Solving Crime: How tapping a public phone in 2002 led Karnataka police to crack murder case of liquor baron Ashok Guttedar
Even in the early 2000s, phone tapping technology was yet to evolve in its present form and its use to solve crimes was not a very common practice. But a police officer’s smart move to tap a phone at a public booth led the investigators to solve the murder case of a liquor baron of Karnataka and prove before the court that it was his wife and her paramour who had killed him.
Ashok Guttedar, a well-known name in the liquor industry those days, lived in Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi). The Guttedar family has quite a clout in Gulbarga but not just for the business. Ashok’s brother Malikayya Guttedar was an MLA till 2018 and the family continues to have a massive following till date.
And it is probably because of the fact that despite Ashok hailed from an influential family he got killed, that the liquor industry was shocked and to some extent, concerned. Until the murderer was caught, the industry players believed there was a strong lobby in the liquor industry which wanted Ashok to be eliminated.
The murder had also mounted pressure on the former S M Krishna-led Karnataka government until it was proved that an affair between Ashok’s wife Padmavathi and a medical student, Subash Patil, was the reason behind it. Interestingly, illegal phone tapping in Karnataka had resulted in Ramakrishna Hegde to step down as the chief minister but the same technology had helped the police solve the crime and prove beyond doubt the involvement of Padmavathi and Patil.
Talking to indianexpress.com, H Subbanna who retired as the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), said it was one of those rarest cases where the court took cognizance of the audio samples and convicted the accused. Subbanna and his team had received a cash reward of Rs 50,000 from the government in 2002 for their meticulous investigation in the case.
Then home minister and presently All India Congress Committee (AICC) chief Mallikarjun Kharge was monitoring the case because of the gravity of the issue.
Retired police officer Abdul Azeem, who was initially a part of the investigation, recalled that he had suspected that someone known was behind the murder. “I was there only during the initial probe before Subbanna took over. There was very little evidence like how the person climbed to the canopy and shot Guttedar dead and others,” he said.
Ashok Guttedar used to often visit Bangalore to participate in tenders and for other business matters. While in the city, he used to frequent a friend’s house whose sister was Padmavathi. After a couple of times, Guttedar expressed his desire to marry Padmavathi. Elated, her father, Rajashekhar, who was a relative of Kannada film actor Dr Rajkumar, agreed and Guttedar and Padmavathi got married in 1997.
The couple initially started living in Alanda but later shifted to Gulbarga. They were blessed with two children too but Guttedar, who was busy with his business affairs, hardly had time for Padmavathi. This, according to some, led her to feel lonely and seek love.
Padmavathi befriended Patil, then a medical student at Gulbarga Medical College, and the two fell in love. While it had initially begun as a normal chit chat between neighbours, their bond grew beyond the neighbourhood and according to the investigators, Padmavathi often visited Patil at his college.
An officer, who was a part of the investigating team, recalled that Patil was lean back in those days and Padmavathi would often taunt him and ask him to eat non-vegetarian food to become strong. And Patil would often come down to her home to have non-vegetarian food and soon, the love bloomed.
From Gulbarga to Bangalore
When Padmavathi was pregnant with her second child, she started living with her parents in Bangalore and Patil used to visit her frequently. In fact, Patil’s visits, revealed by one of the house maids, had made the police suspicious.
According to the police, Padmavathi was not happy with her life with Guttedar, which is also a reason why her affair with Patil grew stronger. Subbanna said a week before the murder, the duo met at the Sadashivanagar park where she gave Patil two options — either leave her or live with her.
“He chose to live with her and decided to eliminate Ashok Guttedar whom he considered to be a hurdle in their relationship,” said Subbanna.
A plan was chalked out. Padmavathi told Patil that Guttedar would be coming to Bangalore for business-related work and would be staying at her parents’ home. While on his visits to Bangalore, he usually slept in a room on the first floor of the house.
According to the plan, Patil would climb up to the canopy of the house and reach the door of the first floor and gain access to Guttedar’s room. He would then shoot him with his father’s licensed revolver and quickly leave the residence. Meanwhile, Padmavathi, who would be on the ground floor, would increase the volume of the television so that her parents would not hear the firing.
And on July 16, 2002, both Padmavathi and Patil played their respective roles and Ashok Guttedar was murdered. Patil had shot at Guttedar twice — once on his hand and then on his chest.
The drama and the initial probe
Around 2.15 am the police control room received a call about a murder and subsequently, Padmavathi lodged a complaint where she claimed that she was watching television with her sister but when she went back to the room, Guttedar did not respond and the bed felt wet. She then discovered that there was blood oozing from a hole on her husband’s chest.
Padmavathi also managed to divert the attention of the police towards Malikaiah Guttedar, Subhash Guttedar and Satish Guttedar — Ashok’s relatives and rivals in the excise business. The industry too believed that a lobby in the liquor sector was behind the murder. And nobody suspected Padmavathi either, probably more so because she was able to garner public support through protests along with Patil to put pressure on the government to arrest Ashok’s killers and against the liquor lobby.
Subbanna recalled it was a big case and the liquor industry was shocked. There were no leads in the case and the pressure from the public and the media mounted each day. The senior officers were ready to depute anyone willing to investigate the case.
Subbanna said, “Subsequently, my seniors sent me to Gulbarga, suspecting that the killer might be from the same city. I went there and started staying at a house like a normal person and sported a beard. Initially, I collected information about people who lived close to Ashok’s residence and spoke to the house maids. It was one of the maids who told me about Patil and that he was a frequent visitor to the house who spent a lot of time. So, my next job was to follow him.”
“Patil, a son of a zilla panchayat member, hailed from an influential family. He was a medical student back then and for the next few days, I followed him. Every day in the evening, he would walk up to a phone booth and make a call. I was curious to know whom he would speak to. So, I sent a letter to the government seeking permission to tap the calls,” said Subbanna.
Back in those days, phone tapping wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. “Disguised as a caller, I went to the telephone booth and fixed a recording device and directed the signal to the place where I was staying. Patil, who did not notice it, fortunately, used to come and call Padmavathi every day and their conversations continued. While the conversations were romantic in nature, largely, we needed evidence to zero in on Patil. I waited for days but then one day, Patil boasted about how he managed to kill Ashok Guttedar, one of the powerful persons of the industry, and how he did it smoothly,” Subbanna further said.
He added, “That’s it. We were ready to arrest Patil and now we had crucial evidence but there was a challenge. When we spoke about arresting Patil, Gulbarga police warned us and said the town would burn if Patil is arrested as his father is influential and so are the Guttedars.”
“But we had no choice and I remember, when he came to the same telephone booth on November 7, 2002, nearly four months after the murder, two members of my team and I just took Patil away in a normal jeep to a place which is 6-7 km away from Gulbarga. When we questioned, he initially denied but when I countered him with the audio recording, he had no choice but to confess. We brought him to Bengaluru and then continued the probe. Knowing about Patil’s arrest, Padmavathi consumed pills to commit suicide but she was saved on time,” said Subbanna.
During the trial, there were three to four advocates representing Patil but the police had one public prosecutor. Patil’s counsel argued hard but at a point, the audio recording was presented before the fast track court and that turned the case around. “The advocate appearing for Patil said there are a lot of people who can mimic voices and claimed that it was not Patil’s voice. The judge, who considered the point, asked us if the voice samples could be tested and luckily, we had such technology in Mysuru. The samples were sent and it confirmed that it was Patil and Padmavathi,” Subbanna said.
On February 15, 2006, the fast track court convicted Patil and Padmavathi to life imprisonment and sent them to prison. Subbanna recalled that the duo was so deeply in love that during the hearing, when Padmavathi realised that Patil would be found guilty, she gave out all minute details of the murder and told the court that she was guilty too. “She did not just put the blame on Patil,” said Subbanna.
The duo approached Karnataka High Court in 2011 which upheld the fast track court judgment and convicted the couple.
Patil, who had joined MBBS in 1997, had to cut short his education after he was arrested. In prison, he continued to help doctors and also went on to secure a masters degree in journalism from Karnataka State Open University (KSOU). In 2016, Patil was released for good conduct and by 2019, he completed his MBBS degree and a one-year internship. Padmavathi was also released from prison.
Patil and Padmavathi then got married and had two kids and the couple now lives happily leaving behind the past.