Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 14, November 1-15, 2019

A pawn shop burglary

by K. Damodaran Nair, Dy. Commissioner of Police, Crime, Madras

A pawn shop at No. 19, Arunachala Naicken Street. Chintadripet, was the scene of a heavy burglary — the “modus operandi” being the use of a false key. The clerk of the pawn shop, as usual, went to open the premises on the early morning of 1-12-54, and to his dismay found that two of the five locks were unlocked. There was a thick iron bar across the folding doors, four heavy locks were put on it and they had been firmly locked with meticulous care the previous night. On entering inside with the owner of the shop, he found the iron safe, which contained all the valuables, open and jewels to the value of Rs. 27,000 removed.

Kania Lal, the owner of the shop, by no stretch of imagination could find out how this ruinous incident had happened. At about 8-30 p.m. on 30-11-54, he had secured all pledged gold jewels, such as bangles, vangies, kammals, nose screws, etc., worth about Rs. 27,000 in the iron safe and had locked it. He had also locked the front doors of his shop, and had all the keys with him. He hastened to Chintadripet Police Station, reported the occurrence and brought the police to the scene of offence.

A close examination of the scene revealed that all the five locks on the front doors as well as the lock of the iron safe had been opened by false keys. The culprits or culprit had not left any tangible clue, finger or foot prints or scent. The Finger & Foot Print experts, and the police dog drew blank.

Kania Lal was then examined at great length. The several items of property lost were all pledged by his customers. He had no suspicion against any one. All his servants were above board. One had left service, a few months previously. That one, Madan Lal, had left Madras for Bombay by the Bombay Express on the morning of 30-11-54. He was, however, honest to the best of the complainant’s knowledge, as he had been handling valuable jewels all through quite honestly.

The only information of interest that could be elicited from the complainant was, that about four months previously, he had lost the original key of his iron safe, and so had a duplicate key made for it.

In the course of diligent local enquiries, it came to light that a tea-shop boy in the vicinity had seen a youth at an untimely hour in the burgled premises on the night in question, and that on suspicion, the boy had informed the matter immediately to the local Gurkha watchman, guarding the shops in the locality.

The Gurkha watchman was then traced and questioned. He admitted the version of the tea shop boy, and added that he had seen, at about 1-.30 a.m., a Marwari youth, aged about 20 years, whom he used to see at the shop previously, and that on questioning him, the Marwari boy told him that his master had sent him to fetch some jewels from the shop. He had accepted this story. The investigating officers then turned their attention to tracing the vanished Marwari youth. The complainant was further questioned and the description of Madan Lal, whom the complainant had already referred to as having left for Bombay, tallied with the description of the Marwari youth, whom the watchman and the tea shop boy had seen. From a group photograph, the Gurkha watchman identified Madan Lal as the person whom he had seen in the shop on the night of occurrence.

What now remained for the investigating Officers was to ascertain if Madan Lal had really left Madras. Madan Lal was seen off with a ticket from Madras to Bombay on the morning of 30-11-54. And, if he had reached his destination, how could he have committed this offence? The only reasonable inference was that he had somehow secretly broken his journey, returned to Madras and committed it. Immediately a trunk call was put through to the Bombay Police at Victoria Terminus and private phone arrangements were made to contact the wife of the complainant, who had also travelled in the Bombay Express on 30-11-54, in order to ascertain the movements of the suspected Madan Lal.

Information was received from the wife of the complainant that Madan Lal had been last seen at Arkonam Railway Station platform on 30-11-54 and that nothing further was known of him. This clinched the issue against him.
Immediate enquiries were instituted to trace Madan Lal, both in Madras and in Bombay. It was certain that Madan Lal would go to Bombay, and thence to Marwar to attend a marriage. A private individual, who knew Madan Lal, was flown to Bombay to be at Victoria Terminus in time for the Bombay Express leaving Madras on 1-12-54 to point him out to the Railway Police should he arrive by that train. All this well-designed and well-timed plans bore fruit. At 1-30 p.m. on 3-12-54, the private individual noticed Madan Lal getting out of a third class compartment with a basket in hand, at the Victoria Terminus. He was promptly handed over to the Police there as arranged.

Madan Lal was catechised. He admitted the offence and narrated it in detail. After boarding the Bombay Express on the morning of 30-11-54 at Madras, he had alighted at Arkonam and returned to Madras the same evening. He had previously prepared duplicate keys for the doors, and had also in his possession the key of the iron safe which his master had lost. He bided his time till midnight and then went to the pawn shop. Opening the locks, he had entered inside and transferred the contents of the iron safe into his hand bag. After committing the offence, he had gone to a hotel, removed all the labels on the pawned jewels, secreted the valuables only in a basket with fruits on top, and had taken the Express on 1-12-54 for Bombay, using the same ticket he had originally bought for the previous day.

On a search of the basket he was carrying all the 582 items of jewels, worth about Rs. 27,000, were recovered intact. He was immediately put under arrest.

Madan Lal, aged 19 years, is not a professional criminal and normally would not have been the object of suspicion in this case. The case shows how the diligent questioning of a complainant and witnesses, could bring forth small but useful details, and how immediate action, utilising all modern equipment such as the trunk telephone and aeroplane, often lead to the successful detection of an offence. Madan Lal was duly convicted of house breaking and theft by the Chief Presidency Magistrate. He has learnt that crime does not pay. – (Courtesy: The Madras Police Journal, October-December 1955).

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