Y Harinath Reddy, a senior policeman who is investigating the rapes, said 16 of these cases are on record. In the other alleged cases, the victims appeared not to have filed complaints, he said.
According to the police, the men would target couples in secluded areas like forests and would rob them and rape the women. In at least one case, he alleged, they had filmed the rape and threatened the couple that if they reported the crime, they would release the video in public. The couples they attacked were either secret lovers, both married and unmarried, or engineering and other college students, he said. There were also some sex workers among those allegedly raped.
The criminals were caught about 10 days ago, when a couple they attacked in Bangarupalem raised an alarm. While the man hit back and injured one of the gang members, the woman called for help.
The gangmembers belong to Salem district of Tamil Nadu. The police said they operated across the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Five of their alleged accomplices are in jail in Karnataka in connection with robbery cases.
The Chittoor district Superintendent of Police PHD Ramakrishna said the gang had confessed to having murdered two of their own accomplices, including their former leader. Their bodies have been recovered.
The police said at least four of the nine-member gang have been accused of rape before and all have criminal records.
The police stumbled upon this case, of dozens of women being raped and also the two murders, almost by accident. The state police had constituted a 150-member team to investigate the murder of a constable Jawaharlal Naik and home guard Devendra by the same gang in the Palamaneru forest area about six weeks ago.