Thug Behram or Buhram (ca 1765–1840), also known as Buhram Jemedar and the 'King of the Thugs', was a leader of the Thuggee cult active in Oudh in northern central India during the late 18th and early 19th century, that is often cited as one of the world's most prolific serial killers. He may have been involved in up to 931 murders by strangulation between 1790–1840 performed with a ceremonial cloth (or rumal, which in Hindi means handkerchief), used by his cult. Behram was executed in 1840 by hanging.
While Behram is sometimes suspected to have committed 931 murders, James Paton, an East India Company officer working for the Thuggee and Dacoity Office in the 1830s who wrote a manuscript on Thuggee, quotes Behram as saying he had "been present" at 931 cases of murder, and "I may have strangled with my own hands about 125 men, and I may have seen strangled 150 more."
The English word 'Thug' is in fact borrowed from the word 'Thuggee', although the use of the word today differs from the true reality of the 'Thuggee'. The 'Thuggee' were covert and operated as a member of a group, and the term typically referred to the killing of a large number of people in a single operation. This distinguished the term from simple armed robbery as they would target groups of travellers and kill them in one go, before taking their possessions.
Behram used his cummerbund as a rumal to execute his killings, with a large medallion sewn into it. With practiced skill he could cast the rumal so as to cause the medallion to land at the adam's-apple of his victims, adding pressure to the throat when he strangled them. Today the sinister Canova medallion, reputed to have been used in at least 65 murders, along with an aged hand-written document of 1831 supporting Behram's son Ali's continuance at an Indigo factory (Correspondence from the Quarter Master General’s office regarding the Indigo Factory in the Sepoy Lines at Vellore) are preserved in a private museum.
- Dash, Mike (2005). Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult. London: Granta pp.283-9
- The Top Ten of Everything 1996 (Page 65). ISBN 0-7894-0196-7
- Rubinstein, William D. (2004) Genocide: A History. Pearson Education Limited. p.83
- Paton, James. Collections on Thuggee and Dacoitee. British Library Add.Mss. 41300 fol. 118, 202–03
- William Sleeman. Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official.