The Evil and the Dead
It was 20 years ago in September that four youths were sentenced to death. They were the infamous serial killers who struck terror in Pune for two years.
(Sunday Mid-Day September 6, 1998)
The pain is still visible in 74-year-old Sundar Hegde's eyes. Twenty-two years after his oldest son Prakash (20), was killed by the infamous serial killers Jakkal, Sutar, Jagtap and Shah of Pune. Hegde is unable to hid his emotions.
However, he puts up a brave face and philosophizes “When your times comes, not even God can save you. Prakash's time had come and he went away. We could not do anything.”
Prakash Hegde's cold-blooded killing on the night of January 16, 1976, triggered of a series of equally gruesome killings by the serial killers that not only rocked the city of Pune, but also the entire state of Maharashtra.
The killers were finally apprehended on March 30, 1977. But in the intervening period, they accounted for the gruesome deaths of a total of 10 innocent Punekars.
Jakkal, Sutar and Jagtap were commercial art students of the Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya who hailed from lower middle class backgrounds. Even before they actually committed the killings, the foursome had acquired a reputation for eve teasing and bad conduct on the college campus. They frequently robbed two wheelers and indulged in drinking bouts. All this needed money, of which there was always a short supply.
A small hotel was situated just behind their college, it was run by Sundar Hegde, Prakash's father. It was here that they hatched the plot to kidnap Prakash for ransom. Prakash coincidentally was also a student of the Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya.
On the fateful afternoon of January 15, 1976, the foursome along with another classmate Suhas Chandak picked up Prakash on false pretexts and took him to Jakkal's tin shed on Karve Road. They forced him to write a note to his father stating that he was leaving home of his own will.
At night, they gagged him and took into the Peshwe Park lake. There they strangulated Prakash with a nylon rope, put the body into an iron barrel, inserted some stones and dumped the barrel into the lake. The very next day, they sent a ransom note to Sundar Hegde.
Meanwhile, the note penned by Prakash also reached his father. The letter had been signed by ‘Prakash', when Prakash was actually known as Devdas at home. This is when the Hegdes realised something was wrong. However, despite a police complaint filed by Hegde, the police could not make much progress.
The gang then decided to move to the city of Kolhapur in August 1976 but were unsuccessful when they targeted the house of a local businessman.
Back in Pune, Jakkal and Sutar targeted the family of Achyut Joshi in the Vijaynagar colony situated in the heart of the city. On the night of October 31, they forced themselves into the house brandishing their knives. Achyut Joshi and his wife Usha were the only ones at home. After tying their hand and legs, the duo killed them strangulating Achyut Joshi with a nylon rope and suffocating his wife. When the Joshi's teenaged son Anand walked in he was stripped naked and strangulated with the same identical nylon rope. After three ghastly murders they decamped with the booty – a mangalsutra, a watch and few thousand rupees.
The killers had used rubber gloves leaving no fingerprints. They also sprayed a strong scent in the house to ward off the sniffer dogs.
The duo waited for three weeks, before they struck again. This time at the bungalow of Yashomati Bafna on Shankarseth road on the evening of November 22. They however faced stiff resistance from Bafna and her two servants and had to escape by climbing the barbed wire fence of the bungalow.
After their failure, the four decided to gang up once again and on the night of December 1, attacked the residence of the Abhyankars on Bhandarkar road.
Around 8 pm that night, there were five people at the Abhyankar household. Noted Sanskrit scholar Kashinath Shastri Abhyankar (88), his wife Indirabai (76), their maid Sakubai Wagh (60) and the two grandchildren Jai (21) and Dhananjay (19). Kashinath Shastri's son Gajanan and his wife Hirabai had gone out for dinner.
When the door bell rang, Dhananjay unfortunately opened the door and the four gained entry. They stuffed Dhananjay's mouth with a ball of cloth, tied his hand and asked him to direct them inside the house.
Then in a most inhuman manner the killers eliminated each of the members one by one. Stuffing their mouths with a ball of cloth, tying both their hands and legs and then strangulating the victims with the nylon rope. But the most macabre end was met by Jai, who was made to strip, like in the case of Anand Joshi. They asked her to direct them to the valuables in the house. After they were convinced that they had gathered all the money and valuables they could lay their hand on, they killed her too.
According to the police, the killers stripped the last person in order to prevent the person from running away and also to use the person as a shield, while probing the interiors of the house.
Understandably Pune was panic stricken after this incident. People stopped venturing out after 7 p.m. in the evening.
There was a tendency to stay indoors and nobody opened their doors to strangers.
Emboldened by this fact, the foursome struck yet again. This time, closer home. They targeted the home of their college mate Jayant Gokhale.
On the evening of March 23, 1977, Jakkal offered a lift on his motorcycle to Jayant's younger brother Anil. The foursome had decided to kill him the same night. Anil was to meet his brother Jayant at Alka talkies. Not finding his brother there, Anil did not hesitate to take a lift back from Jakkal. He never reached home.
He was taken to Jakkal's shed and strangulated with the nylon rope, in the same manner as in all previous cases. His body was tied to an unused iron ladder, weighed down with big boulders and dumped into the Mula-Mutha river near Bund Garden.
However on the evening of March 24 the body surfaced near Yerawada. The police team led by Police Inspector Manikrao Damame, realised that the nylon ropes used to tie the body to the ladder, had been fastened in a manner identical to the ones in all the previous killings.
He immediately brought this to the notice of the Assistant Commissioner of Police Madhusudan Hulyalkar, the man leading the investigations.
Undoubtedly this was the turning point for the police. Hulyalkar (78) now retired, realised that the people last seen in the company of the deceased had to know something about the crime. This is how the four were immediately rounded up for investigations.
They were interrogated together and later individually. According to Hulyalkar, the four boys contradicted each other about their joint movements in the city over the past week. The police later pretend to take the killers into confidence and asked them to aid the investigations. This is how the killers fell into the trap and committed their biggest mistake. Jakkal informed the police that there was surely some connection between Hegde and Gokhale murders.
The police were stunned by this revelation. Hitherto the Hegde case had been dismissed as a ‘missing person' case. Jakkal's information was an unexpected bonus.
Two plainclothes policemen then kept a close watch on Jagtap and Sutar, Jagtap was heard telling Sutar – “Will the police find out now?” To which Sutar is reported to have said “Don't worry, the boss will take care of the police.”
This conversation provided a vital clue. The word ‘boss' had been used liberally at the Bafna residence on Shankerseth road during Jakkal and Sutar's foiled attempt.
However, what really convinced the police of the foursome's involvement was when one of their college mates Satish Gore, broke down in the course of police interrogation.
Gore had been kept abreast of all their gruesome activities. If Gore's detailed confessional pinned the foursome down the subsequent confessions made by another classmate Suhas Chandak, who was witness to the Hegde killing, was the final nail in their coffin.
After the Hegde killing, Chandak had disassociated himself with the group, despite repeated threats to his life from them.
Chandak, who is today a successful commercial artist in Pune told this paper, “I would not like to discuss the case anymore, I am trying hard to forget all about it. It has affected me a lot.”
When the four were formally arrested on March 30, 1977, they recounted the serial killings in every detail to the police.
On information provided by the killers, the barrel containing Hegde's remains was fished out of the Peshwe park lake. The police also found a long list of incriminating evidence at Jakkal's shed on Karve road.
Further checking by the police helped them recover many of the items that had been stolen from the households of the Joshis and Abhyankars.
The case, which began on May 15, 1978 in Pune district and sessions court lasted for more than four months. On September 28, 1978 they were sentenced to death by Waman Narayan Bapat, the additional sessions judge in Pune.
After both the High Court and Supreme Courts turned down their appeals, the accused approached the President of India for a pardon. This was not entertained and the four youths who had caused so much panic and fear and pain in the city of Pune were hanged to death at the Yerawada central jail on November 27, 1983.Box 1 - Cracking the case
The 78-year-old Madhusudan Hutyalkar, the retired Assistant Commissioner of Police cannot hear in one year, his eyesight is poor and he has lost most of his front teeth. But when you mention the Joshi-Abhyankar serial killings, the retired police officer perks up suddenly.
So involved was Hulyalkar in the case, that after his retirement from the force in 1980, he enrolled for a MA in Psychology and later successfully completed a Ph.D in the same subject. “I was very keen to study the criminal mind in today's violent world.” According to him, the foursome had “corrupt, perverted minds”. This he felt was the result of unhappy family backgrounds and the negative environment they lived in.
“One good education and nurturing of values at home can prevent more criminal minds from taking shape,” said Hulyalkar.
On the other hand 62-year-old Manikrao Damame being much younger is a lot fitter. Hulyalkar had described him as “My best officer during that time.” According to Damame, the turning point of the case, was when they discovered the knots in the rope tied on Gokhale's body.
“The similarity of the knots in all the cases, made us link the serial killings together. This is when I realised that the gang was from Pune and not from outside.”
Box 2 - Punekars' petition
Even after the four accused were sentenced to death on September 28, 1978, they tried their level best to wriggle out of the death sentence. They sent a review petition to the Supreme Court and a mercy petition to the President of India.
This is when Punekars cutting across all political and community barriers came together and a total of 1000 prominent citizens signed a joint note addressed to the Supreme Court to argue the case on behalf of the state. His skilful arguments, it is believed, resulted in the apex court rejecting the appeal made by the killers at the admission stage itself.
This was an important contribution, as it prevented the case from dragging on for a longer time.
Meanwhile, the killers kept trying to delay the execution under the pretext of wanting to donate their vital organs. Shah in fact had appealed to the court stating that he wanted to translate the Koran in Marathi and hence needed more time.
They also appealed to the courts that ‘hanging by noose' was a painful form of death and hence they should be subjected to the electric chair. This is when the bereaved families could not tolerate the delay anymore. They took written opinions of at least 10 leading doctors from across the country, who unanimously agreed that hanging by noose was the least painful of all terminal punishments. These opinions were presented in the apex court by the bereaved families.
Finally almost six and a half years of the case had opened in the Pune courts, the four were hanged to death on November 27, 1983.