The police were investigating the murders of a constable and a home guard by the same gang in the Palamner forest area about six weeks ago.
The gang operated across AP, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in a manner similar to the notorious Dandupalya gang, which targeted lonely woman.
According to the police, one Vallayan Manikantha alias Sampath (27), a native of Salem district of Tamil Nadu, gathered Krishna and Prem who were bailed out by one Govindaswamy who worked in the Indian Army with fake certificates.
Later, other members Satish and his wife Lakshmi of Arakkonam, Srinivas and Mohan of KGF, Karnataka joined the gang. During his stint in Jammu and Kashmir, Govindaswamy bought two sophisticated guns, sold one of them in Bangalore and trained the gang with the other weapon.
The accused reportedly disclosed to police that they raped 59 women in the last two years. The men would target couples in secluded areas like Kaigal Falls, Mogalighat, Gandhinagar forest areas, Musalimadugu, Boyapalem, Chandragirikota and Bhakarapet areas of Chittoor and would rob them before raping the women.
In at least one case, they had filmed the rape and threatened the couple that if they reported the crime, they would make the video public.
The couples they attacked were either secret lovers–both married or unmarried–or engineering and other college students. 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.
Later, the SIM card recovered from the bag the woman left at the site, led police to the victim who helped the police to zero in on the gang.
Five of their alleged accomplices are in jail in Karnataka in connection with robbery cases. Chittoor Superintendent of Police Ramakrishna said the gang had confessed to having murdered two of their own accomplices, including their former leader Satish. 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.