newindpress.com / May 11, 2005
BANGALORE: A cry pierced the chilly night air and the woman woke up, startled and staring into the pitch dark. She quickly searched around but there was no sign of her three-year-old daughter Venkatasubbamma, who was sleeping beside her. The three dogs lying at their feet did not even react.
The next morning, July 27, 1983, the villagers found a pool of blood and the clothes of the missing child. The footprints of an animal were visible and the police dog squad tracked the scent to a hillock, only to stop short of a cave, its entrance blocked by a wall of bricks. The wolves of Pavagada were back!
The bizarre case of the Pavagada wolves began one evening in April 1983 when a five-year-old girl was snatched near her house and the villagers claimed to have seen a huge dog-like animal taking her away.
Ten days later, a three-year-old was attacked in her house. The girl survived but the same night another girl child was snatched from her bed, at a village two kilometres away. After taking five girls, the child-snatcher disappeared for two months. Only to come back for Venkatasubbama.
The police claimed there were man-eating wolves on the prowl and the villagers believed it. But then, there was a distinct pattern in the killings. All the children were girls, and all the only daughters of their parents, all neatly picked up from beside their sleeping parents and there were no drag marks on the ground. But in one case, a neatly severed leg was found. In another case, the 'wolf' threw stones at the father of a child who was snatched.
Soon, suspicions emerged. Was it really a wolf, as the police claimed? It seemed like the handiwork of tantriks who were known to make human sacrifices to Goddess Kali .
And, the Madakshira region which separates Pavagada from the rest of Karnataka was known for black magic. So much so that reporters who went to Pavagada to cover the child snatchings were almost stranded there. For, taxi drivers would not dare cross Madakshira after dusk, shuddering at the very thought of lurking sorcerers and their hexes.
Or was it werewolves? The stories were endless, but the child killings went on. By the end of five months, seven children were snatched.
The Police and Forest Department were at loggerheads, but the government backed the wolf theory even as the issue raged on in the Legislative Assembly. Then the hunt began.
The Government announced a reward of Rs 2,000 for whoever killed Pavagada's killer-wolf. Forest officials and villagers combed the scrub forests of the Kamanadurga hills.