Brutality, cannibalism in ‘black magic’ horror in Kerala

Updated on Oct 13, 2022 04:32 AM IST

Police have arrested three people – 60-year-old Bhagaval Singh, his 52-year-old wife Laila, and 52-year-old Mohammad Shafi – who allegedly tied and hacked to death two people over four months and buried them in the couple’s backyard in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district.

Mohammed Shafi, one of the accused in the Elanthoor 'human sacrifice' case, being produced at court, in Kochi, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. All three accused have been remanded to judicial custody till October 26 by the court on Wednesday. (PTI)
Mohammed Shafi, one of the accused in the Elanthoor 'human sacrifice' case, being produced at court, in Kochi, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022. All three accused have been remanded to judicial custody till October 26 by the court on Wednesday. (PTI)
By, Thiruvananthapuram

A Kerala couple, and a hardened criminal who pushed them to brutalise and murder two people as “human sacrifice” in a quest for prosperity, allegedly carved their victims into pieces, and cooked and ate some portions, before burying their bodies in a macabre ritual, police said on Wednesday.

Police have arrested three people – 60-year-old Bhagaval Singh, his 52-year-old wife Laila, and 52-year-old Mohammad Shafi – who allegedly tied and hacked to death two people over four months and buried them in the couple’s backyard in Kerala’s Pathanamthitta district.

The grisly crime, police say, was planned by Shafi, who lured the couple over months by impersonating a woman on Facebook, and advertised his occult skills to convince them that sacrificing two people could change their fortunes for the better. He told the couple to partake in the acts of savagery, identified the victims, and brought them to their home where they were killed, police added.

Also read | Kerala murders: A ‘devi’, a cultist couple, and a deviant killer

“Basically, he is a pervert and a sadist that causes injury, harm and death. He makes up stories and trap people,” Kochi police commissioner CH Nagaraju said.

Shafi, senior police officials said, had an extensive criminal record with 10 cases over the past 15 years – including a previous charge of rape and attempt to murder a 75-year-old woman. During interrogation, Laila confessed that Shafi insisted that they eat a portion of the bodies to be sacrificed to complete the rituals, according to police officers cited above.

“ A portion of the bodies were cooked and consumed by the three accused... One of the accused told us this during interrogation, but we will proceed on this angle with scientific evidence,” the commissioner said.

The first victim, identified as Roslin, in her fifties, was killed on June 6. Roughly four months later, another woman – identified as 52-year-old P Padma – was hacked to death. In both cases, police said, the pattern was the same – Shafi identified the victims, lured them with the promise of money and work, brought them to the Pathanamthitta house, where the three accused tied them to a cot, brutalised them, and hacked them to death.

A senior police officer said the three people cut Roslin cut into five pieces and Padma into 56. Both were buried in a pit outside the house and were exhumed on Tuesday after police cracked the case.

“The second murder was far more brutal because after the first, Singh reached out to Shafi complaining that he had seen no gain in material wealth, and was told that there needed to be a more gruesome sacrifice because the family was under a curse.” said a senior police officer.

Police officials said Shafi made contact with Singh over Facebook through a fake profile with the name “Sreedevi” and advertised – both on social media and in local vernacular dailies – the ability to bring financial gain through occult practices. The couple finally met Shafi in June, who posed as Rasheed, an associate of “Sreedevi”, and were convinced to conduct the sacrifice, a police officer said.

Nagaraju said that Shafi used the “irrational fear” of the couple, and that he was “a pervert and a sadist”. Singh and Laila, however, have no previous criminal record. He said that on September 26, Padma, a 52-year-old lottery ticket vendor from Ernakulam went missing from her house, a day after which a missing persons complaint was lodged in Kadavanthara.

“All we had was a CCTV visual of Padma getting into a car with Shafi and nothing else. A police team used scientific investigation and traced them to the house at Elanthoor,” Nagaraju said.

He added that police used Padma’s call detail records and her interactions with Shafi to zero in on the Pathanamthitta location, and used the CCTV footage from Singh’s neighbour on October 8 to corroborate that the same vehicle entered the house on the night of September 26. On Sunday, police arrested Shafi, and the next day, took both Singh and Laila into custody.

“Shafi is a hardcore criminal and refused to cooperate with the probe at first. When all three were questioned together, Laila broke down and gave us details of the two murders, blaming Shafi for them,” the commissioner said.

Investigations revealed that on June 6, Shafi similarly identified another lottery vendor named Roslin, in her fifties; he lured her to Singh’s home with money, where the three murdered her.

Nagaraju said that Shafi was accused in 10 cases in the past 15 years, including theft, cheating and rape and attempt to murder. “In 2020, he was arrested for the rape of a 75-year-old woman who was also attacked by a knife in various parts of her body,” Nagaraju said. He spent a year in jail, and was released on bail in August 2021. He was out on bail in two other cases, and was registered as absconding in the others, officials said.

On Wednesday, an Ernakulam magistrate court sent all three to 14 days in judicial custody. The Kerala director general of police Anil Kant also formed a special investigation team(SIT) to probe the case.

Police said Shafi took 1.5 lakh from the couple to arrange the first human sacrifice and chose his victims carefully. They were both women in their fifties who stayed away from relatives and were in urgent need of money. Roslin was divorced, with her daughter in Uttar Pradesh working as a teacher. While she went missing on June 6, no one raised an alarm. It was only in August that her daughter returned to Kerala and filed a missing persons complaint, but with few leads to go on, the trail went cold.

In both cases, officials said, the victims were taken to the house on the grounds that they would be paid money to work in a film, an officer familiar with the investigation said. Singh, police officials said, came from a family of traditional healers and ran a clinic out of his house, was fond of “haikus”, and was “well-respected.” He had been married previously, but divorced 10 years ago before marrying Laila. He had two children from his first marriage, both of whom live abroad, officials said.

The ghastly crime left the sleepy village of Elanthoor in Pathanamthitta in shock.

Elanthoor panchayat president Mercy Mathew said, “Singh was not money-minded and often treated his patients free. His father was also a famous healer.

The case also sparked a political battle.

Union minister V Muraleedharan accused the Kerala government of a delayed response. “A life could have been saved if there had been a serious investigation by the police into the first missing complaint itself,” he said.

He said that the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) was involved in the case because some reports linked Singh to a a local CPI(M) unit. But the ruling party denied it. “He worked with us but wasn’t a member of our party,” said PR Pradeep, CPI(M)-area committee secretary in Pathanamthitta.

Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan lauded the state police . “Abducting and killing people for wealth and superstitious beliefs is a crime which is beyond imagination in a state like Kerala. I urge everyone in society to come forward and identify such evil practices and bring them to public notice” he said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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