The path to greatness is aspired by some. The question is, what is their definition of greatness and how far are they willing to go to achieve it? Some people sacrifice their time and money, some sacrifice their passion and hobbies, and others take their hunger to excel to a whole new level. Some might even consider them psychopaths. History is peppered with stories of those who are willing to achieve greatness at whatever the cost and feel entitled to misuse their “power” in a manner they deem necessary.
In a documentary, Indonesian clinical psychologist Irna Minauli, classified Ahmad Suradji, the serial killer shaman, as one of these psychopaths. Why? Because Suradji who hailed from a small Indonesian village ironically named “Aman Damai”, or “Peace and Tranquillity”, was revered by his community as a powerful shaman, yet was driven to take the lives of 42 young women in his quest for “greatness”.
His victims were buried waist-deep in a hole they themselves helped dig. It was important in this ritual that they were buried facing his house and it was even more important that their arms were buried as well. As soon as they were completely immobilised, Suradji went in for the kill by strangling them to death and then proceeded to suck out their saliva. Once he was done, he stripped his victims bare and buried them with their heads facing his home, supposedly for good luck.
“My father did not specifically advise me to kill people, so I was thinking it would take ages if I had to wait to get 70 women. Because I was trying to get to it as fast as possible, I used my own initiative to kill. That was why from 1986 until now, I have killed 42 women.” These were Suradji’s words, recorded while he was serving his prison sentence before his execution.
The story, though bizarre, is rather simple. Suradji was born to a self-proclaimed “sorcerer” in the interior of Indonesia. It is no wonder that a Javanese boy growing up in such an environment would be fascinated by the art of black magic. He watched every day while his father, whose name is unknown, earned praise and respect for resolving issues affecting their community.
However, this also meant that Suradji, whose real name is Nasib Kelewang, was often neglected by his parents. He was apparently “different” as a young boy and had trouble making friends, leaving him alone to do his own thing. In his case, it wasn’t the best thing. Lonely and neglected, Suradji didn’t do well in school and began a life of crime. He was only 19 when he first went to prison and served 10 years for petty crimes and public violence.
Barely two years after he was released, Suradji was back behind bars for cattle theft. According to a documentary by Crime Investigation Asia, upon his release, he felt he needed to do something to shed his bad reputation. He didn’t like the way people looked at him and treated him, so he made the decision to be like his father. “I aspired to follow in the footsteps of my father. I did not learn sorcery from anyone else but my father,” he said in his testimony.
So began the journey of sorcery for Suradji, which at the time included helping the people of his community. He was later revered and regarded as “Datuk Maringgi”. Locals believed that he could move clouds and heal the sick, but Suradji had a dark secret. He was, in reality, one of the most prolific and hideous serial killers of all time.
In 1986, Suradji had a dream – one that became a nightmare for many women and their families. He claimed that the ghost of his deceased father told him that he needed to obtain “the saliva of 70 dead young women in order to attain invincibility”. In his testimony, Suradji revealed he was never ordered by his father to kill, but admitted that he had killed those women to achieve his target of sucking the saliva of 70 dead women sooner. In a separate confession, Suradji had also said murder was an “easy way” to make money. “If I just robbed people, I could get shot or put in jail, but this way, people came to me. I took their money, then I killed them,” he said.
And so he began victimising women who came to him in their quest for love or help with their marriage. At times, Suradji even hired prostitutes then murdered them because he “could not wait around” for more women to come by.
Suradji continued for 11 years, pursuing his mission to attain “invincibility”. He had a successful modus operandi. It helped that most of the women who came to him for help had done so in secret, so there was no way of linking him to their disappearances. Free money, many murders, a shot at becoming invincible and getting away with it all. It all looked good for Suradji until he came across 21-year-old Sri Kemala Dewi, the woman who was to be his final sacrifice and Andreas, a rickshaw driver, whose tale saved other women in Aman Damai from a horrifying end.
The turning point.
On 27 April 1997, a young farmer had ventured to the sugarcane fields to feed his livestock and came across an unusual mound of dirt. Alarmed, he quickly informed his village head Sugito, of his discovery. He was also Suradji’s neighbour. In an interview, Sugito said that he and a few other men went to inspect the mound and had stuck a piece of wood into it, only to be assaulted by the rancid stench of decay. Worried, he immediately alerted the military who in return told Sugito to start digging to see what was beneath the mound of dirt. “They said should we find a body, we should leave it alone and inform them immediately,” he said.
Six men and two hours later, they discovered a body. Naked and bloated, the putrified body of a young woman was removed from the muddy grave. The police were called. She was vaguely recognised as 21-year-old Dewi by onlookers and her family was summoned to identify her body. Dewi’s mother Arsanah said she could tell it was her daughter by just looking at her legs. “It was like my worst nightmare had come to life. I refused to believe it was her, but there she was, dead in front of me.” No one knew what had happened as they last saw Dewi three days previously when she stepped out of her home to run an errand.
Soon after the discovery of her body, a 15-year-old rickshaw driver stepped forward, shedding light on the mystery behind Dewi’s death. Andreas Suwito explained that on 24 April 1997, Dewi had asked him to take her to a destination without elaborating on details, saying that she did not disclose her destination until they were halfway there. “As I asked her again, she said she wanted to go to Datuk’s house. I was curious because it was rather late at night, so I asked why she was going there and she had told me not to be too nosy,” he said.
Upon hearing this statement by Andreas, Sugito was shocked, and shared that Suradji had asked about the commotion on the 27 April and even told them not to fear if it was a ghost. He further shared that Suradji was one of the six men who helped dig up Dewi’s body.
In his confession, Suradji shared that Dewi had gone to him as she had a dispute with her fiance and wanted him back. She was seeking assistance from Suradji to ensure her fiance did not leave her for another woman. “That night, she was scared, because we had to walk through a cemetery to get to the sugarcane plantation. I told her it was fine, but she insisted that my wife accompany us for the ritual. Dewi was the one who asked for my wife to come along and that was how my wife got to know about the murders,” he said.
He explained that he had to constantly reassure Dewi to calm her down while he was burying her, and said it took him a mere 12 to 15 minutes to kill her before he sucked out her saliva. “If I were to bury my victims without any lining, their bodies would decompose faster. So I stripped her with the help of my wife, rolled up her clothes, put them in a plastic bag. Then I headed home,” he said, adding that it was the first time he had brought his wife Tumini along. He also explained that all three of his wives had not known of his murders up until the discovery of Dewi’s body.
The countless deaths.
Alfred Satyo, the forensic expert who worked on the case said that following the discovery of Dewi’s body and the statement by the rickshaw man Andreas, Suradji was arrested on 30 April 1997. He went through four days of interrogation, during which he willingly disclosed that he had murdered a total of 42 women and buried all of them in the same sugarcane field.
“We are all human beings, we have our own strengths and weaknesses. If I remember correctly, I have murdered 42 women. I did not suspect I was going to get caught. I did not try to run away when I saw the police, because I had resigned to my fate,” said Suradji.
Satyo explained that the military and the police then worked together with the locals to unearth all the other bodies. “Dewi could be identified quite quickly because her body was still fairly fresh. Four other bodies were also identified shortly after discovery because their families came forward. There were four bodies which could not be identified and had to be cremated without anyone claiming them. It was just impossible to recognise the rest as they had been reduced to a pile of skulls and bones. In fact, we think there is a possibility that more than 42 bodies were there,” he said. He however added that considering the extent of decomposition of the bodies, it was difficult to tell if sexual assault had happened at all.
The forensic expert also revealed that Suradji had claimed none of his murders were ever sexually motivated. Perhaps his three wives kept him busy. “He simply said it was also a way for him to make money as he could rob them without getting caught,” said Satyo.
Several missing persons reports by the villagers later revealed that over 80 female villagers had gone missing. However there was no way to know if they were all murdered by Suradji and the prosecution was finding it hard to even pin Suradji down to the murders he had initially admitted to committing.
This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s October 2019 issue from the article THE SORCERER’S TALE.