A man arrested from Madhya Pradesh has confessed to killing 33 people - all drivers and cleaners of trucks - and stealing the vehicles. The police said Aadesh Khambra was a contract killer, who made Rs 50,000 per murder. The arrest was made from Mandideep following a tip-off from another arrested robber.
Initially a tailor, Aadesh Khambra, the police said, took up a life in crime after struggling with his finances for years. In 2007, he looted a truck with some friends and then joined a 9-members gang.
Over the last 13 years, the man - originally from Mandideep near Bhopal -- targetted trucks on highways across Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The police said he would develop a rapport with the men and then offer them drugged food. After killing them, he would dump the bodies in isolated spots and sell the truck and the goods it carried across Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Police said their code for murder was "kachra saaf karo (clean up the garbage)". The direction went to gang members on phone whenever a 'job' came up. The target would first be drugged, the code for which was "kuch mitha ho jaaye (how about some dessert)".
"The gang members befriended the targets and then called Khambra, who would turn up at the spot with sweets, liquor and other eatables laced with drugs," said Dharmendra Chaudhary, a senior police officer of Bhopal. Asked how the men managed to befriend total strangers, the officer said at times, they would strike up a conversation after asking for a cellphone charger.
The government's flagship Goods and Services Tax caused a slight hiccup in the process, the police said. The drug that Aadesh Khambra used, dubbed "tablet 24" was withdrawn from the market and he had to find something equally effective, the police said. He had been buying the drug from a medical store in Karera, Shivpuri.
Aadesh Khambra committed a murder for the first time in 2008, the police said, running over a man in Raghogarh. Two years later, he got arrested by the Amravati police in Maharashtra and was convicted on charge of killing 8 murders.
Released on bail in 2015, he restarted the tailoring business again. But when his son met with an accident in 2016, he turned to crime again to pay the hospital bills. This time, he turned a contract killer.
He was arrested after the police solved a double murder that took place in Bilkhiria, barely 20 km from the state capital Bhopal, on August 13.
One of the men arrested in the case, Jaykaran Prajapati, told the police that Aadesh Khambra was the mastermind. Catching him would hav4 been difficult else. The man changed his mobile phone and sim card after each murder. The police have received the details of 43 IMEI numbers used for more than 50 sim cards.
The gang initially confessed to 14 highway murders in three states. But investigation revealed there was much more. The police said they have so far received queries about 86 such highway robberies and murders from these states.
The police said Adesh Khambra revealed the gang works on Guru-Chela (teacher-disciple) format, where the gang leader trained the new entrants and they then formed their own gangs. The police are trying to nab the "Saheb Ji" who is said to be the boss of Adesh Khambra.
The police have also recovered a diary from Adesh Khambra, which, sources said contained names indicating possible political patronage to the accused. But state police chief Rishi Kumar Shukla refused to reveal details, saying, "I will not say anything about the findings of the investigation."