Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Oct 9, 2016, 04.00 AM IST
Mohan Kumar, the accused, and some of his victims
By: Iram Siddiqui
Prof Mohan Kumar killed 20 women by giving them ‘anti-pregnancy’ pills laced with cyanide; they now call him Cyanide Mohan
Between 2003 and 2009, 20 women were found dead across six towns in five districts of southern Karnataka. They were all in their mid-20s or early-30s; all 20 bodies were found in rest rooms of bus stands; the rest-rooms had to be broken into because they were locked from inside; and all 20 victims were dressed in what appeared to be their wedding sarees with not a single piece of jewellery on them. Of the 20 bodies, eight were recovered from Mysore city’s Lashkar Mohalla bus stand alone; and another five from Bangalore’s busy Kempegowda bus station.
So, as far as serial murders go, there was a common thread of the girth of a rope running through the 20 cases. Yet, for six years nobody saw any link between this mysterious appearances of women’s bodies at bus stations. All 20 cases were consigned to ‘unnatural deaths’ and ‘suspected suicides’ files of at least 10 police stations and no attempt was made to identify them and trace their families. While post-mortems in all 20 cases revealed poisoning, blood samples of only two victims were sent for forensic tests. And no red flags were raised even after the forensic tests revealed that the poisoning was caused by cyanide, a chemical not easily available and not certainly commonly used in suicides.
But then, the cops were whipped into action when a communal storm broke out around the 19th victim -- Anita Barimar, 22, from Bantwal, who went missing on June 16, 2009. Her community – the Bangeras – alleged she had run away with a Muslim man and a morcha of around 150 reached Bantwal, threatening to burn the police station down if Anita was not traced. The cops bought time, seeking a month to solve the case.
The call records of Anita’s landline revealed she used to get into long conversations with somebody late in the night. This number belonged to Kaveri Manku in Madikeri, who, cops found to their shock, was missing too. A study of Kaveri’s CDR records revealed suspiciously high number of calls from a number none in her family recognised. This number led the investigating team to Pushpa Vasukoda in Kasargod. She too had been reported missing a year ago. Pushpa’s call records led the cops to another missing woman -- Vinutha Pijina from Puttur. As Vinutha’s phone records led them to another missing woman and this woman’s phone to another, the cops tasked a team back in Bantwal to analyse the dump data of all these numbers.
The exercise revealed an interesting piece of information – all the phones the cops had been tracking were at some point active in a village called Deralakatte in Mangaluru. As the cops swarmed Deralakatte and began raiding small hotels and lodges to uncover, what they believe, was a prostitution racket, they were informed by the team back in Bantwal that Kaveri’s phone had been switched on for three minutes in Deralakatte. The call was traced to a young boy named Dhanush, who told them it was given to him by his uncle Mohan Kumar.
The Bantwal police team knew that either they were close to catching the ring leader of a flesh racket or, worse, a mass murderer. It turned out to be the latter. Mohan Kumar at that point was making long calls to another woman, Sumithra Shekhara Pujari of Bantwal. He was picked up after cops asked her to invite him for a meeting.
What Mohan Kumar told the cops during his custodial interrogation was worse than they had imagined. It was serial killing of the proportion the state had not witnessed before. He said he had killed 32 women. He would woo them with the promise of marriage, spend a night with them and then take them to the nearest bus stand where he would ask them to take a birth control pill. The pill would be laced with cyanide. He asked the women to take the pill in the washroom as it could make them sick. He would return to the hotel room and vanish with their jewellery and other belongings which he would have asked them to leave behind.
Once the accounts of his brutal killing campaign made it to newspapers and TV channels, Mohan was never called Mohan Kumar again. He became Cyanide Mohan.
September 22, 2016: Cyanide Mohan is in a Special Trial Court in Mangalore, which is hearing all 20 murders he has been charged with – each case separately. While he initially told cops he had killed 32, investigating teams have managed to gather enough evidence and witnesses to put him on trial only for 20. He, of course, now maintains he did not kill even one and that all 20 women committed suicide by consuming cyanide because he refused to marry them.
The trial in three murders – Anita Barimar, Lilavati Mistry, and Sunanda Pujari – was concluded on December 21, 2013 and Cyanide Mohan was sentenced to death. He has challenged this verdict in the high court. In the court today, he is being tried for two other murders – that of Hemawati Gowda and Baby Naik.
Cyanide Mohan, 52, is arguing his own case. His hair is dyed black and neatly brushed and he has a pen in his breast pocket. He is short and has no distinguishingly remarkable features. Nothing that could point to his psychopathic past.
Standing before the judge, Cyanide Mohan looks a professor and lawyer rolled into one. He bends forward to carefully listen to the judge and occasionally takes notes in a long notebook. A plastic bag with more court documents, lies on the table by his side.
As the Judge signals for him to proceed, he shuffles the sheaf of papers before him and refers to the handwritten notes. In a loud and clear voice, Mohan requests the judge to flip to a particular page on the charge sheet. He then turns towards the witness box where Investigating Officer Nanjunde Gowda stands. Mohan holds forth: “At one place it is written that I sold the gold jewellery while in another it is mentioned that the gold was pledged. Is this mere discrepancy or proof of the lies that the police has concocted about me? Is this statement made by me or was it drafted by the inspector himself?” he asks.
Gowda, caught off-guard, looks embarrassed. He takes a moment to gather himself and tells the court that the error crept in due to a typo. Mohan puts the pen back in his breast pocket and bows to the judge before walking out of the room as the court adjourns for lunch.
v v vvvvv
While nobody knows for sure what made Prof Mohan Kumar, who at one point taught english, science, mathematics at the Shiradi Primary School in rural Mangaluru, metamorphose into Cyanide Mohan, investigators and people close to him talk of how he had once thrown a woman into the Netravathi river. The woman was rescued by local fishermen. Mohan was charged with attempted murder and was in jail for a month before he was acquitted. There he came in contact with a goldsmith who was doing time for carelessly discarding the waste after cleaning gold ornaments with cyanide. Eight cows and goats had died after consuming the contaminated solution.
The goldsmith told Prof Mohan Kumar about how cyanide can kill instantaneously and how easily it was available in the market. In 2003, one could buy it off the shelf in Karnataka -- Rs 250 for a kg.
Investigations revealed that Mohan purchased cyanide from Abdul Salam, a chemical dealer. Salam sold cyanide to Mohan thinking he was a jeweller and needed it for gold polishing. Salam later testified in court and also did time himself for selling the chemical.
Gowda said Mohan was meticulous: From identifying his targets – women from poor background desperate to get married – to mapping their fertility cycles so that they wouldn’t think twice about the pill.
The hotels he chose for the last night before killing his victims were always close to a bus stand.
After having sex, he would ask the women to take a walk with him, taking care they left all their jewellery, cash, and belongings back in the hotel room. He would take them to the bus stand and ask them to take the pill in the washroom. Once his victims left for the washroom, he would go back to the hotel room, collect all the valuables and disappear. He always planned these last nights in towns far from the victim’s place of residence.
Mohan introduced himself with a different name to each woman, but one thing never changed – he always posed as a government employee with a stable job.
v v vvvvv
For a man who hunted women for game and some cash and jewellery, Cyanide Mohan seems oddly attached to Sri Devi, his third wife. His first wife, Mary, divorced him, while the second, Manjula, lives with his two sons in rural Mangaluru. He has a daughter and a son with Sri Devi, who lives in Deralakatte.
Sri Devi fell in love with a fellow inmate of Mohan Cyanide during her visits to the jail. She married him when he came out of jail and has since stopped communicating with Cyanide Mohan.
In a short interview granted to this correspondent after the adjournment of his trial that rainy afternoon in Mangaluru, Cyanide Mohan only smiled when asked if it was not too much of a coincidence that 20 women killed themselves because they could not marry him. Every time the 20 murders were brought up, Cyanide Mohan would smile and touch his lips and moustache nervously. He spoke softly with a finger of his right hand always playing around his mouth, as if guarding against a slip of tongue. “Madam, I did not kill anybody,” he said.
Asked about his three wives, he struggled to recollect the names. His poor memory for names could be one of the reasons why he maintained a diary with names and numbers of all the women he wooed and then murdered with their numbers. The diary was one of the main evidence produced the first trial againt him and could prove to be his undoing in the current one too.
He married Mary when he taught at the Shiradi Primary School. Mary was in class 7 when they fell in love, but they waited till she turned 18 to get married.
Asked why did he stop teaching, Cyanide Mohan revealed he was dismissed from service. Asked why, he said: “There was a woman who wanted to marry me but when I refused; she started arguing with me and fell in the river Netravathi. But some fisherfolks nearby thought I had pushed her and registered a complaint against me.”
As the conversation turned to his other two wives, he referred to his third wife as Sri Kala. When corrected and told her name is Sri Devi and that this correspondent met her before coming to Mangaluru to interview him, the expression on Mohan Cyanide’s face changed – the smile disappeared and the fidgety finger around the mouth dropped. “Did she (Sri Devi) speak to you over the phone or did you meet her?” he asked. When told the conversation took place over the phone, he sought to know if he could get her number.
After promising that we will look for the number and give it to him, the conversation moved to how he identified his victims. “I mostly found these women at bus stands. I would strike a conversation with them and exchange phone numbers. If they agreed to come with me for a glass of juice, I was able to gauge whether they were likely to succumb and surrender to me. Then we would go to a park and I would see how they responded to my physical overtures. I was attracted to women who were very simple looking.”
Asked why did he kill the women, Cyanide Mohan’s fidgety finger returned to the corner of his mouth. “I did not say that I killed them,” he said.
Then how did they all end up dead in the toilets? “I created that situation,” he said.
And why would you do that? “They would threaten me saying that they would reveal our love story to their families or file a complaint of sexual harassment against me. It would get problematic.”
Did he ever feel any remorse or guilt that so many women died? “Every time a woman died I felt very bad but it only lasted for 15 to 20 days. Then another woman would come along and I would forget all about the past.”
Why wouldn’t he marry these women? “I was already managing two wives. I was juggling between two wives and would spend alternate days at their houses.”
Now that he has been convicted in three cases, does he look back and regret? “It’s a lower court’s verdict. I will challenge it in the high court.”
As a police van pulls up to take Cyanide Mohan back to jail he gets up to leave and then stops and turns around and asks: “Does Sri Devi remember me? Does she talk about me fondly?”