearms and improvised explosive devices.
They indulged in espionage activities and passed on information to Pakistan from a cybercafe at Vijayanagar in Bengaluru. Hasan visited India in 1999 ostensibly to attend the Urs of his late father but hatched a conspiracy at Asif Nagar, Hyderabad, with his militant cadre to spread communal disharmony in South India.
Five Pakistan nationals absconded, but four accused persons were convicted in 2008. Eleven were given the death sentence, while 13 got life imprisonment. Four of the other accused were acquitted.
Telgi: the fake stamp paper king
Abdul Karim Telgi ran a multi-crore racket in fake security papers and spread his tentacles across the country. He had made inroads into many constitutionally established organs and compromised them.
The SIT, appointed by the Karnataka government, the Stamp Paper Investigation Team or Stampit, as is came to be called, conducted the investigation and filed 11 chargesheets, arresting 59 accused persons, citing 833 witnesses and verifying 1,104 documents.
Cash and fake stamp papers, worth more than ₹3,500 crore, were seized by Stampit and the investigating teams of other States. Telgi and his cohorts operated 136 bank accounts across the country and laundered money.
Telgi, who hailed from Khanapur in Belgavi district, learnt the trade from a prisonmate Soni and took advantage of the shortage of stamp paper in the country to expand the scam.
It is believed that what was unravelled during investigation was only the tip of the iceberg. He was convicted by a special court in Karnataka in the cases investigated by Stampit, but he died in 2017 while undergoing sentence.
(S.T. Ramesh is the former Director-General and Inspector-General of Police, Karnataka.)