The 1976 Poona

Screen Shot 2019-07-02 at 5.14.44 PM.pngAnirban Bhattacharya, The Deadly Dozen – India’s Most Notorious Serial Killers, (Penguin, 2019) has been praised by John Abraham, Ayushmann Khurana, Kiran Rao and correctly so, possesses several Bollywood references. One has read few of the crime stories detailed. The following is an excerpt from the lesser-known territory.

The Poona of 1976 did not boast of any major, horrific crimes. Life seemed perfect in this almost sleepy and laid-back city. Rajendra Jakkal, Dilip Sutar, Shantaram Jagtap and Munawar Harun Shah were commercial-art students at Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, Tilak Road. They would graduate in the school of murder in just over a year, after claiming ten innocent lives.

‘What is our future?’ ‘Boss? Boss?’ Shah called out to Jakkal, who was staring blankly at the wall. The group had accepted Jakkal as their alpha male and called him Boss. Jakkal awoke from his reverie. ‘Future? I see our future! We will have money, fame and spit on the world,’ he spoke like a seer who just had a vision.

The men entered a small restaurant called Hotel Vishwa. As it was located right behind Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, it was always full. Sundar Hegde, the owner looked at the men as they sat down. He recognized them as students of the college. Prakash, his son, studied with them. The men ordered tea and samosas.

Prakash was kidnapped. Prakash’s father slowly opened the letter with trembling hands and handed it over to the Police Inspector sitting in front of him. ‘It says that he has left the house willingly and wants Rs. 1 lakh,’ Hegde said. ‘Something is not right. I feel he is in trouble!’ ‘Look, he has signed off as Prakash. But we never call him Prakash. He should’ve written Devdas, which is his nickname. Whoever wrote this letter for him did not know this. Or maybe, it is indeed Prakash who is sending us a coded message, telling us that he is danger,’ Hegde explained.

Prakash had been killed the previous night as soon as he had finished writing the letter. The gang had no intention of keeping him alive or even handing him over once the ransom was received. The killers put the body in a barrel, filled it with stones and dumped it in a lake. At best, it was an amateur plan destined to flop. They had not mentioned where the money had to be delivered or who would collect it. They did not even follow up with Hegde about it. The case remained unsolved.

‘When do we strike?’

‘Boss, we are famous, just like you had predicted. Poona is shitting bricks!’ Jakkal smiled. He was happy. At last there was some loot to enjoy after their previous failed attempts. Poona was now abuzz with the news of a brutal murder of a middle-class family in a quiet, safe neighbourhood. Before the city could come to terms with the horrific crime, the gang struck again.

The Abhyankars lived in a bungalow on Bhandarkar Road. They ramapaged through the house. The modus operandi seemed to be the same. With the loot from the Abhyankar household fast depleting, the gang had to strike again if they were to keep up their drinking binges. Jakkal came up with another target. The gang’s target was Anil Gokhale, younger brother of Jayant Gokhale, both of whom were students at Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya. They beat him up, took his money and strangled him with a blue nylon rope. Then they tied an iron ladder to the corpse, weighed it down with boulders and dumped the body into the Mula-Mutha river near Bund Garden. Unknown to the killers, three things happened.

  1. They didn’t know that Anil was supposed to meet Jayant, who when his brother didn’t turn up, went home expecting him to be there. When he didn’t come home for a long time, the Gokhales lodged a missing-person report.
  2. The killers got rid of the body but forgot to remove Anil’s college ID from his pocket.
  3. They assumed no one would ever find the body.

‘The body floated up.’ The Mula-Mutha river has currents, which loosened the boulders and the body surfaced. If only they had studied their dumping ground a little. When Lady Providence decides to play her cards, there is no stopping the domino effect. Headlines screamed that the killers had been caught. Six and half years after the trial began, the four were hanged to death in Yerawada Jail. The murders inspired movies such as Maaficha Sakshidar (1986) a Marathi film starring Nana Patekar, who portrayed the role of Jakkal – and Paanch (2003), an Anurag Kashyap movie.”

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The concerned offences were committed between January, 1976 and March, 1977. In other words, the Death Penalty has been brooding over each one’s head for an excruciatingly long period… having regard to the magnitude, the gruesome nature of offences and the manners perpetrating them this case, in all the facts and circumstances, must be regarded as falling within the rare of the rarest category… any leniency shown in the matter of sentence would not only be misplaced but will certainly give rise to and foster a feeling of private revenge among the people leading to destabilization of the society… Death Sentence awarded to the petitioners should be carried out without any further loss of time.”

Hon’ble Judges V.D. Tulzapurkar and Ranganath Misra, Munawar Harun Shah, (1983) 3 SCC 354.