Police grab 10 defendants and bring back broken pieces of idol; Another defendant was killed in a traffic accident
District police on Sunday solved the mystery surrounding the disappearance of a 200 kg Nandi idol from a 500-year-old Siva temple in the village of Devalampeta, located deep in the forest of the Koundinya Wildlife Sanctuary near Palamaner last month.
The police were able to track down all 11 defendants, but one of them was killed in a traffic accident near Srikalahasti a few days ago.
Police also recovered broken pieces of the idol, two auto rickshaws, three two-wheelers and some tools used in the theft.
The temple authorities filed a complaint with Palamaner police on April 4 that the Nandi idol had been stolen.
Police Superintendent S. Senthil Kumar had formed special teams with members of the Palamaner and Gangavaram Police Groups.
After the first clues, it was found that on the night of March 26th, a baggage car with strangers drove past the temple site. The police had checked about 100 hours of CC camera recordings at various points and, with the help of some suspects, identified some suspects from mobile signals.
After a week-long investigation, police caught 10 youths, while the 11th was killed in a traffic accident on April 7th.
According to information, Srinivasulu aka Aswathama from Nagar Kurnool in Telangana and Hari from Kandada in Yerpedu Mandal Village in Chittoor District had developed a friendship a few years ago when they were both working in a rice field.
The duo were drawn to the treasure hunt errands and met again last month during the Maha Sivaratri Festival.
After visiting multiple temples in remote locations, the duo picked the 500-year-old Sri Mallikarjuna Temple in the Conservation Area Zone. Except during the Sivaratri Festival, the dilapidated temple would hardly see any devotees.
After hearsay that the Nandi idol had gold, rubies and diamonds valued at 60 million pounds in the stomach in the temple, the duo had imprisoned four other young people who were known to Hari from the villages of Poyya and Velavedu near Srikalahasti. Srinivasulu had reportedly given assurances that they would each get 10 pounds.
The defendant reached the temple in a baggage car on the night of March 26th and took the Nandi idol away after dislocating it with crowbars.
Given the nightly patrol near Chittoor, instead of going to Srikalahasti, the defendant drove towards the village of Gangasagaram on the outskirts of Chittoor and threw the idol into a pond next to a house belonging to the relative of Rangababu from the village of Poyya Also joined the defendant in committing the crime.
The defendant later broke up after deciding to break the idol on the night of March 28th.
Rangababu did not show up at the appointed time. Strangely enough, the other members found the idol missing in the pond.
In the meantime, Rangababu had teamed up with five others, reached the pond on the night of March 27, brought the idol to Poyya and hid in the fields.
On the night of April 2, Rangababu and his team broke the idol to pieces but found nothing in it. They later collected the pieces in three sackcloths and threw them under the Swarnamukhi Bridge nearby.
Using technology, police teams captured the ten defendants, including Hari and Srinivasulu, on Sunday. The eleventh defendant, identified as Gopi, was killed in a traffic accident. Interestingly, two hours before the accident, a police team was in Gopi’s village to catch him.