The Stoneman is a mystery that has haunted India for over 30 years. It is the name given by local media to a serial killer who may have murdered at least 13 homeless people while they were sleeping in Kolkata, or Calcutta, in the late 1980s.
In a similar period, the city of Mumbai, then named Bombay, was also struggling with a similar phenomenon of homeless people being murdered. These horrific crimes have been theorized to have been by the same perpetrator, taking the total loss of life to around 26 people as a minimum.
There has been no one charged, and it has not been established whether these crimes were committed by a group or by a singular person. All of the cases remain unsolved.
The first indication that there was something awry was when the homeless ragpickers (a person who literally buys and sells rags) and beggars in India began to turn up dead. This began happening in 1985 and over the span of two years, a series of 12 murders were committed in the King’s Circle and Sion areas of the city.
The perpetrator would follow a fairly simple modus operandi. They would seek out an unsuspecting victim that was sleeping alone in an isolated area and then murder them. They would crush the head with a single stone, often weighing upwards of 30 kilograms (66 lb).
Often, the victims could not be identified as they slept alone and had no relationships or associations with regular society. No one would be looking for them and thus their deaths would go by fairly unnoticed.
These victims were regularly people who lived day to day and lived by simple means. None of them were high-profile cases and the police were likely unfazed by a homeless person being killed. They did not become concerned until they saw a pattern emerging around the sixth death of a homeless person.
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However, one homeless victim managed to survive an attack. He was a waiter and managed to escape and report the incident to the police. The issue was that he was attacked in a dimly lit area in Sion and was not able to get a good look at his attacker.
The homeless waiter had been sleeping when the attack took place and so was caught unaware. The Stoneman, as he became known, escaped into the night remaining faceless in the shadows of Sion.
It was not long before there was another incident. A ragpicker was hacked to death in the nearby suburb of Matunga. The police and the media immediately suspected that it was the Stoneman, but no evidence ever turned up that could link the two.
This was one of the last killings in the area. For no reason whatsoever the killings stopped in the middle of 1988. The cases were left unsolved and have remained so even today.
Whether the Bombay killings and the Calcutta killings are actually by the same person, is hard to say. However, it is remarkably strange that the killings in Bombay stopped when those in Calcutta began.
The choice of weapon was similar, the victims were of the same class, and the similarities in modus operandi all suggest that this was by the same person or group of people that had begun in Bombay. This cannot be confirmed, however.
The first victim in Calcutta died from injuries sustained to the head in June 1989. In the subsequent six months, there were twelve more murders all of whom were attributed to the Stoneman. All of the victims were homeless people sleeping in the city alone and the less well-lit areas of Calcutta.
In fact, most of the murders took place in an area near central Calcutta close to the Howrah Bridge. The victims were all attacked by dropping a heavy stone or concrete slab onto their heads. The police deduced that the attacker must have been a relativity tall man who was quite fit or at least well-built.
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The assumption has always been that it was a man committing these crimes. This is all subjective, though as there were never any eyewitness accounts or physical descriptions provided, even by the few survivors.
The police response was to deploy more officers into various parts of the cities. They did make arrests of so-called suspicious persons, however, there was little evidence to create a case surrounding the murders. The people were all released without charges.
It does bear noting that when these people were arrested, the killings did come to a stop. Much like in Bombay, the crimes were not solved and have remained a mystery today.
The Legacy of the Stoneman
So much has this legend fascinated people around the world, and there have been several movie adaptions based upon these events. Producer Bobby Bedi created a movie called The Stoneman Murders which was released in 2009. It starred Kay Kay Menon and Arbaaz Khan.
The writer for the movie was Manish Gupta, who claimed that he used 40% fact to 60% fiction in his writing. The movie sets the killings against the backdrop of a religious ritual committed by a policeman. He did leave the ending open for interpretation though keeping the mystery alive.
Another film was produced in 2011 It was a Bengali film named Baishe Srabon. It has been suggested that the film is loosely based on the crime thriller Seven and the drama Righteous Kill. Baishe Srabon again focuses on mysterious killings around Calcutta that take place in 1989.
The killer in the film, much like the Stoneman, chooses his victims from the poor and homeless. They are often drug users, sex workers, and people who live on the streets. This film, however, ends with the serial killer committing suicide by shooting himself after confessing his crimes. This is something that never happened to the real Stoneman.
As with many stories about serial killers the fascination of the story lies in the motive of the killer, which ultimately remains speculative and liable to be sensationalized. No one was ever convicted or tried for these killings. The mystery of the crime keeps the fascination with the Stoneman alive.
Top Image: The mysterious “Stoneman”, tied to a series of murders in India in the late 80s, has never been caught. Source: realstock1 / Adobe Stock.
By Kurt Readman