When police in Goa first arrested Mahanand Naik, little did they know that he would soon send shockwaves through the Indian resort state popular with tourists from all over the world.
Detectives picked up the auto-rickshaw driver on suspicion of rape and blackmail in April but after weeks of questioning found themselves faced with a serial killer who admitted to snuffing out the lives of 16 young local women.
The 40-year-old’s victims all shared the same fate: They were strangled by their dupatta — the light scarf worn by many Indian women — and their bodies buried in remote rural areas or dumped in nearby rivers.
Naik’s crimes, which spanned a 15-year period from 1994, have horrified locals, not just by their scale but because they were committed by an apparently mild-mannered family man and went undetected for so long.
Questions are also being asked about how Naik — dubbed the “Dupatta Killer” — slipped through the net. He was arrested in 1995 in connection with the disappearance of one of the women but released without charge.
“This is the only case in Goa’s history wherein someone has gone on the rampage and killed young women,” the chief minister of the former Portuguese colony, Digamber Kamat, said recently. “I was shocked. This is something unimaginable.”
Naik’s wife of three years and the mother of their 18-month-old daughter said her husband should be executed if he was a killer.
But Pooja Naik said: “He was such a nice guy back home. He can’t do this. He was very helpful, he never assaulted or shouted at me. He can’t kill an ant ... how can he be involved in such heinous crimes?”
An angry mob burnt down their family home near Ponda, 30km from the state capital, Panaji, as news of his arrest and confessions emerged.
Naik is yet to be charged but is said to be cooperating with detectives from his police cell and has led them to the last resting place of some of his victims. Their skeletal remains have been sent for forensic tests.
Naik befriended the women, aged between 19 and 33, all poor and from in and around the Ponda area, and promised to marry them.
He told each one that they should wear their best jewelery and meet him in a remote location in the former Portuguese colony. But when they got there he killed them, sometimes after sex, and robbed them.
A local jeweler who bought the stolen gems has also been arrested.
The murders are the latest bad publicity to hit Goa, which relies on the revenue brought in by the 2.4 million domestic and foreign tourists who flock there every year.
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