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Indian treasure hunters sacrificed boy to appease 'evil spirts'

Rathod Raju said he was told that sacrificing a young boy on "amavasya", or new moon day, would help lead him to treasure in an ancient Indian fort.

NEW DELHI // A gang of treasure hunters has been accused of sacrificing a 14-year-old boy, believing that his death would help lead them to hidden riches.

Poosapatri Ganesh, whose body was exhumed by police on Thursday morning, was reportedly strangled and his head smashed with a rock.

Police said the attack took place on Monday night amid the crumbling ruins of Shamgarh fort, about 280 kilometres north of Hyderabad in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

Legend has it that the fort is home to a fabulous treasure trove - an idea that is no longer so far-fetched after the discovery last July of sacks filled with diamonds, gold and jewels in the subterranean vaults of a Hindu temple in Kerala. The horde has been valued at close to US$22 billion (Dh80.7bn).

Two men have confessed to the killing. Rathod Raju, a waiter in a nearby hotel, said he was told that sacrificing a young boy on "amavasya", or new moon day, would appease the "evil spirits" who guard the treasure and help lead him to its whereabouts.

He was apparently roped into the plot by another man, known simply as Prabhakar, who has also been arrested.

A report in the Times of India quotes Mr Raju as saying: "Prabhakar lured me by offering 20,000 rupees [Dh1,500] if I handed over the boy to him and promised that he would go to some other place and reside there with the boy as he doesn't have children. But in the night he told me about the hidden wealth and the need to sacrifice the boy."

Mr Raju was a neighbour and friend of the family, and had befriended the schoolboy through offers of food and rides on his motorbike, police said. Poosapatri was last seen riding with Mr Raju on the day of his death.

The duo apparently lured the boy to the city outskirts on the pretext of teaching him to ride the motorbike. After murdering him and burying his body in a trench near the fort, they began digging for treasure near the grave.

Police found turmeric powder, vermilion, lemon and other items related to religious ceremonies around the site.

Police said the killing might have been part of a plot by a gang of treasure hunters.

"There are seven others who hatched the conspiracy three months ago along with Prabhakar and Raju," a police spokesman told reporters.

"We have formed special teams to nab them."