Serial Killer on the loose Image Credit: Flickr/Walt Stoneburner

Police in the Indian city of Kolhapur, which lies only 400km south of Mumbai, believe they are hunting a serial killer, who has murdered at least nine homeless people in the last three months.

Indian television channel NDTV reports there are a number of features common across each of the nine confirmed murders - all the victims were killed early in the morning, while they were sleeping and they either had their heads smashed in with a stone or were attacked by sharp weapons.

The city's Superintendent of Police, Vijay Jadhav, has acknowledged the strong possibility of a serial killer but also revealed that official record listed only five murders. According to him, two of these are still being reviewed for connections to the suspected serial killer. A sixth reportedly took place in Miraj, a town 53km away.

However, local activist Dilip Desai claims there are at least four other murders that should be attributed to the unknown killer. He says these have been dismissed as "accidental deaths" and also that he has proof of his accusation.

"There is no one to stand up for beggars. So it is easy to term the murders as 'accidental'. But I have proof that they have all been murdered in a similar manner," Desai insisted.

Either way, Kolhapur police have increased the number of officers on duty, with over 100 policemen on patrol during the night.

Meanwhile, the Mail Online reports a 10th body has been found and identified as Shakuntala Jadhav, a 65-year-old beggar. Jadhav's body was found on Wednesday, outside a shopping mall.

The police have yet to classify her death as murder.

"She had injured her head and gone to the doctor in May. She was found today with blood oozing from her head. We will be able to confirm whether it is a murder or not only after the doctors give us a report," Jadhav explained.

Stoneman Murders Re-Lived

The Kolhapur murders bear an uncanny resemblance to the unsolved Stoneman murders of 1985 and 1989. Indian media took to calling the unidentified killer by that name because he would kill his victims by smashing their heads in with a stone.

The gruesome and mysterious tale began in Mumbai in 1985, where 12 murders were committed using the same method as the deaths in Kolhapur - victims were found singly, were from low-income group, were killed early in the morning and with a stone dropped on their heads.

By mid-1988 though, the Mumbai killings stopped. A series of similar murders surfaced in Kolkata, in eastern India, in 1989, which was when the epithet "Stoneman" was applied. A total of 13 people died this time - once again, they were homeless people who stayed singly and were killed early in the morning.

Neither the Mumbai nor the Kolkata murders were ever unsolved, giving birth to a 2009 feature film called Stoneman Murders, starring Indian actors Kay Kay Menon, Arbaaz Khan and Rukhsana.