The murderer himself, who signed his letter Javed Iqbal, had vanished; in his letter he said that he was planning to commit suicide by throwing himself into the River Ravi that runs through Lahore. But he left a painstakingly full confession, and enough gruesome evidence to convince the police that they were dealing with a monstrous serial killer.
The letter said that Iqbal had sexually assaulted 100 children before killing them, and had disposed of their bodies in barrels of acid. Details in the letter led police to a dingy three-room house in a poor township outside Lahore in the Punjab region.
Inside the house were two barrels containing acid from which police recovered the mutilated and badly decomposed remains of three bodies.
The first people to reach the scene were local reporters, who climbed a wall to get in, and found neatly pinned to the interior walls of the house placards giving details about the victims and how they were murdered.
One placard read: "The five sacks lying in one corner of this room contain the clothes of 100 victims, while the remaining three [sacks] contain 85 pairs of shoes belonging to them. All details of the murders are contained in the diary and the 32-page notebook that have been placed in the room. This is my confessional statement."
Another placard read starkly: "I have decided to commit suicide." Yet another explained: "The bodies in this room have deliberately not been disposed of so that the authorities will find them after my suicide."
Besides the bodies and the clothes, there were also photographs of the boys Iqbal claimed to have murdered, and yesterday there were terrible scenes at the nearby police station as parents of missing children pored over the photographs and the clothes, some of them breaking down when they found evidence that their own child was among the victims. From reports so far it seems that all the dead children were boys.
Police said last night that so far parents or relatives of 57 of the children had recognised clothing or identified pictures. "Some of the children whose pictures or clothes were identified were among the city's poorest," said a police spokesman, Riaz Shaqfat. "Some were beggars, and others were among the army of children in Pakistan who work on the streets selling things. Others had left home and never returned. We are working around the clock to try and find this man and identify the other children."
Negative comment in Pakistani papers has focused on the fact that the house where the remains were found is only 200 yards from a police station.
In his letter, Javed Iqbal, who is said to be 40, described himself as a trained chemical engineer. He said that he killed the children to take revenge on the police after being wrongly picked up and badly beaten while in custody.
Police said that three charges of sodomy were lodged against Iqbal in 1990, but that he had no convictions.