Indian Serial Killers and the First Woman to Receive the Death Penalty in Karnataka
In ‘The Deadly Dozen: India’s Most Notorious Serial Killers’, Anirban Bhattacharyya writes about 12 of the most notorious serial killers in India. When we hear ‘serial killers’, we think of the many monsters that the Western mainstream media regularly dredges up to appeal to their readers. The Desi versions are every bit as cold-blooded and depraved, even if they don’t get as much press.
Mr. Bhattacharyya thought it was high time they did, and hence this book.
In the introduction, he asks,
“What is it that attracts us to the stories of and the heinous crimes committed by a serial killer?” and “Is it because of a vicarious pleasure that we derive from the macabre methods of these killings?”
“Or maybe something that appeals to our basic, primal instincts. Perhaps we all have a latent serial killer in us…waiting for that push to the dark side.”
Of the 12 Indian serial killers that Mr. Bhattacharyya profiles, let’s have a look at the life and times of K.D.Kempamma, also known as Cyanide Mallika for reasons that will soon become obvious.
The account begins on 19 October 1999 at the Jalageramma temple in Hoskote, a district in Bangalore Rural. Mamatha Rajan, a vulnerable and troubled 30-year-old woman, visits the temple to seek some mental relief. Here, she meets an older woman, who introduces herself as Lakshmi and proceeds to lend her a sympathetic ear.
‘Sister, whatever seems to be bothering you, you must leave it to god. He challenges us in many ways. He puts obstacles in our path to test our faith. You must never lose hope and faith,’ Lakshmi said calmly. Her words were like a balm to Mamatha’s agitation.
‘How do you know something is troubling me?’ Mamatha asked.
‘I know many things, child.’ Lakshmi raised Mamatha’s chin and continued, ‘Your eyes are sad. And in your heart you carry a great burden. You find it difficult to sleep at night.’
Here, while it may have been apparent that Lakshmi is a manipulator, Mamatha is far too needy for reassurance and fails to find anything fishy about the woman’s behaviour.
Instead, she even asks,
“Are you a saintly woman?”
She is willing to accept spiritual advice from a complete stranger, and agrees to her suggestion that she conduct a mandala puja at her home to get rid of her personal problems.
The Mandala Puja
‘I perform a special mandala puja that will help your prayers reach the gods faster and more efficiently. The puja has the power to make your wishes come true,’ Lakshmi said.
Mandala puja is considered to be the ultimate prescription in Hinduism to transform one’s life for the better. It is usually done to please the favourite deity of the person, whichever god it might be, and thereby be blessed with boons and good tidings.
They agree to perform the mandala puja ten days later on the night of 29 October at Mamatha’s house. However, Lakshmi has a non-negotiable condition.
“But you must send everyone away from your house for at least a couple of days. Remember, no one must know about it or else the prayer will not work.”
Mamatha arranges for her family members to leave the house on that fateful night. She is alone at home, all bedecked in her finery and jewellery, when Lakshmi shows up at the appointed time with all the paraphernalia for the puja.
She then begins the puja in all earnestness, and, after a while of chanting on her own, decides to get the victim involved.
The Cyanide Holy Water
Lakshmi asked Mamatha to close her eyes and pray. Mamatha closed her eyes, her heart exploding with joy and gratitude. Then she heard Lakshmi say: ‘When I give you the holy water, you must swallow it at once or else the prayer will not be complete. Understood?’
Mamatha nodded. Lakshmi pulled back Mamatha’s braid and poured the liquid into her mouth. Then she clamped down on her nose and mouth to prevent her from breathing. As soon as Mamatha gulped down the holy water, which was cyanide, she started gasping for air. She opened her eyes to see Lakshmi’s kind face now contorted into a vicious sneer. Mamatha struggled to free herself from Lakshmi’s death grip, but Lakshmi only tightened her hold. Within moments, life ebbed away from Mamatha.
Lakshmi then strips the dead woman of all her jewellery, stuffs it into her purse, and walks out.
We now learn that she has used many aliases for her murder sprees, including the one that would eventually become the most well-known, Mallika.
Evolution of a Murderess
The author then gives us a brief account of Mallika’s impoverished background in her hometown of Kaggalipura.
‘Tell your mother that I am no longer giving her things on credit!’ the grocer told a ten-year-old Mallika. ‘If she cannot afford to buy rice, she should cook with sawdust!’ The crowd gathered at the shop laughed at her loudly.
Mallika ran as fast as she could, tears streaming down her face, the laughter echoing in her head. She hated her life and she hated poverty. She wanted to be rich.
This explains the main motive that led her down the criminal path.
As she is a Class V drop-out and needs to earn money to survive, she begins working as a maid. She marries Devraj, a tailor who works at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bengaluru. Marriage does not bring any material benefits, so she begins stealing from her employers and, from there, it is a step down to murdering people.
Fortunately, Mallika is no longer at large. The police nabbed her after her sixth murder and the court sentenced her to death. She was the first women to receive the death penalty in Karnataka. However, that was later commuted to life imprisonment.
She was in the news briefly in 2017 for sharing the cell next to V. K. Sasikala, the convicted money launderer and aide of J. Jayalalithaa, the former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu. Apparently, Sasikala wasn’t too happy about having her in her vicinity, and so Mallika was moved to another jail. She remains there, at the time of this writing.
To read more about Cyanide Mallik and other Indian serial killers, we recommend the book: