by Charles Haviland
In a horrific turn of events in Sri Lanka's biggest city, Colombo, between seven and ten hawkers, homeless people or beggars have been murdered in the space of a few weeks.
The murder methods have been particularly violent, the victims crushed with rocks or beaten with poles as they slept.
The police have not solved the mystery series of killings.
Manoj, a seller of lottery tickets became the latest person working or living in the streets to be murdered.
"He didn't have enemies", his mother cries.
Like several of the victims Manoj was killed especially brutally with a rock which now lies in two pieces by the bloodied corpse.
At least seven poor people have now been killed within a few weeks all over Colombo.
One of the first of this gruesome series of murders happened here in the mean streets of Kotahena, a poor part of the inner city.
The victim, a homeless labourer, came to this spot and was crushed to death while sleeping. Another of the killings also took place just close by.
In Kotahena there is a community of beggars, homeless people and others who ask for money on the streets.
Some are badly disabled - as were some of the murder victims. I get the sense that they care for each other. They already lead an insecure existence, afraid of being moved away by the police, who say begging is illegal.
The killings create mounting fear, says a disabled beggar, A.D. Gamini.
"Some of us live in fear. Those who don't have houses are scared because they usually sleep on the pavement. I am going home soon now to avoid it.", he said.
The police spokesman told the BBC that to try to catch the criminals some of his staff are now sleeping in streets pretending to be beggars.
He believes they have already arrested the killer of one victim. But the murders have continued and some believe there is a serial killer.
Lakshan Dias, a lawyer, says the criminals appear to be well organised, possibly linked to paramilitaries or organised gangs.
"This kind of brutality cannot come from an ordinary citizen. This kind of brutality cannot come from a fellow beggar. This kind of brutality cannot come from someone who wants to rob. So it's beyond their capacity. This is some kind of people who have capacity who are doing these things. ", he said.
The police have a macabre mystery to deal with. And street-dwelling people have a new reason to live in fear. - courtesy: BBC Sandeshaya -