3 years

Endgame

To Kill a Killer

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The story of the shooting of a software programmer wanted for a trail of grisly murders and sensational escapes

Nagendra Reddy was many things. He was a software programmer adept at writing code. He was an NRI once settled in the UK. He was also a cold-blooded killer whose tally of murders stood at six. He was a man who escaped from police custody twice, the second time by killing a constable. By virtue of all of the above, he was a much wanted man by the police.

Since he had disappeared 20 months ago from a hospital ward, the police had been searching for him. They had two leads to follow. One was his peculiar fondness for an ageing counterfeiter called ‘DD’ Ravi. “He was trying hard to arrange bail every time Ravi’s case came up,” says Bangalore Joint Commissioner Alok Kumar. The other lead was information on his new line of crime. Informers had revealed that Reddy now stole vehicles and sold them in other states. One of these leads would work.

THE FIRST MURDERS

By all accounts, in February 2002, when Reddy left for London to be a webmaster in BIPS Info Tech in Wembley, there was nothing criminal about him. He had a diploma in web designing and was onto an unremarkable career path. Soon, he had joined a business with his friend Radha Krishna Chipuru. Each invested £2,500. According to the police, a dispute arose over  Chipuru’s alleged misuse of funds. To get even, Reddy used Chipuru’s credit cards liberally. Once Chipuru found out, Reddy decided to kill him.

Scotland Yard says that Reddy paid two males of Indian origin a sum to get rid of his friend. In October 2004, they drew Chipuru to a house in a London suburb, and stabbed him to death. To prevent identification, Reddy cut off the head, torso and thumbs. They wrapped the body in a blanket, drove it away in a taxi, and set it on fire. The next morning, Reddy went to Heathrow and caught a flight.

A year later, Bangalore police found a headless body in a lodge. The thumbs of both hands had been cut off. The shirt was missing, but the trousers—with empty pockets—and shoes were still on. “Someone had carried a human head away from the second floor of the lodge into the crowded road below in the busiest part of Bangalore. It was macabre,” recalls Sharath Chandra, then divisional deputy police commissioner. A Hyderabad-based man who had reported his son missing in Bangalore identified the body by the trousers. It belonged to Rajesh Artham, a software engineer working with Satyam. 

The police began an investigation, and the first breakthrough came after Artham’s friends reported that Nagendra Reddy, a friend who was present at the funeral and death ceremonies, was behaving rather strange, even refusing to see the body. By then, there was information that someone had been using Artham’s credit cards in Vijayawada, Pune and New Delhi. The cops also noticed that Reddy had acquired new accessories. They took him in for questioning.
After three days, Reddy admitted that he had killed Artham on 19 January 2005. He’d wrapped the head in the victim’s shirt, walked 3 km with it in his kitbag to bury it in the dead of night, and walked back to the inter-state bus stand to catch a bus for Vijayawada.

A few weeks later, while Reddy was awaiting trial, the UK High Commission wrote a letter to the police asking if they could furnish his details, because a person of the same name was wanted by Scotland Yard. In August 2006, when Reddy heard that UK cops were coming for him, he slashed his wrists and was sent to a government hospital. During a visit to the toilet, he escaped. He fled across the Karnataka border to Andhra Pradesh, and hired a taxi to Hyderabad. On the way, he convinced the driver to have a few drinks with him. After the driver fell asleep, Reddy made off with the car and met with two friends enroute. When they ran short of money, they sold the car to a Dharmavaram businessman. But, instead of turning over the car, they found it easier to rob the businessman of the Rs 60,000 he had on him. Their luck soon ran out, though, and the Andhra Pradesh police arrested them. Reddy was brought back to Bangalore.

HOSPITAL BREAK

Police personnel who knew him say that Reddy was a voracious reader of books on law, crime and detection. Even when he would be taken out during investigation, he kept reading. He even argued his cases himself in court. It impressed ‘DD’ Ravi, a long time resident undertrial at Bangalore’s Central Jail and a counterfeiter from Kerala specialising in fake demand drafts, pay orders and other banking instruments. “They used to chat for long hours, since undertrials are not assigned any work. Ravi was instrumental in getting Reddy to write an anonymous letter to the state Human Rights Commission detailing corrupt practices at the Central Jail. Commission officials raided the jail and served notices to several jail officials,” recalls a jailor.

Reddy led an active life in prison. “He would befriend rich undertrials facing white-collar crimes or dowry harassment cases, get their bank account numbers, pass them on to his contacts outside along with instructions on how to siphon the funds. Ravi was very impressed and even bragged about it to a jail official. We wanted to separate the two and got Reddy transferred to Belgaum prison,” recalls the official.

In Belgaum, Reddy again slashed his wrists and was taken to a hospital. On 10 May, as he was recuperating with a heavy bandage on both his arms, he was given a knife by one of his visitors. He stabbed constable Chandrakant Kamble, the lone sentry guarding the ward door, and escaped. Kamble died a few hours later. There were periodic reports that Reddy had joined Naxal insurgents and was in the jungles of the Andhra-Orissa border. But no one saw him for a long time. 

THE FINAL ACT

Last month, a vehicle lifter out on bail successfully contacted Reddy and informed the police that he was operating in the border area. Even though the police had hacked his email accounts and kept a watch on some 15 phone mobile numbers Reddy used, they couldn’t catch him. But strange new facts were coming to light. “A team that went to Vishakhapatnam found that Reddy had been an accused in the murder of a taxi driver, Manikoti Govind, and had actually spent five months in jail last year till he got bail. Though the photograph matched, the Andhra police said he had given them his name as Vishnu and a false address,” says Kumar.

Meanwhile, the police also kept tabs on the other lead—‘DD’ Ravi. They kept an eye on all of Ravi’s cases that came up for hearing, because they had reliable information that Reddy would send an associate along with bail money. However, the court denied Ravi bail, and the lead turned cold.

Meanwhile, the police informer enticed Reddy by asking him to supply getaway vehicles for a bank heist his friends were planning. The police story gets hazy here. Kumar claims an unsuspecting Reddy drove his way to Bangalore in an SUV stolen from Orissa. “The contact asked him to meet him at a certain place in the early hours,” says Kumar, “The crime branch, which was monitoring his movements, set up check points. At one of them, Reddy was flagged down. He actually stopped, but he perhaps sensed a trap as there were too many police vehicles around for a routine nakabandi. He revved the accelerator to slam into the cops. The vehicle swerved into a roadside gutter. As the bumper got stuck, he could not reverse. He took out a country-made revolver and shot at an officer. Another returned fire and hit him in his neck. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was declared ‘brought dead’.”

This sounds like the typical police encounter story—hard to contest, but one you have heard so often that it becomes hard to believe. Once Reddy had killed a cop, it was certain that he would be tracked. And perhaps eliminated, given his crime profile and escapes. But there was one more act to follow: Reddy’s parents refused to claim the body.