Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In late 1988, over a period of approximately 6 months, 9 teen-age girls from the Thiruvanmiyur section of Madras disappeared without a trace. In the beginning, investigators believed that the girls had been sold into prostitution by families unable to afford wedding dowries; but the consistent denial of kin forced them to seek another explanation.
Late in December, a school girl named Subalakshmi claimed that an auto rickshaw driver had attempted to abduct her in front of a wine shop. Working undercover in the local wine shop back-rooms, detectives learned of a rumour that an auto driver called Shankar was behind the crimes, disposing of the bodies by cremating them and pouring the remains into the Bay of Bengal. The following morning, the police picked up the suspect who overnight became known to the nation as "Auto Shankar."
During his trial Auto Shankar blamed cinema for "making a devil of him", but a month before his execution, he revealed to reporters a more sinister force. According to his account, he had kidnapped the girls for powerful state politicians, subsequently disposing of them after his patrons had raped them. While these charges have never been substantiated, the Auto Shankar murders served to definitively underscore the criminal extent of the rickshaw union: raising as well dark clouds over the powers to whom they pledge their loyalty.
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