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Teen linked to granny murder for fun cash

Bangalore, June 6: A Bangalore teen has been charged with killing her grandmother, pawning her jewellery, throwing a party for her friends the same evening and then holding her nerve for nearly a month as nonplussed cops hunted for clues.

After her arrest this week, shame led her lower middle-class parents and elder sister to head to Shimoga, some 280km from here, check into a hotel and drink insecticide before timely detection saved their lives.

When 72-year-old Ramarathnamma was found bludgeoned and suffocated to death at her son’s home in Bangalore on May 10, the cops had put it down as another crime against a home-alone senior.

That the Mysore resident, who had arrived on May 8 to visit her son, had been stripped of her ornaments suggested theft as the motive. But no one suspected an inside job.

Weeks passed without any leads on the crime in Binnypet, a congested neighbourhood in the older part of the city. But the police did not give up.

They began watching the movements and phone calls of the family members: sales assistant Shekhar, 45, his wife Lakshmi, a 38-year-old domestic worker, their elder daughter Varshitha, 21, who runs errands at an office, and her sister Harshitha, 19.

It was Harshitha’s sudden shopping spree, and her gift of an expensive cellphone to a friend, that alerted the cops, deputy commissioner of police Labhu Ram told The Telegraph today.

After failing to clear high school, Harshitha had taken up a job as an office assistant with a tour operator at a monthly salary of Rs 9,000. “The sudden change in her lifestyle was the giveaway,” Ram said.

He said the “clincher” was the discovery that Harshitha had thrown a lavish party for her friends at a shopping mall, at an estimated cost of around Rs 50,000, just hours after her grandmother’s murder.

When her sister called Harshitha after the discovery of the body, she returned home, watched the police go through their preliminary investigations and participated in the mourning.

Ram claimed that Harshitha, taken into custody on June 2, had confessed.

According to the officer, Harshitha had arrived home around 3pm on May 10 when her parents and sister were away. She allegedly approached her grandmother, who was hanging clothes on a line, and asked for some money for the weekend.

Ramarathnamma refused and, according to Ram, Harshitha hit her on the head with a rolling pin, then smothered the unconscious victim with the wet clothes she was hanging out to dry.

Officers said Harshitha later pledged the jewellery for Rs 1.29 lakh with a private finance firm. “When we arrested her, she still had about Rs 28,000 in cash,” Ram said.

Her family attempted mass suicide yesterday morning but the hotel staff scented something amiss and rushed them to hospital.

“They are completely out of danger and will be discharged in a few days,” Ram said.

Harshitha was today sent to 14 days’ judicial custody. If convicted, she could be jailed for life.