To many in Telangana’s Nagarkurnool town, Ramati Satyanarayana aka Satyam Yadav (47) is a simple ‘family man’ who loves his children; a man who prospered through hard work and became a successful real estate agent. The news that this ‘respectable man’ has been accused of 11 murders is a shock to his neighbours, who would rather not believe any of it. “He does not look like a murderer,” some in the neighbourhood tell us. “There is no way what they are saying about him on television is true.”
The Nagarkurnool police, however, say they have strong evidence to prove that Satyam is a serial killer who brutally murdered people for money, donning many hats as the occasion demanded. Sometimes he was a real estate agent, occasionally a treasure hunter and an occult practitioner, and allegedly, at least twice, a hired killer. The police say Satyam has already confessed to killing 11 people between 2020 and 2023, most of his victims belonging to lower middle class families.
It was a missing complaint filed by 29-year-old Laxmi, a Hyderabad resident looking for her husband, that led the Nagarkurnool police to Satyam and the 10 other murders he allegedly committed.
Laxmi’s husband Govula Venkatesh (32) had left their home in Hyderabad on November 3, telling his wife and three young children that he would not be reachable for five days because he had “important work” in Nagarkurnool. But several more days went by and Venkatesh did not return, and Laxmi grew worried. Twenty days after he left home, she finally decided to approach the local police stations in Nagarkurnool and Hyderabad. Nagarkurnool Superintendent of Police (SP) Vaibhav Gaikwad helped her register a First Information Report (FIR) at the Town police station on November 26.
Laxmi had her suspicions about Satyam, a ‘treasure hunter’ who had recently become acquainted with Venkatesh, and was determined to name him in her complaint.
According to the family, Venkatesh, a stone cutter by profession, was introduced to Satyam by an acquaintance based in Hyderabad, and Satyam’s supposed experience in treasure-hunting had piqued Venkatesh’s curiosity. Satyam allegedly made Venkatesh believe that with the aid of certain occult practices, he could help him find hidden treasures. Lured by Satyam’s conviction, Venkatesh mortgaged some of his land to pay him Rs 10 lakh in phases.
Satyam soon began to give Venkatesh instructions, such as to place herbs at specific places where he claimed the treasures could be found. At one point, he told Venkatesh that the treasures could only be obtained through the human sacrifice of three pregnant women.
This finally raised Venkatesh’s suspicions, and he demanded his money back. But Satyam then called him to propose an alternate method and suggested that Venkatesh participate in a special ritual, for which he asked him to come to some place in Nagarkurnool — a call recording of which TNM has accessed.
“Venkatesh had the habit of recording calls,” his brother-in-law Kondaiah (40) tells us. “He began sending us his call recordings with Satyam Yadav as he had grown suspicious of him, especially after Satyam suggested human sacrifice to discover the treasure.”
In the recording TNM accessed, Satyam can be heard emphasising that Venkatesh should not tell anyone about the ritual, further asking Venkatesh to meet him in Nagarkurnool on an empty stomach. “Come alone. Don’t tell anyone where you are heading. Don’t eat any breakfast. Don’t tell your partners too,” Satyam told Venkatesh on the call.
It was presumably for this ritual that Venkatesh travelled to Nagarkurnool on November 3, never to return home.
“On the night he reached Nagarkurnool, Venkatesh had called me from an unknown number,” says Kondaiah. Days after he went missing, Kondaiah called that number and found that it belonged to a shop in Satyam’s neighbourhood. “By then, I became sure of Satyam’s involvement,” he says.
Later, when Kondaiah visited his house along with some family members, Satyam apparently feigned ignorance of the entire incident. “He even offered to pay us Rs 10 lakh to withdraw the complaint against him, but we refused to accept it,” Kondaiah says.
Meanwhile, simultaneous investigations led the Nagarkurnool police to an unidentified body found by the Choutuppal police on November 10, in a village called Jalalpur near Bhoodan Pochampally, about 140 km away from Nagarkurnool and just 30 km from Hyderabad. The body, his face burnt with acid, was identified to be that of Venkatesh.
The Nagarkurnool police held a press conference announcing Satyam’s arrest on December 12.
According to the police, after Venkatesh reached the town on the night of November 3, Satyam sat him down for a puja and gave him some herbal liquid, which he presented as ‘holy water’. The drink allegedly left Venkatesh in a hallucinatory state, and by the early hours of the next day, Satyam took him to the outskirts of Jalalpur village in his car.
The police say Satyam performed certain ‘occult’ rituals in Jalalpur, before pouring an acid-based substance into Venkatesh’s mouth, once again claiming it was holy water. He then made Venkatesh believe, allegedly, that the burning sensation in his mouth was due to the presence of a treasure nearby. When Venkatesh stopped struggling, Satyam poured acid on his face, hid his belongings between some bushes, and returned to Nagarkurnool, the police say.
During the course of the interrogation, Satyam apparently confessed to the murder of four of a family, more than three years after they were found dead at their home at Revally in Wanaparthy district, just over 16 km away from Nagarkurnool. The police presume that these were the first set of murders.
Hazeera Bee (65), her daughter Asma Begum (42), son-in-law Khaja Pasha (42), and granddaughter Arsin Haseena (11) were found dead under mysterious circumstances at their residence on August 14, 2020. The deceased had froth around their mouths and no visible wounds, indicating they had ingested something poisonous. At the time, the police had also found a freshly dug-up pit containing lemons, flowers, and coconuts on the premises, leading them to suspect the involvement of black magic.
Satyam later told the police he had convinced the family that there was a treasure hidden in their land, which he could help them find. As a fee, he allegedly asked them to register the land in his name, claiming that the monetary value of the treasure they were about to find was much higher than that of the plot. Satyam’s own family history with the ‘occult’ helped him convince the Muslim family to take part in such rituals.
According to Sub Inspector (SI) Mahender of the Nagarkurnool Town police station, Satyam’s mother used to perform pujas for local deities at the Peddapur village in Nagarkurnool, and there was a belief in the village and surrounding areas that she was possessed by goddess Yellamma. “Satyam could have learnt about herbal medicines and such rituals from his family,” the SI says.
SP Vaibhav says the investigation into the Wanaparthy deaths was taken up by an officer of the Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) rank, and though Satyam’s involvement in the murder was suspected there was no evidence to pin him in the case. “But after his arrest in the Venkatesh case, Satyam confessed to poisoning the entire family,” he says.
There were two more people who fell victim to Satyam’s elaborate treasure-hunting pitch, adds the SP. “Beemram Reddy (70), a resident of Nagarkurnool, was a man from a modest economic background and had approached Satyam seeking his help to find a hidden treasure. Beemram also introduced Satyam to his 42-year-old daughter Thirupathamma, who stayed in Hyderabad,” he says.
Satyam allegedly confessed to the Nagarkurnool police that he took Thirupathamma to a land in Karnataka’s Raichur district where he claimed a treasure was hidden, performed the ritual as was his modus operandi, and killed her. For reasons unknown, the family did not file a missing case. “So he later took the father to Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh with the same claim, and killed him there,” says the SP.
Thirupathamma’s body was found in an unidentifiable state on August 8 this year, under the Balaganur police station limits in Raichur district. Her face had severe injuries and was burnt with hot engine oil in a bid to disfigure her identity. She also had injuries on her arms, as if she was attacked with weapons.
Beemram’s body was found in a decomposed state on November 25, in an unused bathroom of a dhaba at the Peddavaduguru mandal of Anantapur. Their bodies were identified after Satyam confessed to their murders.
Unlike most of Satyam’s victims, who were his ‘clients’, Lingaswamy (50) knew Satyam for nearly a decade and believed him to be a friend. A resident of Ganyagula village in Nagarkurnool and a mason by profession, Lingaswamy was found dead with grievous injuries to the head on November 18, 2022 on the outskirts of Vanapatla village, around 15 km away from his home. He had left home the day before, telling his family that he was leaving for work.
A case was registered at the Nagarkurnool police station soon, and Satyam immediately became a suspect. It was Lingaswamy’s thirty-year-old son Sai Kumar who raised suspicions over Satyam’s involvement in his father’s murder.
Sai Kumar says that his father, whom he describes as a strong-willed man, had known Satyam since 2012. “My father was concerned about my younger brother being unemployed and might have mentioned it to Satyam. Satyam offered to help my brother find a job in a bank in exchange for Rs 2 lakh, but my father told him that we were struggling financially. Then Satyam came up with a different plan, to lease out some of our land in Nagarkurnool as collateral to a private individual. I told my father not to go through with the plan, but he went ahead with it anyway,” Sai says.
After Lingaswamy’s death, Sai discovered that their land documents had disappeared. On probing, he soon realised the property had been sold through an online portal. “We had just lost our father, and now we had no job or land. Four months later, I received the papers regarding the sale of our property from Satyam Yadav,” he says.
By now, Sai had begun to suspect Satyam’s involvement in his father’s murder and informed the police of the same, but the officials said there was no evidence to back such an allegation. A persistent Sai, however, regularly visited the police station seeking updates on the case, confident that Satyam was involved in this. In the meantime, rumours were circulating that Satyam was seen with Hazeera Bee’s family, who was found dead two years ago in their home at Revally in Wanaparthy, just about 10 km away from Sai’s village. This exacerbated Sai’s suspicions about Satyam. Sai eventually went to Revally to learn about the victims’ family from the neighbours, who confirmed to him that Satyam was indeed acquainted with the family. “So I met Circle Inspector Jakkula Hanumanth and then Nagarkurnool MLA Janardhan Reddy to share my concerns. I also visited the DGP office in Hyderabad and submitted a grievance letter explaining my suspicion that Satyam Yadav was behind the murder,” says Sai. “But no one listened to me, maybe because I am only a young man from a modest background. They could have prevented four murders.” SP Vaibhav says it’s true that Sai Kumar had suspected Satyam, but the police were unable to find any concrete evidence against the accused during the course of that investigation. “But now that we are looking into the case again, we will examine if there were any lapses in the probe and take disciplinary action against the investigation officer if that was the case,” he adds.
Arepalli Srinivasulu (53) left his house at Mukidi Gundam village in Nagarkurnool on December 23, 2021, telling his family that he was going to visit his daughter in Kollapur town. Two days later on December 25, he was found dead under a toddy tree in Thalla Narsingapur, around 20 km away from his village.
There were no injuries on his body, and according to Srinivasulu’s 29-year-old son Ramesh, it was initially believed to be a natural death. “Even before the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report came, the Kollapur police told us my father died of a heart attack. They showed us the CCTV footage of someone else and claimed it was my father. I even approached the Human Rights Commission seeking a detailed probe. But later the FSL report confirmed my father died of a heart attack, so they closed the case,” says Ramesh.
Ramesh, who lives with his family in Hyderabad, received a call from the Nagarkurnool police station on December 15. It was three days after Satyam Yadav was apprehended. “They called me to the station and I went along with my cousin. There, they informed me that Satyam Yadav has confessed to my father’s murder,” he says.
The police say that as opposed to his usual ways, Satyam had not lured Srinivasulu in with the promise of hidden treasures. Instead, he was allegedly hired to kill Srinivasulu by a close family member who was seeking revenge.
Ramesh says that before his death, his father had been troubled for over five years due to his daughter’s unhappy marriage with a man named Mahesh, who they believed was having an extramarital affair. “My father once told me that a man from Nagarkurnool town called and asked to meet. This man apparently wanted to talk to my father in person and assured him that he would help him with his problem,” he says.
According to what the police told Ramesh and his family, when Mahesh was unwell a few years ago, Satyam had performed some puja and cured him using herbal medicine. “Mahesh later approached Satyam seeking help to get rid of my father, because he was getting in the way of his affair with another woman. It seems Mahesh promised Satyam either land or money,” Ramesh says. Mahesh and Satyam had allegedly devised the plan together to murder Srinivasulu. “To give us the impression that he changed, Mahesh, who had never lived with my sister until then, came to our house after six years and said he would take her with him,” Ramesh says. This was in November 2021, and just a few days later, Srinivasulu was discovered dead. Ramesh says a phone number was found in Srinivasulu’s pocket with the name ‘Nagarkurnool’, and he was sure his father was on the way to meet the man who used that number. He tried that number later, but it remained unreachable. After Srinivasulu’s death, his sister Maheswari never went back to her in-laws’ house. She now lives with her brother at Mehdipatnam in Hyderabad, along with her nine-year-old daughter.
Satyam’s modus operandi
“Satyam is a relatively short man, hardly 5’2” in height. It is surprising how he killed so many people. His primary weapons were his power to convince and blindside them,” SI Mahender says. Satyam also consistently managed to persuade his victims into believing that something terrible would occur if they didn’t cut off all contact from their families before coming to him, he adds.
According to the police, the accused admitted to preparing a poisonous mixture using wild herbs and serving it to his victims as holy water. This mixture, which has gone undetectable in the postmortem reports, mimics a natural death by inducing unconsciousness. SI Mahender says that Satyam would then take the victim to the outskirts of the town and bash in their face with a stone or pour acid on them to conceal their identity.
Except Venkatesh, all of his victims were from Nagarkurnool district or surrounding areas. Out of the 11 murders, seven took place on the outskirts of towns including Anantapur and Raichur. “The accused was able to escape the radar for years because the cases were reported in different cities and states,” says the SI.
Paradox of an alleged serial killer
In the neighbourhood where Satyam lived with his wife Sujatha and their 10-year-old twins, many are still convinced he is innocent. “We have known him for a long time. He started his career as a radio mechanic before marrying Sujatha around 25 years ago. But we have never heard anything about Satyam being involved in occult practices,” one of the neighbours tells us. “We also haven’t seen much of him in the neighbourhood in the past few months,” adds another.
Satyam’s house is one of the biggest in the area, a four-storeyed building close to the main junction in Nagarkurnool town. The family stays on the ground floor, and have rented out three of the upper floors of the building.
Notably, Satyam had also contested the MLC election in 2019 representing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and lost. He was later suspended from the party for unknown reasons.
Forty-year-old Sujatha says they recently built the house on the land given to them by her family, at the time of her marriage to Satyam. “I don’t know what he did with the money he got from his real estate business. I have never seen him with a lot of money,” she says,
She insists she was entirely unaware of her husband’s alleged murder spree. “I don’t know whether he committed those murders. Sometimes he would tell me that he was going out for two or three days. He usually carried a bag with him, but I never saw what was in that bag. Since I never saw anything suspicious, I assumed he was going on business trips,” she says, adding that she also doesn’t go out often. “Satyam brings groceries for the house and takes care of the children’s school fees.”
Sujatha has not spoken to him since the day he was arrested. “His family has also not contacted me. No one asked me how I’m doing or if anything needs to be done to get bail for him,” she says, adding that her sole concern now was her children. “We can live comfortably on the rent from the upper three floors. But because of what my husband did, the tenants are afraid. I have asked them to stay on,” she says.
She refutes rumours that back in Satyam’s village, his mother used to prescribe herbal remedies. “I know she carried out rituals at the Yellamma temple in their village, but she had nothing to do with herbal medication.”
Mahipal (name changed), who runs a dry cleaning store a few metres away from their house, calls Satyam a “hardworking” man. “No one has ever had any complaints about him. Maybe someone from the real estate business who had differences with him is trying to implicate him in this,” he says.
He recalls that the couple has been living in the area for around 25 years, ever since they got married. “They used to live in a rented house first. It was just four to five years ago that they built that multi-storeyed house,” he says.
Mahipal’s wife is of the opinion that Satyam was a “simple man who wore simple clothes,” and never showed off even though he was rich.
At a grocery store in the locality, two men discuss how Satyam hardly looked like a murderer. “I have often spotted him helping his kids get on to the school bus in the morning and picking them up in the evening,” the owner of the store, Raju, pitches in. The 35-year-old adds that the news, however, had truly shaken him. “Ever since I heard it, there has been this fear in my heart,” he says.
Sujatha, however, admits there were times when she was scared of her husband. “If I asked him where he was going, he would physically assault me. So I refrained from questioning him on anything.”