Terror stalks the city’s beggars, who have already lost 10 members of their community in a series of grisly killings. Police are baffled, unable to find a convincing motive for the murders.
Pictures by Sanka Vidanagama and Nilan Maligaspe
Just as the beggar community thought its worst nightmare was over, and that they could go back to sleeping in the streets in peace, following a lull in a series of beggar killings that has shocked the city, the “serial beggar killer” strikes again.
This week, the phantom killer claimed his latest victim, this time in Mount Lavinia.
Over the past two months, 10 beggars have been brutally murdered in Colombo and the suburbs. The killings have taken place in Wellawatte, Bambalapitiya, Kollupitiya, Slave Island, Maradana, Armour Street, Peliyagoda, and Mount Lavinia.
In each case, the victims were killed with a blunt object directed at the head, resulting in internal and external bleeding. The assailant or assailants had used either a brick or a rock to crush the skulls of their victims as they slept. Some of the victims were physically disabled.
Street beggars now avoid dark corners and alleys and sleep where there are bright lights
The serial killings have forced beggars to take their own security precautions, such as sleeping on traffic islands in the middle of streets, sleeping in groups while one person keeps vigil, and sleeping in well-lit places.
Six weeks ago the Police made an arrest in Wellawatte and reassured the city’s beggars that they were now safe. The motive for the killings remains a mystery.
The Police, who have made only one arrest so far, believe the beggars were killed for the money they had collected from begging. The Police are trying to ascertain whether a serial killer is on the prowl or whether an organised network is behind the killings.
In the case of the beggar victim in Wellawatte, the Wellawatte Police arrested a 66-year-old man from Horana on evidence given by alleged eyewitnesses. “The suspect in custody is known as the king of the beggars,” a Wellawatte Police officer told the Sunday Times. “These beggars operate in a group and hang around traffic lights, places of worship, and commercial areas. They give a part of their earnings to their boss, whom they call the king.”
Mother of Mount Lavinia victim, Manoj Perera
Chief Inspector Marlon Perera, officer in charge (OIC) of the Slave Island Police, said investigations were continuing into the killings of two beggars in their area. “In both cases, the killer or killers had used a heavy object to smash the skulls of the sleeping beggars,” he said, adding that so far no clues had been found.
The latest victim was a physically disabled person, Manoj Perera, 37 years, a resident of Sri Jana Mawatha, Athidiya.
Disabled from birth, Manoj would sit in a three-wheel cart in the streets of Mount Lavinia, making a living selling lottery tickets. This had been his life and livelihood for the past 20 years.
According to members of his family, Manoj had left his home last Sunday at around 8 a.m. When he failed to return home that night, the family assumed he was spending the night with a friend.
It was Manoj’s
habit to return home late at night, sometimes after a drink or two at a liquor outlet in Mount Lavinia .
Investigations revealed that on the night he went missing, Manoj had neither visited his friend’s house, nor the bar where he usually went for a drink.
Friends and relatives mourn the death of lottery ticket seller Manoj Perera, a much-loved and familiar face in Mount Lavinia.
On Tuesday morning, the Mount Lavinia police received a call to say that the body of a disabled person was found near the Union Assurance car park. Manoj’s body was found lying in a pool of blood, his tricycle next to the body. The lottery tickets were found tossed aside in a corner. The victim appeared to have been murdered while sleeping. No money was found on him.
Mount Lavinia Magistrate Ruchira Weliwita visited the scene of the crime. The postmortem, conducted by Dr. K. M. Mahasen of the Kalubowila Teaching Hospital, revealed that the victim had been killed with a blow to the skull by a blunt object. The case relating to the killing of Manoj Perera comes before the Mount Lavinia Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Manoj’s mother, Mrs. Perera, said her son prized his tricycle, and would take it to a shelter near the car park whenever it rained.
“He was very careful with it,” Mrs. Perera said. “He hated to have it get wet or dirty. It is from his tricycle that he made a living, selling lottery tickets. My six other children support me, but Manoj insisted on contributing to the home expenses.
“I would often tell him to stay at home, but he wouldn’t listen. He was very active, despite his disability. He didn’t like to depend on others. He bought his own food and medicines. I cannot understand why anyone would want to harm my son. He never harmed anyone, or did wrong to anyone.”
According to Manoj Perera’s sister, the victim had no enemies. “He got along with everyone. The people in the area loved him. He was polite and he was funny. We hope the killer will be found soon,” she said.
Superintendent of Police spokesman Prishantha Jayakody told the Sunday Times that the Police hoped to make a breakthrough soon in the serial killings investigation – before the killer strikes again.
‘LTTE-in-disguise-in-Colombo’ claim could have provoked city murders – Asian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission has expressed concern that the government may have triggered the recent spate of beggar murders by suggesting that LTTE operatives had infiltrated the city under the guise of beggars.
In a recent report, the commission quoted Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne as saying that members of the terrorist organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), were posing as beggars in cities and towns across the country in order to gather information, and that government intelligence services have identified so-called “beggars” as persons trained and deployed by the LTTE.
“A disabled person who moved around in a wheelchair was found dead in Colombo with severe head injuries, while five other similar killings of beggars have been reported recently,” the report stated. “Regarding the other five killings of beggars, it is hard to imagine anybody wanting to steal anything from beggars as, by their very nature, they are the ones who have the least.
“Besides, the injury on the heads of the disabled lottery ticket seller was a severe injury, most probably caused by hitting with a heavy stone. The circumstances suggest deliberate intention to kill,” the report added.
The Asian Human Rights Commission pointed out that beggars were taken off the streets during the recent “city beautifying” exercise, ahead of the International Indian Film Awards (IIFA), held in Colombo last month.
“It is difficult not to link such statements and the sudden occurrence of a series of killings of beggars in Colombo,” the AHRC report said.
The commission questioned the wisdom of making statements that could prompt intelligence agencies or parties to act against the poorest people in society – the beggars.