KADALURI Shiva and wife Nagalakshmi owned two cars, lived in a three-bedroom, well-furnished house in Narsingi, on the outskirts of Hyderabad, and went on frequent holidays to Singapore and Malaysia, and closer home, to Kerala and Goa. According to the Hyderabad police, all that came from the earnings made by the couple from chain-snatchings, numbering more than 500 and spread across the city's Cyberabad area. Their alleged run came to an end on August 15 night when Shiva was killed in an encounter after he had reportedly stabbed a police official.
The 30-year-old Shivas modus operandi, police say, was simple. Holding a piece of paper with an address written on it, he would approach a woman standing or walking alone, seemingly to ask for directions. As the intended victim tried to figure out the address, he would allegedly snatch her gold chain and flee on a motorcycle. An accomplice would be parked nearby in a car. Shiva would then swap vehicles and flee.
At other times, Nagalakshmi would set off in her car to scout a target area, looking for women walking alone and wearing expensive jewellery. She would alert him on his mobile, and he would allegedly attack the woman and take the jewellery. Many victims ended up with deep gashes or cuts from the snatching. Nagalakshmi would apparently keep a watch from a distance.
Their gang of associates would then get to work, exchanging the stolen gold ornaments for cash within the next few hours. Nagalakshmi would also approach private financiers and finance companies and mortgage the gold for cash using fake identity proofs.
Police have arrested Nagalakshmi, Jagdish and Raj Kumar and recovered 30 tolas of gold, and seized two cars and a sports motorbike. A search is on for the other alleged gang members. Police are also rounding up employees of private finance companies who mortgaged the stolen gold without verifying the authenticity of ID proofs submitted by the gang.
A native of Nellore and a college dropout, Shiva allegedly took to crime in 2002. He committed thefts in Tirupati before moving to Hyderabad, where he met M Jagdish, his alleged first partner in crime. The duo were arrested in 2004 for theft. After their release, they moved into a room in Film Nagar, a residential area adjoining Banjara Hills, where many Telugu film actors and others trying to get a foothold in Tollywood live. It was here that Shiva met Nagalakshmi, a 22-year-old who had moved to Hyderabad from Vijayawada hoping to act in television serials. Her career did not take off and the two got married in 2006.
None of the complainants and victims ever mentioned Nagalakshmi being present at the time of the snatching. She has no record of committing a crime on her own except selling or mortgaging stolen goods. Police arrested her immediately after her husband was shot dead, releasing her temporarily so that she could attend his funeral.
Shiva was not an average chain-snatching criminal, says Assistant Commissioner of Police R Sudharshan. He had expensive tastes, a fondness for holidaying in Singapore, Malaysia, Goa or Kerala, and spent lavishly. He had a Hyundai and a Chevrolet car. Even his house was expensively furnished. After committing a string of snatchings in Cyberabad area, he would shift base temporarily to Vizag or Tirupati. Assisted by his wife, he and his gang would dispose of the ornaments for cash, which they splurged. His gang was the most notorious of the several chain-snatching gangs operating here and he managed to evade police very cleverly.
Cyberabad Commissioner C V Anand said that until August 15 this year, around 250 chain-snatching offences had been reported from Cyberabad and police suspect Shiva and Nagalakshmi to have been involved in many of them. As complaints started pouring in, officials laid several traps, dressing up in plainclothes and with jewellery. But Shiva never took the bait.
It was in April, after a sudden spurt in chain-snatchings, that the Central Crime Station of the Cyberabad Police started monitoring several cellphone numbers, one of which they believed was Shivas. The records revealed that he was moving around in Kukatpally, Chandanagar, L B Nagar, Shamshabad, Narsingi and Rajendranagar.
On the night of August 15, a police team set up a vehicle-checking point on Outer Ring Road near Shamshabad. At 10:45 pm, they stopped a man on a motorcycle and asked for his identification and vehicle registration papers. Sub-Inspector K Venkateshwarlu reportedly did not realise the man he had stopped was Shiva, and the latter allegedly reached into his pocket, flipped out a knife and stabbed him. As Shiva tried to flee, Circle Inspector Narasimha Reddy opened fire, killing him on the spot.