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New Delhi - Police in central India have arrested a 48-year-old man who has admitted to killing 33 truck drivers and their helpers to loot the goods and sell off the vehicles.

The man, a tailor by profession, was detained last week near Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh state, police officer Rahul Kumar Lodha said on Wednesday.

"In the questioning, the man has confessed to killing 33 people on state highways since 2008. We have verified these cases," Lodha said by phone, adding they had caught a "notorious serial killer."

Police discovered the trail of killings while probing the murder of a truck driver in August. Seven men arrested in the case revealed to the police they had helped the suspect in similar robberies.

Police said the accused would befriend drivers at roadside eateries, push sedatives into their drinks and later drive to isolated places and kill the men.

The suspect has a wife and two children, Lodha said. His arrest had stunned friends and relatives, who thought of him as a quiet and affable man, not capable of such brutality, the Times of India reported.

A co-accused told the police that when asked why he killed the drivers, the suspect would laugh and say he was granting them salvation, the newspaper reported.

"They lead hard lives.I am giving them deliverance, freeing them from pain," the accomplice was quoted as saying.

Media reports said the man was one of India's deadliest killers - behind the likes of Raman Raghav who was charged with slaughtering 42 people in Mumbai in the 1960s.