By Tom Coghlan
Reporting from Kabul
In her cell in Pul-e-Chakri jail, the grim Soviet-built prison on the edge of Kabul, Afghanistan's most notorious woman prisoner is awaiting trial.
Gul is one of seven people being held over the murders (Photo: Veronique de Viguerie)
Police say that Shirin Gul has confessed with her lover, Rahmatullah, and 18-year-old son Samiullah, to the murder of 27 men.
If convicted, she would be amongst the most prolific women serial killers.
During an investigation that began in June 2004 with the discovery of the naked body of a businessman near Kabul, police say that they recovered 18 corpses from under the yard of Shirin Gul's former home in the eastern city of Jalalabad, and another six at an address in Kabul.
The body of Shirin Gul's 60-year-old first husband was recently found under the floor of her Jalalabad home.
Another body was recovered in Logar Province, a crime for which her lover Rahmatullah has already been separately convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.
All the murdered men had been strangled.
"She has admitted she killed them. We have the videotape of them all confessing," said Gen Mohammed Zahir Nahem, the senior investigator for Afghanistan's National Security Directorate.
"These people were professional killers. Shirin Gul has expressed no remorse and neither have the others."
Interviewed in her prison cell this week, however, Shirin Gul appeared to have withdrawn any confession.
"Even if they hang me I will not admit these crimes," she said, weeping.
"I knew there were fresh bodies in the yard, but I did not see or do these things. I am a Pashtun woman and we cannot even speak to strangers who come to the house."
She said that she knew Rahmatullah had killed her first husband but supported him because her first husband had beaten her throughout their marriage.
"Rahmatullah is a good man," she said. "We were a happy family."
She said that she knew Rahmatullah was involved in killing taxi drivers but said "other men" were involved who were the main culprits.
"He is not the main man. I have not seen Rahmatullah kill anyone," she added, begging us to pass a message of affection to him.
'Tea and kebabs'
Most of the murdered men are believed to have been taxi drivers with no connection to their killers.
Police say that, in their confessions, the three accused admitted that they had invited the men into their home with offers of tea and kebabs.
Such hospitality is not unusual, particularly amongst the Pashtun tribes of south and east Afghanistan.
But the food was drugged with powerful sedatives, large quantities of which were discovered during the police search.
Once incapacitated, the victim was killed.
Police excavation of the properties in Jalalabad and Kabul revealed rows of bodies at a depth of 1.5 metres (yards), all with rope wound round their necks.
So far only five have been identified.
Post-mortem examination suggests that the oldest body roughly corresponds to the invasion of Afghanistan by the US-led coalition in 2001.
Crime was little known under the previous Taleban regime, whose particularly harsh interpretation of Muslim Sharia law saw frequent public executions, but has been increasing in post-war Afghanistan.
The motive for the murders appears to have been financial.
Police say that accomplices were used to transport taxis over the Pakistani border to the town of Miram Shah.
Police say they were sold there for more than $10,000 each.
A police search found that Shirin Gul owned large quantities of gold jewellery and appears to have had a particular penchant for shoes - 22 pairs of which were recovered.
Police think her first husband, Mohammed Azam, was probably an accomplice in the early murders but was himself killed when Shirin Gul and Rahmatullah became lovers.
After his death, they moved to Kabul and lived as man and wife.
Police finally uncovered the trail of dead bodies in June 2004 after the murder of a wealthy businessman named Haji Mohammed Anwar.
He was invited to the couple's home, ostensibly to discuss a property deal.
On the way, he took a mobile phone call from his uncle in which he mentioned his destination.
The discovery of his naked body two days later led police back to Shirin Gul's home where they found documents for numerous cars, number plates and the clothes and shoes of Haji Mohammed Anwar.
The uneven surface of the yard aroused suspicion and led to the discovery of the first of 24 buried bodies.
The chief prosecutor for Afghanistan is to ask for the death sentence for Shirin Gul, her son and Rahmatullah.
Four other men will also be in the dock as accomplices to the murders.
Only one capital sentence has been carried out since the fall of the Taleban in Afghanistan, though several convicts are on death row.