She killed for money. At least six of them. There could be more too. The exploits of 43-year-old Mallika, an unlettered rural woman, has sent shockwaves through the southern Indian state of Karnataka.
She poisoned them all to death and has earned the sobriquet of 'The cyanide woman.'
She was actually arrested on the last day of 2007 while selling stolen mobile handsets on the streets of Bangalore, Karnataka's capital.
'The day we arrested her, we hardly expected the case to develop in such a way,' said S K Umesh, Senior Inspector of Kalasipalya Police Station.
But when she started singing under interrogation, spine-chilling details came to light. She confessed to six murders, all of them committed single-handedly.
With only the gods as her collaborators. Yes, she would glibly invoke the names of Hindu deities, chant mantras and promise divine intervention for any kind of problem, be it an alluring Dubai job, cure for asthma to an asthmatic or a good match for the daughter of a divorcee or the return of a long missing grandson.
Posing as a pious woman, acquainted with pujas and religious rituals, Mallika would hang around temples. Befriending and winning the confidence of well-to-do women devotees frequenting the temples, she would recommend a host of rituals to overcome their bad times.
As part of the rituals, the devotees would have to partake of food purportedly blessed by the gods. And those morsels which Mallika would have mixed with cyanide meant almost instant death. Sometimes the food, called prasadam in local lingo, would be fed forcibly by the fake godwoman. After which she would escape with whatever she could lay her hands on.
'Her first victim was 30 year old Mamata in October 1999, who was killed at her home in Hoskote, 30 kilometers from Bangalore,' says a senior police official.
The next quarry though escaped death by screaming when she suspected something foul and bringing her family rushing to her rescue. Mallika was only accused of theft at the time and jailed for six months.
On her release, she persisted with her murderous ways. The last five murders took place in lodges maintained by temples, where no one could have come to the victims' aid, police say.
And for all her labour, Mallika couldn't notch much more than Rs 35,000 per victim. So at the end of six murders in six years, Mallika would have made hardly a hundred thousand rupees or so, police say.
They are also readying to subject the woman cyanide killer to a narco-analysis test, after obtaining necessary court permission for the purpose.
They suspect she is not telling the whole truth and is perhaps misleading the investigations.
Meantime at least four other families are blaming her for the death of their relatives.
While police assert that it was all calculated acts of murder for gain and she is no psychopath, psychiatrists will not rule out the possibility. 'Every person has a personal history and ways to associate with it. It is not essential for lunatic or a psychopath to look different from the crowd,' said Dr B N Gangadhar, professor and head of Department of Pyschiatry at National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS).
Anything conclusive could be said only after a few counseling sessions with her, he noted