‘Auto’ Shankar: a ride of terror in the Madras of the 80s
Among the many brutal and gruesome murder cases that have rocked Chennai in its recent history, none comes close to the multiple murder cases by ‘Auto’ Shankar and his group between 1987 and 1988
Among the many brutal and gruesome murder cases that have rocked Chennai in its recent history, none comes close to the multiple murder cases by ‘Auto’ Shankar and his group between 1987 and 1988.
Born Gowri Shankar in 1955 at Kangeyanallur village in Vellore district, Shankar settled down at Periyar Nagar. Starting out as a painter, Shankar later started driving autorickshaws, transporting illicit arrack from coastal hamlets areas between Tiruvanmiyur and Mamallapuram to the city. His autos were also used for ‘savaaris’ of young women exploited in the burgeoning flesh trade then.
With the help of his younger brother Mohan, his brother-in-law Eldin and trusted accomplices Shivaji, Jayavelu, Rajaraman, Ravi, Palani and Paramasivam among others, Shankar soon established himself as the uncrowned king of all nefarious activities in Tiruvanmiyur. He ran prostitution dens from a line of huts in Periyar Nagar as well as from a lodge on L.B. Road with the connivance of the police.
Shankar’s influence peaked in the mid 1980s and lasted just a couple of years until his murders were exposed. In 1987, a young woman Lalitha, according to the police, was Shankar’s first officially known victims. Part of his inner circle, she ran away with Sudalaimuthu, one of his confidantes, but they were tracked down and brought back to Periyar Nagar. While Lalitha was clubbed to death and buried in a vacant plot in Periyar Nagar, Sudalaimuthu, was set on fire and the remains were packed in a blanket and disposed in the Bay of Bengal
It was not until nearly 15 months later that Lalitha’s remains were dug out.
The gang continued to operate with impunity, until Shankar was confronted by three men, Mohan (not his younger brother), Sampath and Govindaraj. They had picked up a quarrel with Shankar’s men when they attempted to take away one of his women from the L.B.Road lodge.
The three were rounded up, beaten to death and their bodies buried on a small plot in Periyar Nagar. In addition to these five murders, Shankar was also involved in the killing of one Ravi.
After the passing away of former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran in December 1987, the State was plunged into a political crisis until Governor’s Rule was imposed between January 1988 and 1989. The parents of some of the missing men later approached Governor P.C. Alexander as the Tiruvanmiyur police had failed to act on their earlier complaint. Following the Governor’s direction to Jaffer Ali, deputy inspector general of police, Chengai range, a new team of policemen was formed. It included inspectors Thangamani and Ranganathan from Pallavaram circle, sub-inspectors Subramanian and Sengeni and constables Rajan Babu, Natarajan, Devadas and Perumal. The team also roped in Aari, a constable from neighbouring Tiruvannamalai district, who was very well known to Shankar.
Aari’s inputs were invaluable and once Shankar’s accomplices were rounded up and interrogated, they spoke about each of the murders and how they had disposed of the bodies. The unearthing in 1988 of the bodies of Lalitha and the three men created a sensation among the residents.
After Shankar’s arrest, the policemen made a thorough recovery of his property and found his diary which had photos of policemen of different ranks posing with him.
At least a couple of policemen who had served in Tiruvanmiyur were immediately suspended, while a third – an officer of the rank of a deputy superintendent — was sent on long leave and later suspended.
Shankar and his men were interrogated at Pallavaram police station before they were transferred to Chennai Central prison, from where Shankar made a daring escape with the help of a woman. He was subsequently tracked down at Rourkela Steel City, Odisha, and brought back and subsequently hanged at Salem prison along with Eldin and Shivaji. Three jail wardens were also punished for helping Shankar escape.
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