Our lovely city has had a relatively quiet past, just like it’s vibe. We often joke that Pune is the city where you come to retire from life, and why not? Everything is so relaxed, it almost feels lazy. Everything has been, for the most part, golden, apart from the years 1976-1977. That’s when things got dark and gory.
The Joshi Abhyankar serial murders have almost disappeared in the pages of history now. Very few within our generation have even heard of these stories, but it has indeed played a significant part in our past. Ten lives were lost. The city was shivering with fright. What exactly happened? If you didn’t already know, here are the details…
Let’s start with the murderers. Four men to be precise – Rajendra Jakkal, Dilip Sutar, Shantaram Kanhoji Jagtap and Munawar Harun Shah. These murderers were commercial art students at the Abhinav Kala Mahavidyalaya, Tilak Road. They had a seriously notorious reputation for drinking and robbing two wheelers.
The first murder took place on January 16, 1976. The victim, Prasad Hedge, was a classmate of the murderers. His father ran a small restaurant behind their college. The group of murderers decided to kidnap him for ransom. Picking him up on false pretense, they took him to Jakkal’s tin shed on Karve road and made him write a note to his father explaining that he had decided to leave home. They later strangled him and dropped his body by dumping it in an iron barrel, which they threw in the lake at Peshwe Park. They sent the note to his father the next day.
Between October 31 of 1976 to March 23 of 1977, they murdered nine people. Their usual strategy was to break into homes, threaten the residents at gun point and then have them redirect the group towards the valuables. After that, they would murder the family members by first stuffing cotton in their mouths and then strangling them with a nylon rope. Especially in the murders of Achyut Joshi and the Abhyankars, the murderers followed the same pattern. This was their biggest downfall.
The investigation was led by Assistant Commissioner of Police, Madhusudan Hulyalkar. When the last victim’s body resurfaced on March 24, 1977, near Yerwada, the police observed a strange thing. The knot patterns were identical to the nylon rope knot patterns which were observed in the case of the first victim. This omitted any doubt of a foreign robbery and ensured the police that it was a group of murderers rather than individual criminals.
When the group was apprehended and questioned, they contradicted each other which deepened the police’s doubts. Finally, when Satish Gore, a classmate of theirs who had been a pivotal suspect in this case broke down during police interrogation, the murderers were formally arrested and taken to the court.
Shamrao G. Samant, a successful criminal lawyer was appointed as special Public Prosecutor for this case. When the Pune sessions court judge sentenced them to death, the criminals appealed to the High Court and Supreme Court. When both the courts turned down their appeal, they approached the President of India who also refused their pardon. They were hanged at Yerawda Central Jail on November 27, 1983.
When it was revealed that the atrocious murderers were trying to ease their way out of the sentence, Punekars finally took a stand. Shedding aside every political and community barrier, they came together and a total of 1000 Punekars signed a joint note which was addressed to the Supreme Court. This proved to be instrumental in the criminals not getting their case reviewed by the Supreme court.
The case still dragged on, mostly because the accused kept distracting the jury with organ donation wishes and religious reasons. Further instigating the already enraged citizens, the murderers appealed in front of the court saying that ‘death by noose’ was a painful form of death and they should be subjected to the electric chair.
Once again Punekars rose to action and got signatures from ten leading doctors across the country who unanimously agreed that death by hanging was the least painful of all terminal deaths. So almost six and a half years after the case had opened, the accused were finally hanged to death.
Note: The films, Maficha Sakshidar starring Nana Patekar and Paanch, directed by Anurag Kashyap, are based on these incidents. The former more so than the latter.