India: 10 dead from medicine, religious offerings laced with cyanide
Vellanki Simhadri, 38, was arrested on Tuesday after allegedly confessing to the crimes in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh between February 2018 and October 2019, police said.
According to police documents, Simhadri is alleged to have given some of the victims prasadam — a type of religious offering eaten by Hindus and Sikhs — which was laced with cyanide, a chemical used to clean metals and in manufacturing which can be fatal in high doses. In other cases, he is alleged to have told the victims that the cyanide was a traditional medicine.
In nine of the cases, Simhadri allegedly stole property from the victims, according to documents released by police in Eluru, a city in Andhra Pradesh.
The first alleged victim, Vallabhaneni Umamahewara, died in his garden on February 15, 2018. Police allege Simhadri gave Umamahewara, 63, cyanide-laced prasadam, claiming it would help improve his chances of receiving good luck. Simhadri then allegedly stole 4 million rupees ($56,400) and one silver ring from the victim.
Simhadri is then alleged to have killed eight others in various locations throughout Andhra Pradesh. But it wasn’t until his 10th alleged victim that he was caught.
On October 17, teacher Kati Nagaraju, 52, was found unconscious in Eluru, according to police. The previous evening, he had told his wife he was going to the bank — but he never returned home.
Simhadri was allegedly seen on security footage talking to Nagaraju, police said. He was arrested on Tuesday, and police said he confessed to the 10 deaths.
Although Simhadri has been arrested, he has not been charged — and no trial date has been set. In India, criminal trials are not held before a jury. Murder carries a potential death sentence or life in prison.
According to police, Simhadri had huge debts after losing money in real estate. “To overcome this and to gain money, he started committing theft of cash and gold from known persons and later killed them using cyanide,” police said.
Simhadri stole rings, cash and gold ornaments from his other victims. Police said he used the goods to buy a house in Eluru and build another.
“(Simhadri) confessed that he killed 10 persons and committed theft of cash and gold to meet his luxurious lifestyle and expenses,” police said in the official complaint filed against him.
After his arrest, police said they recovered 163,400 rupees ($2,300), in a plastic tin containing a small amount of cyanide, as well as gold ornaments.
A 60-year-old man named Sheik Ameenullah Babu was arrested for allegedly supplying the cyanide to Simhadri.
According to police documents, Babu’s younger brother used cyanide to polish motorcycle parts. Babu went with his brother to help him buy supplies, and allegedly bought cyanide without his sibling knowing.