The first Indian biological weapon murder
Pakur was a small but wealthy zamindari estate in the Santal Paragons of present-day Jharkhand state. In fact, it was one of the wealthiest estates in Bengal at that time (annual revenue of about Rs. 30,000, equivalent to about Rs. 25,00,000 today).
Pratapendra Chandra Pandey, the head of the family, had four children from two marriages: Binoyendra and Kananbala from his first wife, and Amarendra and Bonobala from his second wife. Tragically, Pratapendra’s second wife died soon after the birth of his second child, Amarendra. His aunt, Suryavati Devi, was a childless widow, but she raised the orphaned Amarendra as her own. The two were as close as any mother and son could be.
Pratapendra died in 1929, having divided his considerable estate equally among his sons Binoyendra and Amarendra. As 15-year-old Amarendra was still a minor, Amarendra’s share was entrusted to his 22-year-old half-brother to look after until the boy turned 18.
The two half-siblings were so different that it was hard for people to even imagine that they had the same father. The elder Binoyendra was a playboy with a drinking, womanizing and flamboyant life. He cared for nothing but his pleasures. Amarendra, on the other hand, was good, honorable, studious and moral. Needless to say, who is famous among the residents of Pakur?
In 1932, Amarendra turned 18 and was in his final year of college. Well aware of his half-brother’s character, he felt it prudent to get hold of his share of the estate as soon as possible. The first thing he did after coming of age was to send a letter to Jeshthan asking for what was legally his property.
At first Binoyendra was unwilling to give the property, but when he realized that there was no legal recourse, he gave the property to his brother. Amarendra got half of the estate.
After this passage he reached his residence to find Binoyendra, brother as if nothing had happened. The visit surprised Amarendra, his aunt Suryadevi and other relatives. But they didn’t show it. One evening Binoyendra invited his cousin Amarendra for an evening ride. Amarendra was not interested in the trip as he had memories of past events. However, thinking that brother had called him, he went along.
During their walk, Binoyendra suddenly took out a Pince-nez glass from his pocket. (Old age mirror without legs) He asked Amarendra that this was his gift and he should wear it.
Binoyendra must have been determined to make his brother wear it. In any case, Amarendra’s nose was slightly cut while trying to face it. Binoyendra completed the mission and returned home to Calcutta.
After three days, the wound healed and the entire face became swollen. The doctor diagnosed tetanus. The antidote was immediately injected. When Binoyendran heard about his brother’s illness, he sent a young doctor, Taranath Bhattacharya, to examine the patient. Amarendra’s doctors were no fools as they kept a 24-hour guard and did not allow Bhattacharya anywhere near the patient’s bed.
Bhattacharya was disowned by the family, so Binoyendra brought in another doctor, Durgaratan Dhar. Binoyendra was able to convince the other doctors that this doctor was very good and experienced. The doctors are ready to inject the new medicine in his hand. After that, Dhar withdrew from the scene saying that he had to attend to another patient who was in urgent need, and Binoyendra also left the place.
Amarendra’s condition worsened with Dhar’s medicine and he was near death. Doctors nursed Amarendra day and night with eye drops. That’s how he gradually came back to life. On this occasion Binoyendra returned with another doctor, Shibapada Bhattacharya. Angry relatives and friends did not even allow them to see the patient.
Although Amarendra survived these mysterious attacks, his health was badly damaged. He was afflicted with physical weakness, dizziness, and loss of appetite. He could not even read and spent most of his time in bed. Although he did not recover full health after a few days, he decided to return to work on his estate in Pakur. He had become only a shadow of the old Amarendra.
On 18 November 1933, Amarendra received a telegram from Suryavathi devi. It reads “Legal Matters Relating to Property Levy. Come quickly to Calcutta.” As soon as Amarendra reached Calcutta, he realized that someone had caught him. His foster mother and aunt Suryavathi devi was not even in Calcutta at that time and she did not send such a message. When Suryavathi was informed of what had happened, she was afraid for her beloved son-in-law. The educated duo were able to guess who sent the fake telegram. Suryavathi begged him not to let Binoyendran get anywhere near him. They knew a bigger blow was coming, but what form the blow would take was a mystery.
Throughout this period, Binoyendra tried several times to steal Amarendra’s money from the joint account, but failed. Although he knew all the information, Amarendra pretended not to see it all so as not to break the unity of the family.
On November 25, 1933, Amarendra left Kolkata and decided to return to Pakur the next morning. That evening Binoyendra reached Amarendra’s place. He acted like a very loving and caring elder brother. Binoyendra showed empathy and compassion and concern for his brother’s health without hesitation. Amarendra was not smart enough to fall for any of this. The next day, when Amarendra asked the time of the train, Amarendra told him the time as he did not see anything wrong with it. Binoyendra left the place happy that he got the information he needed.
On the morning of 26th, a group of Amarendra’s family and friends reached the Howrah railway station. They were horrified to find Binoyendran waiting for them there.
“What is this guy doing here?” Someone whispered to Amarendra.
Amarendra stopped him.
“There are people around; What can he do?”
They were in a public place.
The station was very crowded that day. As they walked through the flat form, a stranger passed by, rubbing Amarendra, who had his whole body covered in a dirty shawl. At that moment, he felt a sharp pain in his wrist. Amarendra felt like being pricked by a needle. By the time Amarendra let out a sound and his companions noticed, he had already disappeared into the crowd. All this happened in the blink of an eye before anyone could react. When Amarendra examined his wound, he saw a colorless liquid oozing out, but the wound seemed insignificant. Those who were with him were mad with fear, and they begged him to see a doctor immediately.
At this time, Binoyendran, who was following, made light of the matter and gave up. I held my brother close and announced to him and everyone that the train was coming, that if you wanted you could see a doctor when you reached Pakur, that we were all sons of the zamindari of Pakur, and that we would not panic over such trivial things like ordinary people.
Although Amarendra knew the seriousness of the matter, there was work to be done in Pakur and he could not leave. Amarendra decided to go to Pakur even though he knew that the problem could become serious if there was a delay.
His sister Bonobala was distressed by what happened during the train journey. She remembered seeing the man with the ragged shawl wrapped around him before. She told them that when she and Amarendra went to the theater last week to watch a movie, this stranger was wandering aimlessly around the ticket counter.
By the time the train reached Pakur, Amarendra’s health deteriorated. His injured arm was swollen, his temperature reached 105 degrees, and his blood pressure and heart rate fluctuated. He was rushed to Calcutta for the best possible treatment. Blood was immediately drawn for a blood test in hopes of finding the cause of this dramatic illness.
Sadly, Amarendra could not be saved. He fell into a coma on December 3 and died the next day.
Binoyendra organized all the necessary papers quickly. So the body was cremated without post-mortem. Throughout the funeral services, Binoyendra mourned and wept in despair and the picture came out.
The day after the death, the results of the blood test came. Amarendra’s doctors were horrified when they learned that he had died of Bubonic Plague.
Plague is a disease that spreads to humans from rodents and insects. Between 1896 and 1918, India saw a severe form of this epidemic. During that time, more than 125 million people died of plague in India and surrounding countries. After the first subsided, a second plague began again. At that time (between 1929 and 1938) the number of people who died due to plague was 5 lakh. But when Amarendra died in Calcutta and in the 3 years before that, no one died of plague in that area. In such a situation, the question arose as to how only Amarendra contracted the disease when no one else died of plague in the region. This was an unanswered question for the British police at that time.
Amarendra’s family members and friends were not ready to leave the matter like that. They were sure he was killed and they were sure who was responsible. They just have one problem: how to prove it? His grief-stricken relatives approached the Calcutta police and narrated the harrowing series of events that led to Amarendra’s death. They admitted they did not have enough evidence to make a formal complaint. But they were sure that if the detectives followed Binoyendra quietly, the secrets behind would come out.
Many doctors in Kolkata did not believe that Amarendra’s death was natural, especially after they learned about the needle stick incident at the railway station. They wrote a letter to the Director of Tropical Medicine to see if a person could be injected with plague bacilli in such quantities as to cause disease and death. They received a reply confirming that the young man had indeed been murdered.
But the doctors were surprised to learn that plague bacilli were not available in Calcutta. So how did the killer get the plague virus? It was maintained in India only by the Haffkine Institute for Training, Research and Testing, Bombay.
After receiving the information in the Tropical Medicine report, Binoyendran, Dr. Bhattacharya, Dr. Relatives lodged an official complaint with the police against Dhar and the unknown person who stabbed Amarendra at the railway station. On learning this, Binoyendra tried to leave the country but was caught at the railway station. Except for the unidentified man wrapped in a shawl, the others were immediately arrested. Binoyendra eventually admitted that he had sent the man to the theater to identify Amarendra, but refused to give his name or other details.
The main investigation was led by Le Brocque, an able officer of the Calcutta Police, and Sarath Chandra Mitra of the Bengal Intelligence Service. When questioned by the police, he started telling the truth. He admitted that he started planning his brother’s murder literally from the day he demanded his share of the estate. After a botched attempt to kill him by passing tetanus serum through a Pinz-ness glass, Binoyendra realized he needed the help of a more reliable killer. So he sought the help of Taranath Bhattacharya.
Taranath was not really a doctor. He was just a research assistant in a medical supply laboratory. He was the first to think of using bubonic plague as a murderous weapon. As a scientist researching bacterial diseases, he sent a telegram to the Hafkin Institute. He asked them to send him a sample of plague bacilli to use in his work. The Institute wisely replied that they could do nothing without the permission of the Surgeon General of Calcutta. Binoyendra to write to the institute on his behalf next; Dr. Shibapada Bhattacharya and Dr. Dhar was also paid. They wrote but the institute rejected this time too.
Binoyendra was in no mood to back down from any of these defeats and he drove to Bombay. Stayed there for several weeks and got to know two doctors from the Hafkin Institute. He indulged them in liquor and women. The reception was held in an expensive hotel. In the end, thanks to all this, the two doctors released a culture of living plague in a Y.
When the case came to court, the prosecution had strong circumstantial evidence, witness statements and medical reports. Binoyendran’s travel documents, hotel bills in Bombay, handwritten papers and messages sent to the lab, receipts from shops where the rats were bought were considered as evidence. The changes made by Binoyendra in Bombay and elsewhere were palpable. The prosecution now knew not only why Amarendra was killed but also how he was killed.
Although Binoyendra spent a good amount of money on his defence, he lost in court. Binoyendra and Taranath Bhattacharya were sentenced to be hanged by the lower court. Dr. Durgaratan Dhar, Dr. Shibapada Bhattacharya was acquitted due to lack of evidence. But the High Court reduced Binoyendra’s sentence to life imprisonment. The convicts were sent to Adaman Jail for punishment. When India gained independence eleven years later, amnesty was granted to political prisoners. Although Binoyendra did not fall into that category, he somehow managed to break free. He returned to Pakur.
By the time he reached there, he had become mentally challenged. This led to arguments and quarrels with relatives. One day he came to the family’s ancestral home with a gun, threatening to kill everyone. The family locked him in a room. They informed the police. Despite the arrival of the police, he did not surrender and shot the police. He was killed in the ensuing firefight. Taranath Bhattacharya’s fate is largely unknown. Some accounts say he went insane in prison.
The person who actually administered the fatal plague injection was never found. At that time, some people said that Binoyendra helped him escape from the police and leave the country. But those who knew Binoyendra well felt that he was not one to leave a trail; It means that the unknown man may have been killed by his own hand, or by the germs of the plague.
This incredible murder, which took place during British rule, was discussed in the world media at the time, but is still researched and debated today. Time magazine called it ‘germ murder’, which means murder caused by germs. At the time, the Straits Times of Singapore called it the ‘Punctured Arm Mystery’.