A 37-year-old widow and her two school-going daughters who had been missing for a fortnight were on Sunday found buried under the floor of a shop in Ekbalpore, barely 200 metres from their home.
The bodies of Pushpa Singh and daughters Pradipti, 14, and Aradhana, 12, were interred three feet under the concrete floor with their heads smashed. The grisly discovery was made after police arrested the victims’ landlord Mohammad Sikandar, who owns the shop.
A preliminary investigation suggested that a dispute over the victims’ rented apartment at 90B Suresh Das Road was the trigger for the triple murder. Sikandar had rented out the apartment to Pushpa in 2010 after the death of her husband, an engineer with a PSU.
“We were probing an abduction complaint by Pushpa’s father when leads started emerging about the role of Mohammad Sikandar, the landlord. We arrested him early on Sunday after examining the call details of his phone. During interrogation, he broke down and confessed to murdering the trio and burying the bodies under the floor of his shop with the help of three accomplices,” Mehboob Rehman, joint commissioner of police administration, said.
The trio — Mohammad Amin, Asif Humza and Nurul Hossain — have been arrested.
Sikandar stays on the fourth floor of the same building where Pushpa and her two daughters were tenants. The police quoted him as saying that he wanted the widow to vacate his two-bedroom apartment on the third floor, but she refused to do so.
Sikandar allegedly went to Pushpa’s apartment around 9.30pm on March 29, accompanied by three men. “He asked Amin to press the doorbell and identify himself as an electrician,” joint commissioner Rehman said. “Pushpa was not at home and Sikandar was aware of it. When Pradipti opened the door, all four entered the flat.”
The police quoted the arrested men as saying that they locked up Aradhana in a room before Amin hit Pradipti on the head with a hammer, killing her instantly. “When the other three brought Aradhana out, she bit one of them in the hand. But she was overpowered and Amin killed her like he had killed her sister,” an officer said.
The accused then allegedly moved the bodies to one of the two bedrooms and kept the apartment’s main door ajar, waiting for Pushpa to arrive. She had stepped out to buy groceries, the police said.
“As soon as Pushpa entered the apartment, Sikandar and his accomplices pounced on her. They killed her in the same manner,” Rehman said, citing the landlord’s confession. “After committing the murders, Sikandar locked the apartment from outside and asked his associates to come around 3am on March 30 to put away the bodies.”
The quartet allegedly returned to the apartment early on March 30 with two trunks. “Pushpa’s body was wrapped in plastic and placed in one trunk and the bodies of her daughters in the other,” an officer said.
On April 2, Sikandar engaged masons to rebuild the dug-up floor of his shop. “The masons thought the shop was being renovated,” the officer said.
Investigators have yet to recover the hammer that was allegedly used to kill the victims and the trunks in which their bodies were shifted.
Some residents recalled seeing Sikandar, who also owns a salon, getting the floor of his shop dug up. “He told some of us that a pipe was leaking. To others, he said the floor was being lowered,” said Mohammad Sohail.
Nobody has so far told the police anything about seeing Sikandar and his men shift the bodies from the apartment building to the shop. Shops and eateries in the congested neighbourhood stay open past midnight. After the shops close, boys from the neighbourhood play cricket or carrom there.
Neighbours said Pushpa and her daughters, students of Kendriya Vidyalaya at Fort William, mostly kept to themselves. “They hardly interacted with neighbours. We would see Pushpa going to the market but not many friends or relatives visited them,” said Md. Aslam, who stays next door.
Aslam didn’t hear any “unusual sound” on the night of March 29.
Sikandar claimed that Pushpa had taken Rs 13 lakh from him in two instalments to vacate the flat. The police haven’t found evidence of any such payment. “Sikandar had purchased the flat in 2008 when he was in Denmark as a housekeeping employee in a hotel there. He rented it out to Pushpa in 2010 and took an apartment on the fourth floor on rent for himself,” an officer said.
The police suspect Sikandar was desperate for Pushpa to vacate his flat so that he could earn a large amount by way of selami from a new tenant. In the selami system, the rent of a property is lower than what it would otherwise command in the market. To compensate for that, the tenant pays a large amount as selami to the property owner.
Paresh Nath Singh, Pushpa’s father, suspected something was amiss when she and her daughters didn’t take his calls.
“He contacted Ekbalpore police station from Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh on March 30 after someone he had assigned to check on the family found the apartment door locked. On March 31, he came to the city and lodged a complaint,” a relative of Pushpa said.