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Skeleton in house ‘locked’ for nine years

A young schoolteacher, whose father is said to be missing since 2004, returned to her ancestral house in Howrah after nine years and found a skeleton inside.

Witnesses and family members said Tarit Chatterjee, a former merchant navy officer, was living in the two-storeyed house on Natabar Paul Road in Tikiapara when daughter Munmun and wife Shelly moved out in 2004. The house had apparently been locked since Tarit “went missing”.

Police are yet to ascertain whether the skeleton found on a staircase landing was Tarit’s.

The deputy commissioner (headquarters) of the Howrah police, Nishat Parvez, said Munmum had claimed that the family had no news of Tarit since 2004. “She said the family thought he had gone missing. They claimed to have searched several places but did not lodge any police complaint.”

The skeleton, which will be sent for forensic tests, looked clean with no traces of flesh or muscles, prompting police to wonder whether it had been dumped in the house. None of the neighbours complained of stench that usually follows detection of skeletal remains in a space locked for years.

“Putrefaction of a body attracts microbes, including bacteria, and produces strong stink. Within the first five days of death, the brain tissues start giving away. If the body is left in a closed space, there will be maggots,” said an expert in forensic science. “It is also likely that remnants of flesh and tissues will be attached to the bones.”

An officer of the local Bantra police station said it was too early to arrive at any conclusion. “We need to know when the room was last opened and whether anyone stepped into the room recently.”

Munmun Chatterjee, 25, who teaches at a private school in Rampurhat, Birbhum, told the police that she had come to the house after nine years to fetch a school certificate. She now lives with her mother and maternal aunts in Rampurhat.

“Tarit and his two brothers had split the property among themselves. Munmun said she entered the house after a local carpenter she had hired broke the lock on a collapsible gate on the ground floor of the part owned by her father,” said an officer.

It was around 10.30am when the teacher and one of her relatives entered the house. Munmun told the police that the inside was dark and she and the relative were climbing the stairs by the light of her cell phone.

“She said she stumbled upon the skeleton on the landing of the staircase leading to the first-floor bedroom,” the officer said.

“For all these years, no one from the family turned up at this house,” said Asit Pal, a next-door neighbour. “Today morning we were alarmed by cries from inside the house and learnt that a skeleton was lying inside.”

According to relatives and neighbours, Tarit used to work in merchant navy and maintained a decent standard of living. He took voluntary retirement in 2002 and opened a store for selling and renting mountaineering equipment at his house. Neighbours said he suffered huge losses and was debt-ridden.

“He sold his car and went to his in-laws’ place at Rampurhat in 2004 to avoid his debtors. He was last seen in the house in December 2004, paying for a loaf of bread from inside the collapsible gates,” said Asim Baul, who lives two houses away.

Among Tarit’s brothers, Tushar died 12 years ago, after which his wife moved to her parental house. The couple had no children.

The other brother, Asish, still lives in the house. “Our relations with him (Tarit) suffered over a property dispute. After he had moved out of the house, we thought he returned to merchant navy. We had no news from him and his family all these years,” said Asish’s wife Pramila.