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STONEMAN'S RETURN MAY CATCH POLICE, URCHINS NAPPING

 When serial killer Raman Raghav was arrested in  the late sixties, the city police heaved a sigh of relief for having  nabbed a maniac involved in bludgeoning 42 persons to death the victims being mainly beggars and urchins sleeping on the roadside. But the fear of a psychopath killer stalking the streets of Mumbai was far from over.

Exactly 15 years later rose another serial killer a stoneman who committed a series of 12 murders in Sion and King Circle areas between 1985 and 1987.

The killer, whose modus. operandi was to crush the head of his victim with a huge stone, remains untraced. He is, perhaps, the most mysterious serial killer - in the history of Mumbai.

His victims were randomly selected and the crimes seemed to lack any real motive, recalls the ,Matunga police. The sleeping  beggars heads were smashed with an incredibly heavy stone, sometimes weighing as much as 30 kg. All the murders took place in the interiors of Koliwada and Stion, between the King's Circle and Sion Circle areas.

The stone killer never attacked beggars who slept in groups. In most cases, even the victims' names could not be ascertained since they either slept alone or had no relatives or friends who could identify them. The Matunga police were baffled by the killings. When they inspected the murder spot, they found no significant dues which led to the murderer. Although the police invariably found a huge stone near the spot, even the sniffer dogs brought in to track the killer lost his scent after some distance. Since most of the victims were beggars, robbery was ruled  out as a motive. The police then began a search for eye-witnesses to the killings.

During the search, the police came across a waiter in an Irani hotel near Sion Cirde. The waiter was perhaps the only victim who had managed to escape before the stoneman could crush his head. But he was unable to recollect what the face of the killer looked like in the darkness when be was attacked and thus failed to provide any vital clues.

  Shortly after his interrogation, the stoneman struck again. A rag- picker was hacked to death near King's Circle. The murderer had begun to move out of the Sion area and towards Matunga. Panic-stricken residents from Matunga urged the local police to intense their vigilance during the night. The frustrated police force then tried to bait the killer by having policemen dress up like beggars. While one policeman would wrap himself in gunny bags, three others would keep a watch on him from a distance. This, however, led them nowhere as the mystery killer was never seen.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the murders took place between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. In most cases, the victims were last seen at 2 a.m. and were found murdered around 5 a.m. The weapon used was always a stone. The stones would be picked up from nearby places and would be carelessly thrown near the place of the crime. Their weight, ranging from 25 to 30 kg, conveyed the impression that the accused was a really strong man.

The police, also explored the theory that the killer came from a well-to-do family and it was thereby difficult to trace him. The Matunga police detained a mentally unstable person on suspicion, but the suspect was later found to be clean. The police then conducted a door - door search for the maniac. The case was taken up on a priority basis with more than 100 persons patrolling the area at night.

People were warned not to sleep alone on the footpaths. As a result, the destitute slept in groups of tens while one of them kept vigil on a rotation basis. After the twelfth murder in 1987, the killings stopped abruptly. Perhaps the stone killer moved out of the area, or he shied away from increasing police vigilance. Incidentally, a similar series of killings began in Calcutta. A special team left for Calcutta, but the officers were unable to ascertain whether it was the stoneman from the Sion area. That leaves the police wondering whether the psychopath will one day strike again.