Part 1

Part 2

The Inside Story
KOLKATA: A woman and her two young daughters, who had been missing for a fortnight from their flat in Ekbalpore, were found murdered on Sunday with their heads smashed in and bodies packed in a couple of trunks. Four people — one of them a minor — have been arrested. The triple murders were the fallout of a property dispute, said police.

TOI was the first to highlight the mysterious disappearance of 37-year-old Pushpa Sharma and her daughters Pradipti (14) and Aradhana (12). The breakthrough came on the same day the report was published and 13 days after the victims' family members had come down to Kolkata from Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh, to register a formal FIR.

The police are particularly amazed at the grisly manner in which the murders were committed: the three victims had their heads smashed with a heavy hammer. The bodies were then packed in a couple of trunks and buried in a shop, with a layer of cement poured over to avoid detection.

According to the police of the Port division, Pushpa's husband, Pradeep, had passed away five years ago. Two years after that, Pushpa had paid Rs 15 lakh to "buy" the flat on Sudhir Basu Lane — a stone's throw from the busy Ekbalpore stretch of Diamond Harbour Road — from Mohd Sikandar. The 37-year-old Sikandar, the prime accused in the murder, had worked at several hotels in Denmark and Hong Kong before beginning to dabble in real estate around five years back, said the cops.

The cops said there's a unique property dealing system prevalent in the area — a "rent-and buy" system — which Pushpa and Sikandar agreed to go by. Under this system, Sikandar asked Pushpa to additionally pay him Rs 1,000 in rent per month. "This buy-and-rent system is not found anywhere else," said a source in the detective department. "In this system, the buyer has to pay upfront and continue to pay a certain amount as rent afterwards for a fixed period to retain possession of the house. This is called tenancy rights." The transfer of ownership is only done after all the instalments have been paid, said the source.

The system was working fine until Sikandar proposed to buy back the house for Rs 21 lakh. The police said that Pushpa had agreed to it initially and had even taken Rs 13 lakh as advance from Sikandar in two instalments, though there are no written records of this. But she reportedly backed out at the last moment after she came to know from neighbours that the current market price of the flat was well over Rs 27 lakh. The neighbours also told police that Pushpa appeared to be in a hurry to leave the place and that Sikandar feared that she would sell the tenancy rights to someone else.

The cops said that Pushpa — who lived on the third floor of the building — often humiliated Sikandar, a fourth-floor resident, in public, calling him a cheat. That was why he probably hatched a careful plan to eliminate her, said an officer.

Sikandar, said the cops, roped in three youths for the job, luring them with a promise of buying them a motorbike each. The three youths — the names of two of them are Mohd Amin and Asif Hamza, while we are not naming the third youth as he is a minor — posed as electricians and entered Pushpa's flat on the afternoon of March 29, under the pretext of having to do some electrical maintenance work. Pushpa was not in, but the two girls allowed the men to enter because they knew Sikandar well. Once inside, the accused used heavy hammers to smash the girls' heads. When Pushpa returned after 10 minutes, she was killed in similar fashion, said joint CP Mahbub Rahman.

The gang then embarked on Stage II of the plan. They placed an order for two large trunks from a shop in Fancy Market and took delivery of them at the flat. Sikandar and his men returned at midnight and packed one trunk with the bodies of the two girls and the other with Pushpa's body. They then carried the trunks around 100 metres to a shop on Diamond Harbour Road, which Sikandar owns, taking care to stuff generous amounts of naphthalene and wrapping up the bodies in large plastic sheets. Once in the shop, they took out the bodies and buried them in the shop floor and cemented the floor.

Pushpa's family got worried when she did not respond to calls on the night of March 29. The next day, a relative from Salkia arrived to find the flat locked. On March 31, the family lodged an abduction case at Ekbalpore police station.

Though Sikandar had remained a suspect, sources said he could not be pinned until some call record details established his role. He finally "broke" down on Sunday and all four accused were put under arrest. Cops claimed the delay was due to technical evidence that was being collected against the accused by the missing persons squad of the detective department and the Ekbalpore police.

The motive, however, is still not very clear, said police. "A post mortem will establish the exact time of murder. At present, we are not ruling out chances of sexual assault though it appears to be murder for both gain and personal enmity," said DC (Port) V Solomon Nisha Kumar.

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