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Lady living alone found killed

The portion (circled) of the three-storey mansion in Baranagar, off BT Road, where Supti Seth lived alone for 26 years until her death. The property, built by her great grandfather Jogendra Basak, is a landmark in the north Calcutta neighbourhood that has seen many other century-old structures being taken over and demolished by realtors to build apartments and commercial buildings. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Supti Seth, the 72-year-old found murdered on Monday morning.

The decomposed body of a 72-year-old woman, hands and legs tied, was on Monday found inside a crumbling, 150-year-old Baranagar mansion where she had been living alone for 26 years.

Supti Seth’s newspaper vendor had noticed that she hadn’t been collecting the papers at her door for some days but didn’t suspect that something was amiss until a foul smell hit his nose on Monday morning.

He immediately alerted a neighbour across the road, who called Supti’s sisters. Police broke open the door to find the woman, a spinster, on the floor with cloth stuffed into her mouth and her hands and legs tied.

“The body was so decomposed that external injuries, if any, were beyond identification. It looks like the victim was strangulated. There were no bloodstains on the floor,” said an officer at Baranagar police station, less than 100 metres from the house known in the neighbourhood as “Zamindarbari”.

Land sharks have been allegedly eyeing the nine-cottah estate, around 3.5km from the Shyambazar five-point crossing and valued at around Rs 4.5 crore just for the land.

Supti was the great granddaughter of the property’s original owner Jogendra Basak, after whom the road in front is named. A plaque on BT Road, around 30 metres away, states that Shahid Bhagat Singh had visited the mansion while in hiding during the freedom struggle.

The property now has multiple owners but Supti had been its lone occupant since her mother’s death in 1988. She did not have a domestic help.

Sources said Supti had received offers to sell off her portion to promoters, just as at least three of the other inheritors of the mansion are said to have done. She herself lived in the portion that went to her elder sister Pradipta when the estate was divided.

Supti’s own share of the property is in possession of a pharmaceutical firm to which she had rented it out more than three decades back, family sources said.

“My sister had told me on several occasions about local promoters approaching her for the property. A broker had offered her Rs 50,000 as advance not long ago. But I am not sure she took the money,” said Sukriti Sarkar, one of Supti’s four married sisters.

The police found Supti’s body in front of her kitchen on the first floor of the dilapidated mansion. The main door on the ground floor was locked from outside. Investigators suspect she was killed at least four days ago. Her mobile phone and two gold bangles are missing, though the police aren’t sure the murder was for petty gain.

Till Sunday, Supti’s newspaper vendor didn’t think much about her not collecting the papers he had left at her door since Thursday. He presumed she was visiting relatives until the foul smell on Monday morning made him suspicious.

“My younger sister Sampriti got a call around 8am from one of Supti’s neighbours. She called me and said I should go there since she was unwell,” Sukriti said.

Finding the door locked from outside, Sukriti and other relatives went to Baranagar police station, a three-minute walk from the building.

“As we reached the first floor with the police leading, the stench became stronger. We first entered the bedroom and saw newspapers lying on the bed,” said Supti’s niece Sanchari Chakrabarty. “We next moved towards the kitchen and found the body.”

Supti’s mother Latika Seth had divided the property equally among her five daughters when she was alive. While her married sisters looked to sell off their portions over the years, she stayed back with her mother in the section owned by Pradipta, a resident of Ranchi.

After Latika’s death in 1988, Pradipta is said to have found a buyer for her share of the property but Supti allegedly refused to move out since the pharmaceutical firm wasn’t vacating her portion. “Supti and Pradipta’s relationship turned sour over this,” Sukriti, who stays in Thakurpukur, said.

Nobody could immediately confirm if Pradipta did sell of the portion of the house where Supti lived till her death.

A senior police officer said the probe team had found several strands to the case, of which property-related issues within and outside the Seth family would get priority. “We are trying to identify the realtor who had allegedly offered Supti an advance for her share of the estate. We are also drawing up a list of people to whom Supti’s sisters had sold their portions,” said an officer probing the case.

The area where Zamindarbari is located has witnessed a realty boom in the past decade with many century-old houses making way for apartments and commercial properties. While soaring property prices — the going rate for an apartment is around Rs 6,000 per sq ft — have drawn promoters by the hordes, land is scarce.

“Small apartments are priced Rs 50-60 lakhs. Realtors often approach us to sell our house so that they can build apartments here,” one of Supti’s neighbours said.

A cottah of land is priced around Rs 50 lakh, according to residents of the neighbourhood.