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The first female serial killer of Bengal, Troilokya Devi, seven years before Jack the Ripper

18 August, 2020 01:05:21
The first female serial killer of Bengal, Troilokya Devi, seven years before Jack the Ripper

In the popular psyche, a woman is seen as the epitome of beauty, wisdom, love and care but when there are deviations to this pre-conceived notion of womanhood, it creates a social upheaval. However, if we visit the annals of history, a grisly yet fascinating case involving a female serial killer comes to mind. Recorded in 1883 in Calcutta, the then capital of British India, this infamous case created ripples in the social circuit because it involved a Brahmin widow. Incidentally, this case preceded the murders by London’s legendary Jack the Ripper by seven years. 

Tucked within the volumes of ‘Darogar Daptar’, is the story of Troilokya Tarini Devi. Painstakingly written by Priyonath Mukhopadhyay, who was the investigating officer in the case, ‘Darogar Daptar’ No. 78, follows the journey of Troilokya, referred to in British court documents as “Troylucko Raur”, or Troilokya the prostitute.

Troilokya’s story begins when she was married off to a much older man. After her husband died, she was taken in by an apparently kind-hearted Vaishnavite woman, in what turned out to be a turning point in her life. The woman, a procuress for Calcutta’s brothels, introduced Troilokya to a young man who seduced her. When their affair became public, they fled to Calcutta to escape social ostracism. But Troilokya’s lover sold her into a brothel in Sonagachhi, Calcutta’s notorious red-light district, and it was here in the early 1880s that a simple village girl’s journey into the city’s underbelly began.

For a while, Troilokya’s youth and beauty ensured a steady flow of cash. Meanwhile, Troilokya acquired a lover, a married man named Kali Babu, and when his wife died, she adopted his son, Hari. The romantic alliance proved injurious to her trade. Kali Babu’s constant presence forced her to turn from prostitute to con woman. The first scheme the two came up with, involved young rakes from Calcutta’s rich families. The men would be lured to Troilokya’s house with the promise of orgies, and served alcohol, often at their own expense, making it easy to rob them of their valuables and turn them out onto the street. Mistaking the victim to be a drunk, the local police would lock him up overnight. 

The two volumes of  ‘Darogar Daptar’

Despite the ever-present danger of being caught, she and Kali Babu devised a more elaborate plan that exploited Bengal’s caste system. The dowry system among the Srotriya Brahmins of Bengal was the reverse of the norm: instead of the bride’s father paying dowry, it was the groom’s father who paid a ‘bride price.’ Troilokya and Kali Babu then rented a house in Calcutta, filled it with fake relatives, and invited a Srotriya Brahmin family of a village that was desperate to get their son married. An attractive sex worker was told to play the prospective bride. The delighted groom agreed to the match.

The marriage took place within a month, with the dowry and wedding costs paid by the groom’s family. A month after the wedding, she sought permission to visit her parents. She was allowed to go, provided she was accompanied by her husband. The bride, decked in her wedding jewellery, with her two accomplices and her husband, would board a train to Calcutta. But somewhere along the journey, they gave the groom the slip, and made their way back to Troilokya. All the wedding jewellery was sold, and after all participants were paid, Troilokya pocketed the remainder. The groom and his family, unfamiliar with Calcutta, were never able to find the bride in the warren of streets.

This plan was repeated several times, until Troilokya and Kali Babu hatched a scheme that involved kidnapping young girls from Calcutta’s streets and selling them off. So, the partners in crime would get them married into these families in return for money. But as the disappearance of girls started making news, the police became more alert, forcing Troilokya and Kali Babu to abandon their crime.

Troilokya’s devilish adventures turned murderous from there. The first attempt, though, was botched. Kali Babu murdered a jewelry assistant and buried the victim under the floor of a rented house. Kali Babu delivered the jewels himself and pocketed the money. The case was handled by Mukhopadhyay, who managed to trace the rented house and find the body. Kali Babu was caught and hanged, but Troilokya’s role in the entire episode could not be proved in court. 

Forced to sell her house and jewellery, a desperate Troilokya began approaching her former acquaintances in Sonagachhi. Playing to their insecurities of their futures, she told them of a holy man who could end their troubles. If the women wore all their jewellery when visiting him, he would double the baubles with his blessings. Over a period of three years, Troilokya took five women, one at a time, to a derelict garden house near Maniktala in Calcutta. In the garden was a large pond, where the women were told to bathe. Troilokya drowned these women in the same pond.

Despite carefully selecting a desolate neighbourhood, Troilokya was caught red-handed, as a passerby saw her trying to drown a woman. The victim, who survived the murder attempt, along with the eyewitness, dragged Troilokya to the local police station. But Troilokya charmed the old police officer and convinced him to let her go. Not satisfied, the plaintiffs took their case to Mukhopadhyay, who investigated the case, believed Troilokya was guilty, and had her arrested and sent to trial. However, due to instances of sabotage, Troilokya walked free once again.

Mukhopadhyay was called to the scene days after yet another murder. The moment he found out that Troilokya lived in the same house, he was convinced she was the killer. In a story titled Shesh Leela (The Last Act), Mukhopadhyay detailed how he laid a trap for Troilokya, framing her adopted son Hari for the murder. The sight of Hari in handcuffs convinced Troilokya to come clean. Her cooperation did not last long. Once Troilokya realised she had been tricked into confessing, she refused to go down quietly. The case went to the High Court, which held up the conviction. In a long interview, Troilokya revealed the details of her life and her previous crimes. Her last words to Mukhopadhyay were, “I am leaving Hari behind…Please look after him so that he does not get into trouble.” Troilokya was hanged in 1884.  

Story Tag:
  • Serial Killer, Troilokya Tarini Devi, History

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