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     Volume 8 Issue 91 | October 23, 2009 |

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Deadly Desires
The Making of a Serial Killer

Syed Zain Al-mahmood

"Her name was Sharmin [not her real name]. I was 17 when I met her. She was 15. She lived in the same neighbourhood in Tongi where I shared a room with four other guys. Her father was a businessman. I used to stand and smile at her when she passed. One day I told her I loved her. The next day two of her cousins stopped me on the street and beat me up. They kicked and punched me. That day I decided I would get even -- even if it killed me.”

Rasu Khan seems strangely calm, almost stoic, as he tells his story. Speaking to The Star from his cell at Chandpur Model Thana, Rasu patiently retraces how he planned and carried out multiple rapes and murders during the course of a two year killing spree. The 40-year-old garments factory supervisor stands accused of at least 10 slayings and one attempted homicide. Most of his victims were garments workers from the Tongi area where he lived and worked.

“I used to chat up women from Tongi -- mostly factory workers. I took them to Chandpur. There I strangled them or drowned them in a swamp. I wanted to kill 101 women and then go and live in a mazaar (sufi shrine).”

Police say Rasu's first victim was the wife of his brother in law. He raped and killed her in early 2007. After that first murder, he continued to kill at regular intervals. The police have so far been able to identify five of his victims. Each time he evaded detection by selecting working girls who lived away from their families and luring them to a remote swamp in Chandpur.

Rasu's luck ran out on September 3, 2009. He was nabbed for stealing fans from a mosque in Gazipur. The police recovered a mobile sim card from his possession which contained the number of one of the murdered women.

“We were surprised when we found the dead girl's number in his call list,” says Investigating Officer (IO) Sub-inspector Abdur Rahim. “We questioned him, and he started to pour out his story. It's almost as if he wanted to tell the whole world what he had done.”

As the grisly details continued to emerge, the nation was left pondering a disturbing question: how did this outwardly inoffensive son of a Chandpur farmer become a serial murderer?

Serial killer Rasu Khan.

Experts say there are psychological, cultural and socio-economic dimensions to the case. “Serial murderers, like all human beings, are the product of their heredity, their upbringing, and the choices they make throughout development,” says Prof Khondokar Mokaddem Hossain, Professor of Psychology at Dhaka University. “We have not had any serial killers in this country before. But in many ways this is a classic example of a serial rapist and murderer. The impoverished background, the early disappointment in love, the hatred of women, it all fits.”

Rasu Khan grew up in Faridganj, Chandpur. The son of a landless farmer, he was forced to come to Dhaka as a teenager in search of a living. Nothing much is known about his childhood, but Rasu says his father used to beat him regularly.

“He beat me with a stick because I wouldn't look after the cows properly. Twice I ran away from home,” recalls Rasu.

“Neglect and abuse in childhood have been shown to contribute to an increased risk of future violence,” says Prof Hossain. “We don't know anything about his mother, but it is possible that she dominated him and he idolised her. He later transferred his worshipful affections to the girl he fell in love with. When she let him down, he felt betrayed and couldn't cope with the disappointment. That scarred him for life. It is not unusual for deep-seated alienation and hatred to explode many years later into a violent inclination towards crime.”

Rasu Khan lived the classic double life. Married with four children, his wife says she had no idea he had killed so many people. People knew him as a garments worker and a small-time crook, but no one thought he had a penchant for violence. His unfortunate girlfriends could detect no abnormality in his behaviour, and went willingly with him on the ill-fated dates to Chandpur. Rasu Khan wore with outstanding success what forensic psychologists call “the mask of sanity”.

Although the self-confessed serial murderer claims to hate women, he has lived a married life for many years, and claims to love his wife. “I wouldn't harm her,” he says. “She is mine. But those girls in Tongi -- I wanted to drown them all.”

According to Prof Hossain, this is a prime example of a psychopathic personality. “He was obviously obsessed with control. He both loved and hated women and wanted to control them. After his first murder, this became his way of sexual and emotional gratification.”

“He probably felt in a way that they submitted to his power,” suggests psychiatrist Dr. Saiful Alam . “In this way he assuaged his own feelings of frustration and failure. For him, the victims did not exist as people, only as objects over whom he could exercise the power of life and death.”

In the United States, which has the largest number of serial killers in the world, there have been numerous attempts to establish patterns and profiles that will aid in the early identification of serial killers. Research by the FBI, which remains the bedrock of serial killer profiling today, suggests that such murderers can be split into two types: organised and disorganised. Organised killers are often sociable and intelligent. Their crimes are well-planned, with bodies hidden and evidence covered up. They are often family men, feel a keen sense of pride in their crimes and are prepared for police questioning.

Disorganised killers tend to know their victims and kill spontaneously, leaving messy crime scenes. They are often loners and can have difficulty fitting in with normal society. They do not change their behaviour following crimes and have no interest in publicity.

“Rasu Khan was very clever, very organised,” says Dr. Saiful Alam. “If you study his modus operandi, he chose his victims carefully. They were usually vulnerable girls who lived away from their families and who would not quickly be missed. He spoke to them over the phone, earned their trust, and then disposed of their bodies after he killed them. It was all very efficient.”

Many observers believe the case of Rasu Khan must also focus the spotlight on our evolving urban culture. With rapid urbanisation, more and more people are making their way into urban centres in search of a livelihood. Many of them leave behind the support structures they grew up with in their villages and towns. With no social safety nets available, they are left exposed and vulnerable.

“It would be very difficult for a serial killer to operate in a village where everybody knows everybody,” says Prof Mokaddem Hossain. “In the cities it's a different story. Almost all of these young women live in shared accommodation and there are practically no support structures. They are extraordinarily vulnerable.”

Apart from the socioeconomic dimension, there may also be a cultural angle. Rasu Khan's affection for Sharmin -- and the violent reaction he got from her family -- may have been the life-changing influence he claims it was. But it is clear his desire for her was based more on fantasy than actuality. The episode reflects a distorted reality fueled by a commercial Bangla movie culture that routinely shows the garage mechanic winning the heart of the heiress through brawn rather than brains.

“Take also his stated target of 101 victims,” says Prof Hossain. “This again reflects a penchant for drama. This guy is proud of himself. But at some level he knew that he was sinning. He had an endgame in mind -- retiring as a Sufi.”

Rasu Khan may have been living in a warped reality, but can he be considered insane? In the eyes of the law, psychopathy and antisocial personality disorders typically do not qualify as a mental illness.

“Rasu Khan led a normal life,” says Barrister Raghib Chowdhury of the Supreme Court Bar. “There is no indication that he was unable to distinguish right from wrong. So he is not legally insane. He is fully responsible for his actions.”

It is a cruel irony that Rasu Khan, who claims he was forced into a life of crime because of prejudice and deprivation, took out his angst on impoverished and deprived women. Sub inspector Abdur Rahim of the Chandpur Thana says the police are looking into other possible motives.

“We want to make sure there are no other motives such as robbery. There is a possibility these garments workers may have been carrying small amounts of money or even jewellery on a date. We are also carefully considering whether it was possible for one man to have committed these murders unaided.”

Speaking about his short but violent career as a multiple murderer, Rasu Khan displays the smug self-satisfaction that typifies a serial killer. But did he enjoy murdering his victims? The question seems to confuse Rasu. “I don't really remember feeling anything,” he says at last. “I did what I had to do.”

Faced with the full might of the law, Rasu displays no remorse. At a subliminal level, he may even be proud of what he did. But in the end, the investigation has exposed Rasu Khan for what he is: a weakling unable to cope with the ups and downs of life -- a bully who got emotional gratification by preying on human beings even more vulnerable than himself.