Auto Shankar

Gowri Shankar (21 January 1954 – 27 April 1995), better known as 'Auto' Shankar, was an Indian criminal, serial killer and gangster from Tamil Nadu, who was active in Chennai throughout the 1970s and 1980s.[1][2][3]

Auto Shankar
Gowri Shankar

(1954-01-21)21 January 1954
Died27 April 1995(1995-04-27) (aged 41)
Salem Central Prison, Salem, Tamil Nadu, India
Cause of deathExecution by hanging
Criminal statusExecuted
Conviction(s)Murder (6 counts)
Criminal penaltyDeath
Span of crimes
State(s)Tamil Nadu

Early and personal lifeEdit

Shankar was born in Kangeyanallur near Vellore. While he was in PUC, his father left the family for Odisha. In the early 1970s, he came to Chennai, first living in a Mylapore slum before moving to the fast-developing area of Thiruvanmiyur on the outskirts of South Chennai.[1] Shankar had several wives. He married his first wife, Jagadeeswari, early in his criminal career and had 4 children with her. The marriage ended due to her suicide by self-immolation. His third wife, Lalitha, was a performer at a cabaret club he frequented.[4]


He survived by peddling cycle rickshaws, and later began to operate an auto rickshaw, from which he got his nickname.

At the time, the area was a criminal hotbed and Shankar began transporting illegal liquor (prohibition being in force at the time), and Shankar soon realised that prostitution was more profitable with lower risks, due to its association with politically influential people who could keep the police in check. His gang eliminated rivals either through the police force or through murder. An incident in which a rival gangster named Babu was murdered in the early 1980s, and which was ultimately covered up led Shankar to focus more on prostitution.[1]

Shankar's third wife, Lalitha, ran off with a pimp and Shankar's friend, Sudalaimuthu, and started their own outfit in the sex trade. An enraged Shankar planned his revenge by pretending to reconcile with the two through mutual friends. One night in October 1987, he invited her to one of his places in Periyar Nagar, then killed and buried her. He then rented the house to an old widow for Rs. 150. Shankar told Sudalai that Lalitha was on an all-India tour with a VIP, and two months later invited him for dinner. Shankar loaded Sudalai with liquor, strangled him, burned his body, and dumped his ashes in the sea. He then had the house renovated and explained away the burn marks by claiming they were roasted meat. When Sudalai's friend Ravi confronted Shankar, Shankar killed him and buried him outside his Periyar Nagar plot. He claimed the burial was of illegal arrack that he was hiding from an upcoming police raid, and posted a false letter to his wife claiming Ravi was in fact in Mumbai.[1]

By 1988, he had a multistorey house, cars, bikes, and connections that could do anything. On 29 May 1988, he and his gang were confronted by 3 members of a rival gang: Sampath, Mohan and Govindraj, who refused to pay for using his women and demanded protection money. Shankar invited them into his den, promising to pay them, and then beat them to death and buried them. At the end of June, Sampath's wife Vijaya filed a complaint with Mylapore police that her husband was missing and Shankar could be responsible. She was advised to file a complaint with Thiruvanmiyur police instead, who arrested Shankar on charges of causing a nuisance and released him. Vijaya sent a petition to the governor, who ordered the police to investigate Shankar. However the reluctant police told Vijaya to not bother them with complaints. A distraught Vijaya turned to her journalist neighbour, who published an article implying they might have been murdered.[1]


The Inspector General ordered a special enquiry and the deaths of the three men were discovered. When they arrested Shankar and interrogated him, he confessed to the murders and to the other three murders he had committed. However he escaped on 20 August 1990 with his five accomplices.[1] Shankar's trial was held at the Chengalpattu sessions court.[5] He was sentenced to death along with two of his associates, Eldin and Shivaji, on 31 May 1991, ultimately being hanged in Salem Central Prison in 1995.


In 1992, Shankar's five accomplices were sentenced to six months of Rigorous Imprisonment after having been found guilty by the Chengai-Anna District Judge N. Mohandoss. The accomplices were Shankar's brother, Mohan, Selva (alias Selvaraj) and the jail wardens Kannan, Balan and Rahim Khan. They were found guilty of criminal conspiracy and resistance or obstruction by a person to his lawful apprehension Subsequently, Mohan was also found guilty of the six murders and was given three Mohan had escaped from the Chennai Central Prison in August 1990 and was captured in Pune on 25 June 1992.


K. Vijay Kumar, the Tamil Nadu Additional Director-General of Police, claimed that cinema was solely responsible for making Shankar a criminal.[6] He mentioned this during a seminar on "Crime and Media" in Kerala.

The trial has become widely known across the nation since the Supreme Court invoked the American free speech doctrine and the case became oft-quoted in relation to journalistic exposés.[7][8][9]

In popular cultureEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Thomas, K.M. (9 September 1990). "The mass murderer of Madras". The Indian Express. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  2. ^ "Auto Shankar, two others sentenced to death". The Indian Express. 1 June 1991. Retrieved 2 January 2013.
  3. ^ "Veerappan's widow pleads against telecast of serial". Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  4. ^ "Auto Shankar's Reign of Terror: The incomplete story of the man who shook Madras". The News Minute. 19 April 2019. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
  5. ^ The Hindu : Auto Shankar's brother gets life imprisonment
  6. ^ The Hindu : Media, police should not harm society's interests
  7. ^ The Hindu : Whistles, stings and slapps
  8. ^ The Hindu : Tehelka: what next?
  9. ^ The Hindu : The Tehelka Commission
  10. ^ Balasubramaniam, Balaji. "Pulan Visaranai - A movie review". Balaji's Thots.
  11. ^ "The Radha-MGR episode". The Hindu. 28 July 2008. ISSN 0971-751X.
  12. ^ a b "Auto Shankar: ZEE5 web series on serial killer Gowri Shankar premiers on 23 April". The Statesman. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 7 April 2019.