Bengaluru: A 40-day search by two families in Kerala for their children ended when a landlord went to inspect a disused plot of land near Anekal in Bengaluru. The undeveloped land had thick vegetation, several trees and even a swamp.
On a routine inspection, the landlord spotted a swarm of flies on a tree branch. He went closer to see if it was a beehive but he couldn't. The stink was unbearable. He saw that the swarm was on a rope hanging from the branch. On the rope, he saw tangles of hair. It was a human head.
There were two headless bodies on the ground. The Hebbegodi police were called in. The bodies were identified as those of Sree Lakshmi, aged 20, and Abhijit Mohan, aged 25, two technology professionals who had been missing since October 11.
Sree Lakshmi was the daughter of Sreeja and Suresh Chittethuparambil from Alamattom near Thrissur. Abhijit Mohan was the son of Mohanan from Agali near Palakkad. Both of them were working as software engineers in Bengaluru.
Families rubbish claims
Sree Lakshmi had joined the private company six months ago. She joined a team led by Abhijit Mohan. The police initially said that the duo were in love and they had entered into a suicide pact because their families had objected to their union since they belonged to different castes.
However, both families dismissed the police version. Both families said they were not even aware of such an affair. They said they belonged to the same caste.
Media reports suggested that Sree Lakshmi had called up her uncle on November 23, probably quoting the police. The police, however, said that the bodies found on November 29 were dead for more than a month. Forensic experts have confirmed it.
Who goofed up? What role did the police play in investigating the missing complaints filed by the families? Relatives of the victims have raised some uncomfortable questions that put the police in the dock. Manorama Online spoke to Sree Lakshmi's uncle Sethumon, who also works in Bengaluru.
“Sree Lakshmi went missing on October 11. She had left her phone and debit card at her workplace. She had just moved with her friends to Parappana Agrahara. Though she went missing on October 11, her friends informed the family only the next day. They called up Sree Lakshmi's another uncle, Abhilash, a policeman in Kerala. He immediately left for Bengaluru.
“Abhilash reached Bengaluru on October 13 and filed a missing complaint the next day. The Parappana Agrahara police were lukewarm from the beginning. They refused to cooperate in any way, despite getting calls from several quarters. Even the Kerala police could not get them into action. Nobody in the police station could communicate either in English, Hindi or Tamil. Only one policeman was willing to talk in English,” Sethumon said.
With the police refusing to cooperate, the families launched their own investigations. They got to know that Abhijit was also missing.
Crucial Whatsapp messages, distress calls
Some of their friends told us about the WhatsApp messages they received on their phones on October 12. “It's serious. Please come fast...” one of them read. The messages, received between noon and 12.45 pm, suggested that the duo were in danger and stuck somewhere.
The messages were sent from the same phone to the friends of Abhijit and Sree Lakshmi. Sree Lakshmi's relatives who went through the messages insist that one of them was sent by her, going by the choice of words. The friends even received a location of Chintala Madiwala.
Some of the friends reached the area and called up the number. They could speak to Abhijit. He said that Sree Lakshmi was with him and asked them to get inside the forested area. The friends thought that they heard Abhijit whistling to give them an indication of his whereabouts. They could not find them. They later told his relatives that they were afraid to any further as it was a desolate spot. They did so on October 13.
The relatives went to the location but their search did not yield any results. The phone was switched off by then. They called off their search. Some of them, however, had left behind their phone number at a nearby bakery with instructions to call them in case any information was forthcoming.
An employee of the bakery did so – on November 29, when the bodies were found. That helped in identifying the bodies.
The relatives are wondering why they were alerted only on October 13 even though some of the friends received a distress call on October 12. Even after passing on the information from the friends, the police were searching for the missing persons in hotels and temple grounds.
Sree Lakshmi calls up uncle for psychiatrist's number
Sree Lakshmi used to call up her family for any help while living in Bengaluru. She was in regular touch with her folks, including her uncle Abhilash, who was the first one to reach Bengaluru to search for her. She called up Sethu on October 11 to ask for a psychiatrist's phone number. She said one of her friends was in job-related stress.
Sree Lakshmi was planning to go home that day to be with her mother who was to undergo a surgery. She had sent a voice message to her friends that she was going to Mala along with Abhilash. She went missing the next day.
Abhijit's body was identified from an identity card found inside a bag near his body. The police also found his phone that could shed light on the mystery.
The Parappana Agrahara police are to blame though. They did not even take appropriate action on the complaint filed by Sree Lakshmi's family. The FIR did not have proper crime number or relevant sections. The Kerala police and the cyber cell, however, had pitched in with the investigation.
By November 18, the family was so frustrated by police inaction that they filed a habeas corpus writ before the Karnataka High Court. The court served notices on the Karnataka police and the family of Abhijit. The police report suggested that Sree Lakshmi was living with Abhijit. They tried to frame Abhijit's family in the case, accusing them of hiding the youngster.
After his body was found along with Sree Lakshmi's, the police forced his father to give it in writing that he had no complaints regarding his death. The police told the family that the deaths were natural even before the post-mortem report was made available.
Sree Lakshmi's head was still hanging by the rope. The rest of the body was decomposed. Abhijit's head was found severed near his body. Post-mortem was conducted on the spot considering the advanced decay of the bodies.
The relatives are yet to bury their doubts. The messages sent by Abhijit before his death were mysterious. They are also wondering about the circumstances that led Sree Lakshmi to move away from her original place or residence where she was a paying guest. She went missing immediately after that.
Abhijit was spotted in a surveillance camera, buying three bottles of beer from a shop at 7.45 pm on October 11. He seemed pleasant and Sree Lakshmi was waiting for him at the side of the road. They definitely did not look like a pair headed for suicide.
They were about to go home to Kerala. The wine shop was about 2.5 kilometres from the railway station. Where did they go that night? Were they with friends? Why did the friends who received the SOS from Abhijit not press with their search?
The plot from where the bodies were found was hardly 50 metres away from a railway cross. There were houses just 300 metres away. Many from the colony used to go to the empty plot to defecate in the morning. Many had even ventured very close to the actual spot where the bodies were found. It was unlikely that none of them detected the bodies. Were the bodies hung at the spot later?
“The police said that Sree Lakshmi had called her family on November 23. Had she called us, we would have taken home to safety the very next day,” said Sethumon, her Bengaluru-based uncle. “How are we to sent our girls away on work. We have decided to pursue the case to ensure that no other girl suffers like this. We will keep pressing for a high-level investigation until all our questions are answered.”
Sree Lakshmi's body was taken to Kerala to perform her last rites. Abhijit's body was cremated in Bengaluru. The police said that the bodies did not bear any injury marks. They have filed a case of unnatural death.
Abhijit's father was quoted by an English daily that he thought it was a suicide. Mohandas said he had gone to the place where the bodies were found and spoken to forensic experts. None of the victims had told their families about any affair. Sree Lakshmi had spoken with him from Abhijit's phone on October 11, Mohandas told the daily.
However, Sethumon said that Abhijit's family had offered all their support for a detailed investigation. They were not actively pressing for it because they had limitations in going to Bengaluru to pursue the case.
The police said that they would conduct a detailed inquiry after receiving the post-mortem reports. The progress of the inquiry hinges on the determination of the cause and time of death. A police team may visit Kerala as part of the investigation. The statements of the families are yet to be collected.