Monday, April 6, 2015

Serial Killers and the Sri Lankan Society

Serial killers kill for the power and control they experience during the murders and for the added ego boost they get in the aftermath from community fears, media coverage, and the police investigations.
-          Pat Brown

Dr Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D.

In 1999 I did a study with the help of Dr A.P Waidyasekara Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist, Mr. Mohan Peris PC, and Mr Priyantha Jayakody of the Sri Lanka Police Force to find   any evidence of serial killers in the Sri Lankan Criminal history. Although we dug in to the criminal history of this country up to 1800 s, I could not find any criminal who would fit in to serial murderer profile that is described by the FBI.

First I thought Kallathhave Soysa and Kalu Albert would fit in to this category, but after studying the murders that they had committed I found that there were huge material motives behind their killings. But Kalu Albert showed numerous features of a coldblooded killer and he may have suffered from ASPD (Anti-Social Personality Disorder) He had no remorse for these killings and finally he went to the gallows without any emotional outburst. The eyewitnesses say that Kalu Albert went to the gallows with a sardonic smile on his face even challenging to his own death.

While I was doing this study, one day Mr Priyantha Jayakody informed me about a person who had killed 16 people during the time  1988- 1999. But later it was revealed that he was a contract killer and was not a serial murderer. 

In 2003 a mobile vendor was arrested by the Kandy Police for murdering several women and a child. The investigations were conducted by DIG Nimal Madiwaka and I did contact Mr. Madiwaka to clarify the motives of these killings. The perpetrator was a resident from Madugoda -Kandy District. The said person had visited houses to sell domestic items between 10 am to 12 pm and when he found fitting chances he used to kill defenseless women mostly by strangulation.  He had no specific material gain to commit these murders and there was a certain emotional gratification derived by these senseless killings.

He was a deviant character who has had a tormented childhood and experienced paternal rejection when he was very young. He was motivated by free floating anger and ferocious instincts. He derived sadistic satisfaction by killing these innocent women. Obviously this person could be the first serial murderer in the Sri Lankan modern criminal history. In the same year I wrote an article revealing the psychological background of these killings that was published by the Sunday Lakbima newspaper. 

In 2002 I was working in the Military Hospital Colombo and I was referred an Army Officer by Dr Neil Frenando – Consultant Psychiatrist to do a comprehensive psychological assessment. The subject was exposed to gruesome combat experiences and sustained a head injury. There was a grenade fragment in his frontal lobe and he suffered fromperiodic attacks of headaches.  These traumatic combat experiences and the head injury may have caused drastic personality changes in him. During the assessment I found some homicidal obsessions in him and it was my professional obligation to inform the authorities about this impending danger.

I informed the relevant authority to get this person to our combat trauma treatment center for further observation and treatment. I specifically mentioned his current mental status and possible dangers to the society. Sadly our request was turned down by the short sighted bureaucrat and the subject went free. We had to close his file.   

In less than two years I heard the bad news. The said officer had committed a murder in a brutal manner. According to the Police reports he had invited a cab driver to the Manthhottam camp in Mannar and killed the driver by cutting his throat with a sharp weapon. Then he cut the victim’s body into pieces and burnt it with gasoline.

The investigators had found that he had killed several people prior to this incident.    He committed these murders after he became psychologically unbalanced. Eventually he was caught by the Wattegama Police and charged with manslaughter. When the suspect was at the Bogambara Remand Prison he hanged himself. This was a very unfortunate incident in my professional life and it could have been prevented if not for the unwise administrative decision by a short sighted bureaucrat.

The said officer was not a monster by nature. He came from a good family and he had studied in a reputed school in Kandy. After finishing school he joined the military to become a career officer. He successfully completed a defense degree from the Kotelawala Defense Academy. He became one of the outstanding officers of the VIR (Vijayabahu Infantry Regiment) and served as a Major in the North during the war. He was married and had a child. He never had murderous intentions until he became a psychological casualty of the War. Unfortunately his combat stress related symptoms and the traumatic brain injury were not viewed seriously by the authorities. Therefore he never had the opportunity to undergo effective prolonged treatment as recommended by his doctors.  

According to the Police reports he had murdered several people and sometimes stole the victim’s money and vehicles. He committed his last crime in Wattegama and was caught by the police.

What were the true intentions of these murders? According to my understanding his intentions were not purely to rob money or other valuable items. He basically derived a sadistic satisfaction by murdering his victims. I still recall the words that he used during the clinical interview. He said when I find a victim I prefer to do “Pashanibutha Kirema“means to fossilize the victims.

If the authorities gave us a helping hand and the opportunity to treat this officer we could have saved at least five lives. This officer suffered from Posttraumatic Stress Decoder (PTSD) and Personality Changes following Head injury.  Based on the psychological profile and his subsequent homicidal actions I think this officer would fit in to the list of Sri Lankan serial murderers.

Another serial murder outbreak was reported recently from Kahawatta. In 2011 Kahawatta in Ratnapura District became under mass fear following mysterious murders. At least seven elderly women were killed and some of the victims had been raped by an unknown assassin. Later the Police arrested several suspects connected with these murders. The Police Department should get help from Psychologists / Psychiatrists to determine whether these suspects are serial murders. 

Dr. Muditha Vidanapathirana- Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences University of Sri Jayewardenepura- Sri Lanka provides solid evidence about a potential serial killer who committed 14 murders (12 males) in 9 towns from 2010-2011.

All the killings had been occurred at night and the bodies were left on the location of killing without being moved. All the victims were killed in a similar manner. The causes of death had been blunt force trauma to head.

In November 2011, a beggar was arrested while attempting to kill another beggar when the latter was a sleep. The suspect was produced for medico-legal examination and later referred to a Psychiatrist. He was diagnosed with anti-social traits. Later he admitted that he had murdered altogether 14 beggars. In addition he had shown all the crime scenes to the investigators. He was sent for inward psychiatric treatment and is awaiting trial. According to Dr. Muditha Vidanapathirana the perpetrator had committed fourteen independent, planned murders with potential “cooling-off periods. Therefore the suspect could be the highest 'potential serial killer' in Sri Lanka.

Who are the Serial Killers?

A serial killer is an individual who has murdered three or more people over a period of more than a month, with down time   between the murders, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification.  Most of the serial killers suffer from Anti-Social Personality Disorder and could appear normal and charming. Sometimes they are highly intelligent.

Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing was the first clinician who wrote about serial killers in detail. Dr Ebing in his 1886 text book  Psychopathia Sexualis described numerous case studies of sexual homicide, serial murder, and other areas of sexual proclivity.

There are many reasons why serial killers commit murders. The Serial Killers are geared by different motives. As Lee (1988) points out serial killers commit murders following

1)    Profit

2)    Passion

3)    Hatred

4)    Power or domination

5)    Revenge

6)    Opportunism

7)    Fear

8)    Contract killing

9)    Desperation

10)  Compassion

11) Ritual

Generally there is no prior relationship between victim and the attacker. Often the motive is not for material gain and is believed to be for the murderer’s desire to have power over his victim. For the murderer victims may have symbolic value. 

The perpetrator has low self-esteem and increasingly violent fantasies. He might look calm and well-mannered generally hiding his inner motives. He may not appear like a conventional criminal. He could attack the victim unexpectedly and leaves no traces. After committing a murder the serial killer is not emotionally shocked by the feelings of guilt. He is apathetic to his victim’s suffering and detached from the feelings of compassion or remorse.  Traumatic experiences and feelings from the past may be dissociated from conscious feelings and the perpetrator is emotionally numbed. 

 There are many theories that describe how a person could turn in to a serial murderer. According to the Anomie Theory serial killers lack any bonds tying them to society. They feel isolated, alienated and rejected by the society. Many psychologists believe that family history and childhood development play large roles in this. Childhood anxieties such as rejection by a parent, maternal or paternal deprivation, childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse could lead to devastating outcomes. Many serial killers have experienced feelings of inadequacy, worthlessness, and powerlessness.

Some research points to brain anomalies in serial killers; possibly due to abnormal development during gestation or the result of an injury. A large number of serial murder studies have showed severe damage to the frontal lobe that could lead to violent behavior. There is also some evidence that abnormalities in the nervous system may play a role. Altered brain chemistry is another hypothesis. For instance low levels of serotonin in the brain have been associated with an increased susceptibility to impulsive behavior, aggression and possible violent crimes. 

In 2014 Simkin and Roychowdhury (University of California- Los Angeles) hypothesized that serial killer commits murders when neuronal excitation in his brain exceeds certain threshold.
Castle and Hensley (2002) examined the possible link between serial killers and military service.  Using social learning theory for the study of murder, they studied how potential serial killers learn to reinforce violence, aggression, and murder in military boot camps. Anyhow they highlight that as with other variables considered in serial killer research, military experience alone cannot account for all cases of serial murder. Lester and White (2012) report that in a sample of 483 serial killers, 6.2% were documented to have committed suicide.

 Serial Sexual Homicide

Myers and colleagues (2006) consider that seeking of sexual gratification to the achievement of power and controls to the expression of anger motivate serial sexual killers to commit their crimes. They commit their crimes in pursuit of sadistic pleasure. A significant proportion of them appear to have paraphilic disorders within the spectrum of sexual sadism. Chan and colleagues (2014) state that Serial sexual homicide offenders were more likely than the single offenders to report deviant sexual fantasies, having selected victims with distinctive characteristics, to have targeted strangers, structured premeditation and/or verbal humiliation of their victims during the offences. In my opinion Cpl Somarathne who raped and murdered Krishanthi Kumaraswami would fit in to Serial Sexual Homicide Offender category.

Serial Murder by Healthcare Professionals

Dr Harold Frederick Shipman was the worst known serial killer in British history. On January 31, 2000, Dr. Harold Shipman was convicted at Preston, England; of murdering 15 of his patients by administering lethal doses of diamorphine (pharmaceutical heroin). Most victims were elderly and had histories of natural disease. Analysis of skeletal muscle disclosed significant quantities of morphine, to which the deaths were attributed (Pounder, 2003).

Dr Shipman killed at least 215 patients and may have begun his murderous career at the age of 25, within a year of finishing his medical training. His case has had a profound impact on the practice of medicine in the United Kingdom (Gunn, 2010).  

Yorker (2006) states that the prosecution of Charles Cullen, a nurse who killed at least 40 patients over a 16-year period, highlights the need to better understand the phenomenon of serial murder by healthcare professionals  

Famous Serial Killers in the Criminal History 

Jack the Ripper

The British serial killer Jack the Ripper operated in 1888 in Whitechapel East End of London. His victims were sex workers who were affected by extreme poverty. Although he had eliminated only five victims the name of Jack the Ripper became prominent worldwide. His murders shocked the Victorian society and Jack the Ripper was seen as the personification of all the evils. When the time he committed these murders the London society fought a daily battle against poverty and starvation. Many conspiracy theories were associated with these White Chapel murders. The entire Scotland Yard was against a lone assassin who was hiding among the London's most densely populated and crime ridden areas. 

 Ripper mutilated most of his victims and used to remove the internal organs such as intestines, uterus etc. After committing the murders the killer signed his name as Jack the Ripper in blood. Some Criminal historians believe that Jack the Ripper was collecting trophies from his victims. This is a common practice among the serial killers. Although numerous investigations launched no-one was ever brought to justice or charged with the crimes. The true murderer remains as an unresolved mystery. (In 2006 I met a Psychology lecturer   at the Washburn University in Kansas who showed me compelling evidence of Jack the Ripper. According to him Ripper was a butcher working in the White Chapel area. He may have contacted a venereal disease by a sex worker in the White Chapel are and was seeking revenge.  He became delusional may be due to Neuro-syphilis and had thought he was implementing the God's punishment on sinners - the prostitutes.  Hence he killed a number of prostitutes creating a mass fear psychosis)

Andre   Chikatilo alias the Citizen X 

Way back in 1991 when I was a medical student our professor of Psychiatry Dr. Ludmila Wevskaya of the Vinnitsa National Medical University informed us that a psychopath   was arrested in Rostov in connection with series of murders. The name of this man was Andre Chikatilo. By the time he was captured Chikatilo had murdered 53 people over the period of 15 years. The Rostov police had no clue on these brutal murders. Eventually they got help from a renowned Psychiatrist of the Rostov Medical University Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky. Alexander Bukhanovsky made the psychological profile of the killer, his external appearance and behavior pattern.

The chief investigator Lt Viktor Burakov was on the trail of the Rostov killer over a decade and he used the psychological profile of the killer that was compiled by Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky to capture the serial murderer. The FBI later admired the chief investigator Lt Viktor Burakov’s laborious work to capture Andre Chikatilo. Today every FBI agent study the investigative methods used by Lt Viktor Burakov to capture Andre Chikatilo alias the Citizen X.

Andre Chikatilo. was born shortly after the Ukrainian famine that was artificially organized under the Stalinist Collectivization. Some claim that during the Ukrainian famine which was called Holodomor, young Chikatilo’s elder brother Stephan had been cannibalized by the hungry neighbors. Young Chikatilo was constantly surrounded by horror and destitution. 

He was a bright student and became a school teacher after finishing his formal education. He was an introvert with gentle behavior.  Although externally Chikatilo looked calm and well-mannered his psyche was severely damaged due to the horror and childhood anxieties that he experienced. Deep down Chikatilo felt lonely and alienated. He got married and had two children. For the outside world Andre Chikatilo was a model citizen. He did not smoke or drink and even became a Communist party member. He obtained a University degree in Marxism. 

In his middle life Andre Chikatilo suffered from sexual dysfunction and did not wish to get any treatment. Chikatilo became more and more isolated and projected his hate to the society. He committed his first killing in 1978.  He took a little girl to an abandoned house,raped her and later murdered her with a knife. While committing the murder he felt sense of dominance and empowerment. Later Chikatilo confessed "What I did was not for sexual pleasure. Rather it brought me some peace of mind."
Hence he derived great satisfaction by killing innocent defenseless victims. He committed nearly 52 murders over the period of 15 years and the Soviet Police could not catch him because of his calm well-mannered and orderly behavior. 
Andre Chikatilo preyed on adolescent boys and girls, sometimes on prostitutes. He used to take them to the woods and then used to stab them suddenly and unexpectedly.  Often he used to eat the body parts of his victims. The autopsy reports of Chikatilo’s victims revealed that the killer used to stab their eyes and destroy the pupil. It was a form of his criminal signature. As the Psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky pointed out Chikatilo had a fear that his image was preserved on his victim's retina and therefore he used to stab the victim’s eyes.   

Andre Chikatilo became a well-known character in the West and his killer story inspired several Hollywood moves. Chris Gerolmo’s Citizen X (starring Donald Sutherland and Stephen Rea) was based on how Andre Chikatilo was brought to justice. According to Scott Christianson (2006) Chikatilo was so impressed by the psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Bukhanovsky's profile that he asked the doctor to attend his execution.

Professor Alexander Bukhanovsky on Kahawatta Murders

When Kahawatta murders terrified Sri Lanka I contacted Professor Alexander Bukhanovsky and informed him about the nature of these killings. I emailed him the newspaper reports etc about the Kahawatta murders and gave him basic idea how the killings had done.

Professor Bukhanovsky further told me that similar murder pattern like Kahawatta had occurred in Southern Italy between 1995 and 1997.  There were fifteen murders of elderly women over the age of 70 years old.  According to Campobasso   (2009) not all the murders were attributed to a single serial killer. The majority of the victims were stabbed multiple times in the neck, except for three cases in which the cause of death was manual strangulation. There was evidence of sexual assault in only one of the cases. All the victims were discovered in their own apartments, which were located on the ground level, with no signs of forced entry.

Professor Bukhanovsky had a great interest in Kahawatta murders and he surmised that these killings were done by a psychologically deviant person (s) who had a tormented childhood and the perpetrator (s) gained abnormal satisfaction by killing these old women.  Before making a comprehensive profile Professor Bukhanovsky passed away. Hence I lost a mentor who could give us valuable insights.

Charles Sobhraj or the Bikini Killer 

Charles Sobhraj (born in 1944) is a French serial killer of Indian and Vietnamese origin. Charles Sobhraj had a problem childhood and grew up on the streets of Saigon and in juvenile prisons in France. Sobhraj preyed on Western tourists throughout Southeast Asia during the 1970s.

Sobhraj was an intelligent, articulate and a manipulative character. He committed his first known murder in 1975. The victim was a young woman from Seattle. He had killed a number of American, French, Dutch and Canadian tourists who came to South East Asia seeking mystic experiences and inner tranquility. Most of the victims used drugs such as LSD, Marijuana and Cocaine. Therefore it was easy for him to deceive the victims and then subsequently poisoned them. Sometimes he used to drown his female victims after making them unconscious with drug overdoses.  On one occasion Charles Sobhraj drugged two of his victims, then stabbed them and partially burned them, before dumping the bodies in two separate locations. One time he operated in Pattaya beach in Thailand killing two female tourists. 

The Journalist Richard Neville interviewed Sobhraj  and published a book titled ‘The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj that narrates the intricate methods that he used to kill his victims. As Richard Neville highlights Sobhraj was famous for his mastery of disguise, his multiple identities and his ability to deceive. At present Charles Sobraj is in custody serving a prison term. 

Serial Killers and the Sri Lankan Society

Sri Lankan society experienced the repercussions of an armed conflict for over three decades that negatively affected the mental health of the combatants, militants and the civilians. War trauma still hounds the Sri Lankan society. Social violence, alcoholism and substance abuse, suicides,self-harm, deep mistrust, degradation of communities have increased in the recent past. These circumstances can increase law-breaking in the society.

The War trauma should be identified among the combatants, ex militants (members of the LTTE) and the civilians who were exposed to traumatic war situations. The affected people should be treated appropriately. The Police indicate that the one of the perpetrators who killed the old women in Kahawathha was a disabled soldier. If these accusations are true this solder may have been suffering from undiagnosed posttraumatic conditions. He cannot be held fully responsible for his actions since he is being psychologically traumatized by the war. There may be hundreds of such individuals walking free in our society and it could be an impending danger to the civil society. Therefore systematic case identification and effective psychological treatment for combat trauma would be essentially needed. 

We should not forget that War can create heroes as well as slayers.  After the Vietnam War some distinguished solders became deviant characters as a result of combat trauma and committed crimes. For instance Sgt.Dwight H Johnson who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and distinguished service became an antisocial.

After coming from Vietnam he suffered from Post Combat Depression and committed several crimes. In 1971 he was shot during an armed robbery by the Police in Detroit. The DC Sniper (John Allen Muhammad) had served Louisiana Army National Guard for seven years seven years before he became a serial killer. The Gulf War veteran Timothy McVeigh received Bronze Star for his military services. After his military career McVeigh became an isolated character and probably sufferer from PCS (Post Combat Syndrome).  In 1995 Timothy McVeigh planted a bomb in Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 167 people.

These tragedies teach us a huge lesson. During the Eelam War over 150,000 combatants were in active combat and some were exposed to traumatic and gruesome realties of the war. A considerable percentage of solders (including members of the Navy, Air force, Police) are suffering from combat related PTSD. Similarly there are a large numbers of ex LTTE members in the Northern part of the country and a vast number of civilians from the North and South who suffer from war trauma. Their emotional scars are not yet diagnosed and untreated. Many use negative stress coping methods to deal with their past war traumas. This could be a time bomb in the Sri Lankan society. Our health system should take necessary steps to identify war trauma and treat appropriately. The affected combatants should be provided with appropriate psychosocial support and their mental health must be uplifted.   

From 2002 – 2006 Dr. Neil Fernando and I have treated a large number of patients who were affected by war trauma. Some individuals suffered from malignant PTSD and DESNOS (Disorders of Extreme Stress, Not Otherwise Specified) Some of these war victims had grandiose urge to see / touch human  blood, kill people by stabbing, manual throttling, shooting etc. These homicidal urges were part of their illness and we were able to treat them successfully evading social calamities. Unfortunately in 2006 this center was closed and today we don’t know what happened to some of our patients who suffered from malignant PTSD. I hope and pray that these individuals are still taking adequate treatment and they are under medical monitoring. Also hope that they will not be a threat to the society.

Recent social unrests connected with Grease Yaka (Grease Devil) indicate frustration and deviant behavior of individuals and groups who get satisfaction by attacking people and disrupting the civil order. People with anti-social personality disorder and sexual deviant behaviors such as voyeurism, exhibitionism etc have an inclination towers such forms of behavior and these individuals need treatment. Extremist and fundamental groups can always make use of these types of people to gain their egoistic and petty needs. Therefore the society has an obligation to prevent such catastrophes helping to maintain law and order. 

The Sri Lankan Police Department needs knowledge and skills to handle crimes committed by these deviant personalities and especially by the serial killers.  As a matter of fact higher numbers of serial killers do not exhibit the conventional criminal behavior pattern. Therefore the Police officers should be educated and equipped with knowledge and skills to deal with such people and situations. 

Sri Lankans are warm and companionate people. Sri Lankan communities are interconnected and people help each other. This allows the people to know about each other and everyone's movements. This is one of the positive factors in our society that prevented the actions of secretive murderers. We had an innate social buffer against serial killers.

In some countries neighbors do not know about each other and people have secluded and isolated lives and such situations help a serial murder to strike easily. Now days these countries introduce neighborhood watch systems to protect people.  But these social protective systems prevailed in our Sri Lankan society since ancient times. Unfortunately manmade disasters like war and civil unrests in 1971 and 1988 disintegrated the communities and their positive human touch. People became hostile to one another and suspicion and mistrust   started to grow. Disintegration of extended family systems and breaking of neighborhood collaboration have endangered people like never before.

Today many mothers go to the Middle East countries leaving their children behind. The Middle East Syndrome has caused maternal derivation creating a deep void in children. Many children grow with severe unbearable   stressors and in unsafe environments.  According to Professor Harendra De Silva – former Chairman of the National Child Protection Authority, a large number of children under go physical, sexual and emotional trauma annually. There is no appropriate safety net to protect these children. Unfortunately these social upheavals have become fertile grounds to breed future serial murderers. Therefore mental health experts should take appropriate measures to prevent such social problems. 

The public must work as crime stoppers and start to build positive communities and healthy relationships with the help of community leaders and religious leaders. It is an effective measure to combat crime. Awareness plays a key role to prevent crimes committed by conventional criminals and especially by the deviant killers. Most of the victims who knew to avoid or defense themselves from traditional criminals had no clue to protect themselves from deviant murderers such as serial killers. Therefore they became potential victims.  It is everyone’s duty is to be cautious and vigilant and maintain the optimal social equilibrium to prevent such crimes. 


  1. Let me suggest you to translate this very article in to sinhala (or give permission to someone else to do it for you) because these facts should go to the general public (and also for those who are engaged in such investigations). Identification of serial killing from short-tempered mass killings and contract killings are really important. I think here you have done it better than most. In search for that not only the number of murders but mostly the pattern of killings and the murderer's attitudes are also important. This article is one of best that situation demands. Thanks for sharing.

    1. කල්‍යාණ මිත්‍ර , Thanks. Mr Narada Karunathilaka asked my permission to translate this article , I have no objection.

  2. There are many famous movies about Serial Killers and those are actually promoting the mentality they have as a hero. I think those things might have an effect on this.

    Thanks for sharing

    1. උපේක්ෂා there is a certain validity in your statement. We should not glorify these actions.

  3. Very sad to read this type of articles. I know the story of that VIR Officer. There are a considerably large number of security force members with PTSD freely living in our society. Most of the hierarchies least bothered about their responsibility. It is high time to launch a Medical+Police+Law+Forces combine campaign to screen these personnel and do some remedial actions.

    1. It was a sad story in my professional life, if that said officer allowed us to keep the VIR officer under our continuous care we could have prevented many deaths

  4. Thanks for sharing. I agree with කල්‍යාණ මිත්‍ර. Very sad to see how people react in this type of situation.

  5. Dr. Jayatunge, I'm a journalist for a local newspaper and I would very much like to get a few comments regarding the Kotakethana murders. I want your professional view point on this article I'm currently writing. Is there any way I could contact you; email or otherwise, before this Friday (02)?

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Tanks pl contact me email :

  8. i was searching something like this for my research thanks for sharing this also check Serial Killers of All Time for more info

  9. This should be translated to sinhala. And your story on the army soldier is very good material for a film. Any idea on how I can learn about this field? criminology?

    1. i will give a try
      criminology is a major discipline in the western universities


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