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This article has been written by Padmarag Banerjee.


“Tell me. After my head has been chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be a pleasure to end all pleasures.” – Last words of Peter Kürten, “The Vampire of Dusseldorf ” executed by guillotine on July 2nd, 1931.

It is often said that “crime” is the symptom of a diseased society. When our body fails to stop foreign elements into our biological system, we fall sick. Similarly, When the social machinery fails to function and carry out the duties assigned to it, crime comes out as a repercussion of such failures. The act of manslaughter or Murder has always been deemed as the most grievous form of crime universally throughout all social and legal structures. The exclusive authority to take away the life of a fellow human being has always been vested with the State only. The act of Murder is not only considered a crime against the victim but also against the entire society at large. Therefore, accused charged for Murder is always tried against the state. Over the years, the criminal conduct and psychology have gone through a constant evolution which has given shape to many new forms of crime in our society, one of them being “Serial Murder”.

“Serial murder/serial killing” has always posed as an ambiguous theory in the fields of criminology and criminal law around the globe due to its highly unresembling nature and varied patterns. The vehement psychology of the killer is considered as the focal point of observation and study in matters of serial murder and primarily, this observation of the psychology gives an introspection into the act (actus reus) of the killer. I believe that serial killing expands the definition of murder(according to the English Criminal Law) and hurdles the approach of law towards these crimes in its rudiments. This Article aims to expound the same.

What is Serial Murder?

Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code mentions the term “culpable homicide” which is defined as “Whoever causes death by doing an act with the intention of causing death, or with the intention of causing such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, or with the knowledge that he is likely by such act to cause death, commits the offence of culpable homicide.To simplify, anyone causing an act of death of a human being, having the “intention” and likely knowledge of the possible consequences of his respective act commits the offence of culpable homicide. “Culpable homicide” becomes “Murder” if it comes in the ambit of any of the four clauses mentioned under Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code which are as follows:

Firstly, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the “intention” of causing death, or

Secondly, if it is done with the “intention” of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused, or 

Thirdly, if it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death, or

Fourthly, if the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

Hence, “Culpable homicide” and “Murder” are seperated by a very thin yet sturdy line of the nature of intention and act. While the former rests on the likely knowledge of causing death, the latter is a firm Intention of causing death in all probabilities by an act of crime which would be dangerous enough under natural circumstances to kill the victim.

The term ‘serial murder’ was popularized in the 1970s by Robert Ressler, an investigator with the Behavioral Science Unit of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI originally defined serial murder as “involving at least four events that take place at different locations and are separated by a cooling-off period.” The FBI’s definition has been faulted because it excludes individuals who commit two murders and are arrested before they can commit more and individuals who commit most of their murders in a single location. Such criticisms have led many scholars worldwide to adopt the definition put forward by the National Institute of Justice, an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, according to which serial murder involves at least two different murders that occur “over a period of time ranging from hours to years”.

The concept of “serial murder” is not formally recognized in the Indian Legal code and the only sections dealing with culpable homicide(299 of IPC) or murder(300 of IPC) are the ones mentioned above. It still remains an unrevealed area in the Indian Judicial System since the concept of “serial murder” is often primarily linked with serious mental ailments and “psychopathic behaviour” which can become extremely difficult and complex to comprehend for the legal institutions. 

Psychopathy & its relation with Criminal Conduct

Psychopathy, also known as Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD or ASPD), is a psychological personality disorder. Research shows that individuals with psychopathic behaviour consistently display certain aspects of temperament which include lack of fear, lack of inhibition and a stimulus seeking behavior which can bring out extreme sides of the patient. The greatest contribution to the definition of psychopathy was perhaps made by R.D. Hare and his associates who laid emphasis on assessment and treatment. They were influenced by Cleckley’s observations, and evolved a set of diagnostic criteria that offers a practical approach. Hare devised a list of traits and behaviours for his ‘Psychopathy Checklist’ (PCL). He listed twenty-two items, each of which was to be weighted from 0 to 2 by clinicians working with potential psychopaths. The instrument, with items grouped around two factors, narcissistic personality and antisocial behaviour was tested extensively. In support of Kernberg, but refocusing APD toward 5 personality traits, psychopathy was defined as a disorder characterized by:

  • lack of remorse or empathy,
  • hallow emotions, 
  • manipulativeness, 
  • lying, 
  • egocentricity,
  • glibness,
  • low frustration tolerance, 
  • episodic relationships, parasitic lifestyle, 
  • the persistent violation of social norms, 
  • need for stimulation and criminal versatility.

Psychopathic crimes pose a great amount of theoretical and practical challenge to criminal law and the criminal justice system in general because of the resolute and persistent criminal behaviour combined with unreasonable risk factors taken by the criminal. They may be mentally sound from a legal perspective which is basically being able to understand the nature and consequences of theirs act and be competent to stand trial but may fail to contemplate their act of crimes. They often consider themselves to be a retributive organ of the society and believes their criminal conduct as some sort of self righteousness which the authorities fail to deliver, for example serial killer Pedro López. Their criminal conduct appears to be the product of some mental disorder and there seems to be little effective treatment of the same. The identification of these varied psychopathic disorders must be given utmost emphasis through clinical experts and psychologists.
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Intention & Motive: Relation with Serial Murder

The sections of culpable homicide and murder only mentions the word “intention” or highlights the concept of “implied intention” as Mayne rightly states: “Every offence is defined, and the definition stated not only what the accused must have done, but the state of mind with regard to the act when he was doing it. It must have been knowingly, voluntarily, fraudulently, dishonestly or the like. And when it is stated that the act must have been done with a particular knowledge or intention, the definition goes on to state what he must have known, or what he must have intended”. The “motive” is generally not considered mandatory for conviction. 

There lies an essential distinction between “intention” and “motive”. Intention refers to ‘immediate object’ while motive refers to “remote, final or ultimate object.” Stephen stated, “Intention is an operation of the will directing an overt act; motive is the feeling which prompts the operation of the will, the ulterior or ultimate object of the person willing”.

Motive is thus something which prompts a person to form an intention. Motive may provide a clue to the intention. To put it differently, intention is a means while motive is an end. Intention is mental formulation involving foresight of possible end and the desire to seek to attain it. Motive accordingly supplies reason or ground for the intended act. Motive is the last or final step in the direction of the Act, intention is a prior step leading to that end (motive).

Now, in the case of serial murder or psychopathic crimes, though the criminal is well aware of his actions and is competent to understand the nature and consequences of it, meaning he has the requisite “intention” to be charged legally (according to the IPC), he lacks the “motive” or the posterior object which must be taken cognizance of by the court of law, especially in such aforementioned cases since their mens rea remain partially absent. The lack of motive is what results in spree killings/crimes since the perpetrator is often stimulated by psychotic fetishes which he fails to overcome and hence the criminal conduct gets ingrained in his nature. Further, this abnormality is what amplifies the heinousness or gruesomeness of their criminal activities often leading to inhumane tendencies such as cannibalism and necrophilia. 

Landmark cases of Serial Murder in India

We mostly associate the term “serial killing” as a westernized concept with little prevalence to the eastern criminal world where the legal institutions don’t segregate this concept from other acts of manslaughter as such. But to the contrary, there have been many significant cases of serial murder which has shook up the very rudiments of such legal framework. In the following, I have enlisted a couple of the most notable cases in India of serial killing from the recent past which have made a lasting impact on the criminal history of this country.

1. Surendra Koli vs State Of U.P. Ors

Several children had gone missing over 2 years from Sector 31, Nithari Village, Gautam Budh Nagar, Noida from 2005 onwards. Several of such children were alleged to have been killed by the appellant who is also alleged to have chopped and eaten the body parts after cooking them. Appellant Surendra Koli was the servant of Moninder Singh, and they lived together at D-5, Sector 31, Noida. The appellant Surendra Koli, and Maninder Singh Pandher were convicted under Section 302 (punishment for murder)/ 364 (kidnapping or abducting in order to murder)/ 376 (punishment for rape) IPC by the Special Sessions trial no. 611 of 2007 decided on 13.02.2009 by Additional Sessions Judge, Ghaziabad, U.P. By that judgment, the death sentence was imposed on both these accused. Surendra Koli had admitted in great detail how he used to kill the girls after luring them inside the House no. D-5, Sector 31, Noida by strangling them, and he would then chop up and eat up their body parts after cooking them. He used a definite methodology in committing these murders and after killing them he tried to have sex with the body. Some body parts, clothes and slippers were thrown in the enclosed gallery behind the house at D-5, Sector 31, Noida.

He volunteered to lead the police team to the specific spot where he had kept the articles/body parts hidden. The police party reached that spot along with the appellant. On his pointing out, 15 skulls and bones were recovered, and also a knife was recovered from a water tank of a bathroom in D-5, Sector 31. On 31.12.2006 during the scoping of the drain in front of D-5, bones and chappals were recovered. The case undoubtedly fell under the “rarest of the rare” doctrine. The death penalty was upheld by the apex court but was stayed by a Supreme Court judge in a special hearing saying inordinate delay in execution was valid grounds for commutation. On 24 July 2017, both Koli and Pandher were awarded the death sentence (case 8 out of 16) in the latest hearing by the CBI Court at Ghaziabad.

  1. State Of Maharashtra vs Sindhi Alias Raman, S/O Dalwai 

A series of murders occurred in the outskirts of Mumbai in August 1968. Pavement and hutment dwellers were bludgeoned to death while they slept. All the murders took place at night and were committed using a hard, blunt object. A similar series of murders had taken place a few years earlier (1965–66) in the Eastern suburbs of Mumbai. In that year, as many as 19 people had been attacked, out of which 9 victims had died. The killer struck again in 1968, the police launched a manhunt for him.

In this attempt, the police were successful in arresting him. In his confession, he admitted that he had murdered 41 people in 1966 along the GIP (Great Indian Peninsular Railway as the Central Railway (India) was then known) line and almost a dozen in 1968 in the suburbs. However, it is likely that he killed many more. Raman Raghav was arrested under section 302 Indian Penal Code on charge of murder of two persons; Lalchand Jagannat Yadav and Dular Jaggi Yadav at Chinchawli village, Malad, Greater Bombay. The Additional Sessions Court of Greater Bombay in Sessions Case No. 65 of 1969 awarded him death sentence under section 302 Indian Penal Code. But Raghav’s sentence was reduced to life imprisonment because he was found to be incurably mentally ill. He was lodged at Yerwada Central Jail, Pune, and was under treatment at the Central Institute of Mental Health and Research. When a panel of doctors who examined him at the directive of the High Court found that he would never be cured, the High Court reduced his sentence to life imprisonment in its judgement of 4 August 1987. A few years later, in 1995, Raghav died at Sassoon Hospital. He had been suffering from kidney failure.

Section 84 of The Indian Penal Code which states “ Nothing is an offence which is done by a person who, at the time of doing it, by reason of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law ” was one of the key highlights of this case as specific provision in this regard was not found either in the Criminal Procedure Code or in the Mental Health Act of 1987, which left the procedural part out of its scope. The Bombay High Court interpreted Section 84 of The Indian Penal Code on the grounds of distinction between “legal insanity” and “Medical insanity” as follows:

There is a clear distinction between legal insanity and medical insanity. The medical insanity may be of various types, kinds and degrees. To what extent the medical insanity affects the cognitive faculties of a person will naturally depend upon the nature of that insanity. A person may be suffering from some form of insanity recognized by the doctors as such, but that form of insanity may not necessarily be the unsoundness of mind contemplated by Section 84 of the I.P.C. If despite the insanity, which the doctor may find in a particular person, that person is able to recognize the nature and the quality of the act for which he is tried or if he is capable of knowing that what he was doing was either wrong or was contrary to law, then the benefit of Section 84 of the I.P.C. naturally would not be available to him.

It is not every form of insanity, loosely so called, that is recognized by law as sufficient excuse as to come within the protection of Section 84 of the I.P.C. If, despite the state of mind of the accused which Dr. Patkar found on the day on which he examined him and assuming that this state of mind had set in by the day on which the incident took place, the accused was capable of knowing the nature of his act and after the knowing the nature of his act he was also capable of knowing that what he was doing was either wrong or contrary to law, then naturally the accused would not get the benefit of Section 84 of the I.P.C.” The Medical Board after examining Raman Raghav, came to conclusions summarized in the order dated July 3, 1970 of Palekar, J. and Kania, J., as follows:

(1) Sindhi Dalwai alias Raman Raghav (prisoner) is of unsound mind. He is suffering from a psychosis called chronic paranoid schizophrenia or paraphrenia, the latter being an old term for chronic paranoid schizophrenia plus auditory hallucinations. He is dangerous to the society and hence certifiably insane.

(2) Sindhi knew the nature of the act, i.e. he knew that he was killing human beings.

(3) He did know that what he did was wrong and contrary to the law of the land but he firmly believed that what he was doing was right and in tune with the law of ‘Kanoon’ whose law according to him was obligatory for him to follow.

The concept of “Kanoon” had been noted by all the doctors who examined the accused at different times. If from this it could be said that, in all probability, the accused believed in the might or power of a force called “Kanoon” about which he had auditory hallucinations, then, naturally, it was inferred that the accused did not know that what he was doing was wrong. He was, at any rate, incapable of knowing that what he was doing was wrong. Under this observation of the Medical Board, he was clearly covered by the provisions of Section 84 of the I.P.C. But, Bombay High Court discredited the observations by the clinical experts and ruled that the accused could not be excused under the provisions of Section 84 mainly due to the reason that although the accused may not have understood the grave nature of his act or that his acts were “wrong”, he clearly understood it to be “contrary to the law” taking in view of the fact that he hid the weapon of offence in a place fairly remote from the scene of offence. Hence, the conviction under section 302 Indian Penal Code by the Additional Sessions Court was upheld and thereby affirmed. The sentence of death awarded by the learned trial Judge was set aside and it was substituted by a sentence of imprisonment for life under Section 354(5) of The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which gives the convicting judge, on a murder charge, a discretion to choose between capital sentence and life term.


The primary loophole in our legal system regarding these type of unmotivated crimes is the failure to decipher and interpret the actual psychology behind the persistent criminal conduct along with the type of mental ailment triggering it and obviously the lack of legal provisions available. Although in India, some legal provisions are mentioned in different laws for a person suffering from mental disease for e.g., in IPC, sec. 84 deals with the law of insanity made from the Mc. Naughten rules of England which uses a more comprehensible term ‘unsoundness of mind’ instead of insanity. It has been criticized for being outdated since they do not provide protection to behaviour out of abnormality of mind, or partial delusion, irresistible impulse or compulsive behaviour of a psychopath. Although under personal laws (sec 5, sec 13 under HMA, 1955) and in Evidence Act, some provisions related to psychopaths are present. The Code of criminal Procedure, 1973, Chapter XXV also mentions the procedure for the trial of insane persons. Still all these laws are inadequate to deal with this problem related to psychopaths.

A proper constructive line must be drawn linking Indian criminal Justice system with Criminal psychology with the help of clinical experts and proper medical boards of psychologists who will be able to assess the mental condition of the accused and be able to comment on the credibility of such patients in terms of standing a judicial trial, understanding the legal course of the case, etc. The Sentencing Policy must also be well defined and based according to such findings since Life Imprisonment or Death Penalty is not the answer to such ingrained criminal nature which could surface from a variety of psychological aspects/Mental Diseases. The view of Indian courts also stress on the need for adopting a more progressive attitude in the application of law related to psychopathic behaviour. 

Also, psychopathic crimes must not be confused with other forms of violent crimes such as rape, incest, sodomy, child molestation and even serial killing(in some cases). Psychopathy may trigger Serial killing but may not be the only reason for it. Many accounts of Serial killing have also occurred due to sociological and economic factors such as in the case of Trailokya, who was considered among one of the earliest serial killers in criminal records, even preceding “Jack the Ripper” of London. She, along with her partner, terrorized Calcutta in the 1800s with accounts of spree killing and looting. Most of such crimes were done in a paranoia of social insecurity and Economic sustainability. Psychopathic crimes always surface from an underlying mental disease or occur from psychopathy as explained above in which case it is essential that the investigation should be made in order to address the existing ambiguity psychopathic behaviour and this will help in drawing the distinction between psychopathy and other forms of crime, viz. sexual and violent crimes. 

My attempt at establishing a proper analysis on the topic of “Serial Murder” is what I have called “Deathemphetamin” which basically means “the uncontrollable urge/drive to kill” as if this very drive is like a drug for the Serial Killer. The drug which compels him to kill.


  1. Mayne’s Criminal Law of India (3rd Edn.)
  2. Indian Penal Code ( C.K Takwani)
  3. R.D. Hare & D.N. Cox, Clinical and empirical conceptions of psychopathy, and the selection of subjects for research, in R. D. HARE & D. SCHALLING, PSYCHOPATHIC BEHAVIOR: APPROACHES TO RESEARCH 107-144 (1978); Wiley. R. D. Hare, Comparison procedures for the assessment of psychopathy, 53 Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 7-16 (1985)

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