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Serial horror, Bengal's Chainman killer

4 October, 2020 11:24:51
Serial horror, Bengal's Chainman killer

Today's episode of our 'Crime Time' series highlights yet another recent case, where the arrest was made in 2019, and the lower court's sentence of death passed this year. It is remarkable as one of the rare instances of serial killing in the country, and possibly the only reported case in this state other than the Stoneman killings of Kolkata. 

Eminently presentable would be a good description for him. In his late 30s, short, neatly dressed with a preference for the colour red, cheerful smile in place, he looked like a successful sales executive. To his (mostly dead) victims, he was the official who had come to 'read the electricity meter'. In reality, he was a bits and pieces scrap metal dealer. Whatever else you could mistake him for, however, you would never imagine him as a psychopathic multiple murderer, the monster behind the 'Chainman' killings. 

And yet, the court's judgement on his crimes read: "The weapon, used by the convict in committing offence, the manner in which the operation was carried out, and the determination with which the convict acted as well as the nature of injury inflicted on the vital part of the body of the unfortunate victim, including the view of the medical evidence, gives a clear picture of the cruelty and brutality with which the convict committed the offence."

The convict accused of such "cruelty and brutality" was Kamruzzaman Sarkar, a married father of three, originally from Murshidabad district, but a resident of Bardhaman (East) at the time of his arrest. Between 2013 and 2019, he is thought to have killed at least nine women in Bardhaman (East) and Hooghly districts, sexually violating at least two of the corpses, and wounded at least six. Those lucky survivors were the ones who later provided details about his modus operandi and appearance, which in turn earned him his sinister nickname, bùt we'll come to that soon. 

Mercifully, serial killing has never really been a common occurrence in the annals of Indian crime. The most notorious example in this regard would probably be Raman Raghav, the homeless vagrant from Pune who killed at least 41 people in eastern Mumbai, most of them pavement and slum dwellers, in 1965-66 and then again in 1968, and though Mumbai Police suspected a higher body count, Raghav did not confess to any more murders. After his arrest, psychologists and counsellors who spent time with him found evidence of an incurably diseased mind, which led to a court sentence of life imprisonment rather than death. Raghav eventually died of kidney failure in Pune in 1995, at a mental health facility for the criminally insane. 

Then there was Gowri 'Auto' Shankar and his gang, consisting of his younger brother Mohan and associates Eldin and Shivaji, as well as Jayavelu, Rajaraman, Ravi, Palani and Paramasivam. Apparently an auto rickshaw driver from Chennai, Gowri Shankar was actually a career criminal who was found guilty of at least six murders, along with rape, robbery, and human trafficking, spanning the years 1988-89. Most of his victims, both men and women, were beaten or burned to death, with a brutality that shocked the nation. On April 27, 1995, aged 41, Shankar was hanged to death at Tamil Nadu's Salem Central Prison. 

Yet another notable name on the list is 'Kanpattimar' Shankariya, a serial killer in Jaipur, Rajasthan, who confessed to killing more than 70 people in 1977-78, by hitting them in the neck below the ear with a hammer, earning him his peculiar sobriquet. Born in Jaipur in 1952, Shankariya was arrested at the age of 26. Pleasure seemed to be the sole motivation behind his crimes, though many of the murders could not be verified. Convicted at the beginning of 1979, he was hanged in Jaipur on May 16 of that year. His last words reportedly were: "I have murdered in vain. Nobody should become like me."

Finally, of course, we have the Stoneman killings of Calcutta and Mumbai, perhaps the most infamous cold cases in the history of Indian crime. In Calcutta, the unidentified serial killer murdered at least 13 homeless people in their sleep in 1989. A similar series of murders occurred in Bombay, from 1985-88. In every case, the victims were found with their heads smashed in with a large stone, which appeared to have been carried to the scene of crime. If, as speculated, these were the work of the same person, then he (most investigators at the time ruled out the possibility of a female killer) could have been responsible for as many as 26 murders. As of today, the cases remain unsolved, and nobody has been able to explain why the killings stopped as abruptly as they began. 

Thankfully, the Chainman case will not go cold. The sequence of events leading up to Sarkar's arrest began with the murder and rape of Parul Mandal*, a 16-year-old resident of Goara, Bardhaman, on May 21, 2019. She had first been strangled with a bicycle chain, and then hit on the head with an iron rod until she died. Her killer had also sexually violated her bloodied corpse. Based on eyewitness accounts which placed him at the scene of crime, the police had taken Sarkar into custody in early June, already aware that the manner in which Parul had been killed was similar to several older cases which they had failed to solve until then. On June 3, 2019, Kamruzzaman Sarkar was sent to 12 days' police custody, which is when his interrogation began. 

In very simple terms, a serial killer is not the same as a mass murderer. While both kill multiple times, the serial murderer is an organised killer who repeatedly uses the same methods to kill, his or her actions usually dictated by deep-rooted psychological disorders. The motive is most often pleasure or gratification of some kind, usually sexual in nature, but also giving the killer a sense of power over their victims. Their targets frequently have more than one quality in common, though this commonality may not always be obvious to an onlooker. In many cases, the commonality may simply exist in the mind of the killer. Also, most serial killers will go on killing until they are either dead or caught, while a mass murderer may be a one-time killer.

Globally, the USA is head and shoulders above other nations when it comes to the sheer number of notorious serial killers, thanks to the likes of Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer (who also practised cannibalism), Ed Gein, and John Wayne Gacy. However, the UK has contributed its share to the pool, in the form of the physician Harold Shipman, perhaps the most prolific serial killer of the modern era, with well over 200 victims to his name, most killed by a deadly drug overdose. That apart, the UK was also home to the earliest recorded serial killer in history, Jack the Ripper, who has remained unidentified, more than 130 years after he terrorised London's Whitechapel area. 

There have been notable names from orher countries too, but as we said, India has never featured prominently among them. Which is why the Chainman murders become remarkable. Once he began talking to the police, Sarkar detailed his methods, but wouldn't, or couldn't, explain why he chose those particular victims. His preferred method was to stalk a house for a few days, to find out when a woman would be home alone. Having chosen his time, he would gain entry on the pretext of reading the electricity meter, and pounce on the unwitting victim as soon as he had a chance. Once she was dead, Sarkar would either sexually violate the body, or mutilate it using sharp objects.

Perhaps in an attempt to mislead the police, he would steal a few minor items from his victims, but their value was so negligible that it was clear that murder, not robbery, was the primary purpose. In 2019 alone, among his suspected victims were Pushpa Das of Anukhal, who he killed on January 27. On April 4, Rita Roy and Mamata Kisku were killed within a few hours of each other in the Memari area. A later victim was Soni Yadav, also from Memari. Among the lucky survivors was Swarupa Bibi of Rongpara, who was attacked from behind with a bicycle chain, but managed to throw off the attacker and raise an alarm, upon which he fled. Her testimony was to prove vital to the case. 

Like a majority of serial killers, Sarkar was prone to fetishes, in his case a love for the colour red, as we said right in the beginning. And it was this fetish that eventually brought about his capture. Advised by his astrologer that red was his lucky colour, Sarkar refused to discard his distinctive red motorbike and helmet, even though he knew that the women he had failed to kill could use them to identify him. 

In the end, his killing spree was brought to a halt by two civic volunteers, thanks to an incredible stroke of luck. After Parul's murder, aware that they were looking for a man who moved around the district on a vivid red motorbike wearing a red helmet, the police had stationed teams of volunteers at various checkpoints. Two of them, Anirban Ghosh and Khokon Santra, had stopped a red bike and were noting down its details when a rider on another red motorbike tried to speed past their barricade, lost his balance, and fell. Immediately alert, Ghosh and Santra informed their seniors, and Chainman was soon in custody. 

At Sarkar's trial, the Additional District and Sessions Court judge described the case as "rarest of the rare", and added: "It is needless to state that the sexual offence on the child is not only a crime against the child, but the crime against the entire society. Such serious and grave offender/offenders should be dealt with all seriousness and if the offence is proved, he/they should be punished with adequate sentence because the children are the greatest gift of humanity."

Sentenced to death for the murder and rape of the minor Parul Mandal, Sarkar was eventually charged with 15 counts of murder, attempted murder, rape, and robbery. 

Why and how did an apparently 'normal' man, a husband and father, develop the urge to kill so brutally, and repeatedly? Once again, like many serial killers, the answer may lie in a troubled childhood. Born into a poor family in Murshidabad in 1982, Sarkar was the fourth of nine siblings. His mother died when he was 13, and his father remarried. This proved something of a watershed, because the domestic situation declined to the point where the teenage Sarkar dropped out of school and ran away from home, never to return. How he spent his time as a runaway is unclear, but he had no criminal record prior to the murders. 

Did the presumably abusive treatment at home create a murderous rage against all women in his heart? Did he feel an overwhelming urge to dominate them, irrespective of their age? If so, what was the trigger that caused him to cross the line between thought and action? We don't have all the answers yet, but it is only a matter of time before we do. 

*Name changed

Story Tag:
  • Chainman Killer, Bengal

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