|(From top) Pallavi Purkayastha; the knife used to murder her; and murder suspect Sajjad Ahmed Abdul Aziz Mugal.
(Right) Pallaviís father Atanu
Purkayastha and mother
in Mumbai on Friday. (PTI)
Mumbai, Aug. 10: A security guard’s plot to murder Pallavi Purkayastha appears to have been thought out and executed in such a devious manner that few houses in urban centres will be safe if such a conspiracy were sprung on them.
The guard switched off power supply to the 25-year-old lawyer’s flat in Mumbai so that he could gain entry along with the electrician and steal the keys with which he entered the apartment later to attack her.
Power outages at night are common in the country and the first call for help usually goes to security guards who accompany odd-jobs men to ensure that the household is protected.
In Pallavi’s case, guard Sajjad Ahmed Abdul Aziz Mugal is being accused of turning that conventional safety net on its head.
Officers said a grievously wounded Pallavi, whom they described as a former student of La Martiniere in Calcutta and a “national-level swimmer”, put up a stiff fight and may have pressed neighbours’ doorbells in vain.
The police claimed to have reconstructed the crime, which took place sometime between 1am and 5.30am on Thursday, through the interrogation of 22-year-old suspect Sajjad. They said Sajjad had planned the murder carefully, even creating the opportunity.
Officers alleged that Sajjad had twice flipped the lever of the ground-floor meter box the night of the murder to cut off power to the 16th-floor flat that Pallavi shared with her friend and fellow lawyer Avik Sengupta.
Pallavi twice called an electrician and each time Sajjad accompanied him to the apartment. During one of the trips, he pocketed the house keys, which he knew were kept in the living room.
Attacked in her bed later, Pallavi resisted, as shown by the multiple injury marks on her body and the tuft of Sajjad’s hair in her clenched fist, officers said. The bloodstains all around the flat and the passageway indicate she tried to flee in her injured state.
Bloodstains have been found on two of her three 16th-floor neighbours’ doorbells, suggesting she possibly tried to seek help. An alternative explanation the police have suggested is that the bloodstains came from the fingers of Avik, who returned from work in the morning and informed the neighbours after discovering the body.
A media report quoted a neighbour as saying he had heard the doorbell but, on peeping through the keyhole, found no one at the door. Officers, however, said the neighbours had denied hearing the doorbell or the commotion that Pallavi’s scuffle with Sajjad would have caused.
Joint commissioner of police Himanshu Roy said the preliminary medical reports did not suggest sexual assault. He said Sajjad, a resident of Uri in Baramullah, Jammu and Kashmir, had been a watchman at the building since 2009.
Glare on agency
Roy said the police would pull up the “callous” private security agency, A.H. Enterprises, which hired Sajjad without verification. The suspect had given his address “vaguely” as Lal Chowk in Srinagar and his name as Sajjad Pathan, and the agency did not ask for a detailed address or proof, Roy said.
The murder has similarities with the killing of a teenaged Hetal Parekh in Calcutta in 1990 by the security guard of her apartment block, Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was hanged in 2004.
Roy said the police would push for a fast-track trial and the death sentence for Sajjad. He will be produced in court tomorrow on the charges of murder, trespass, assault and use of criminal force on a woman with the intention of outraging her modesty.
Pallavi, daughter of Delhi-based IAS officer Atanu Purkayastha who has served in Calcutta, was a legal adviser for production house Excel Entertainment. She and Avik were to get married soon, the police had said yesterday.
Pallavi returned home at 11pm on Wednesday and found her flat, No. 1601 at Himalayan Heights, plunged in darkness. She texted Avik and, on his advice, called a local electrician who arrived around midnight and fixed the problem.
But the electricity went off again after he left, a message sent by Pallavi to Avik at 1.03am suggests. This time the electrician disconnected all the heavy appliances in the flat, told Pallavi she could switch on the bedroom fan, and promised to come and examine the connection the next morning.
Roy said Sajjad had manipulated the meter box in the past too and had been called for help by Avik and Pallavi. This, he said, could have been a ploy to win the couple’s trust.
The police said the intercom, which could have allowed Pallavi to seek the other guards’ help, was out of order and that Sajjad’s possible role in this was being probed. The four CCTVs at the building too were dysfunctional.
“It was a cold-blooded, pre-meditated crime. When Sajjad realised that (Avik) Sengupta had not returned home, he made use of the opportunity,” Roy said.
After the crime, Sajjad allegedly hid the knife under a shoe rack on the third floor. He fled the building, jumping off the fence rather than taking the main gate where the other guards would have seen him.
Suspicion fell on him after he failed to report for work and the electrician told the police that Sajjad had accompanied him to Pallavi’s flat. Sajjad was arrested at Mumbai Central station on Thursday while probably trying to flee to his home state, Roy said. He had injury marks on his body.
Mumbai police will approach the Jammu and Kashmir police to find out if Sajjad has a criminal background. They are investigating whether he had accomplices.