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Shave fails to save suspect

- Murder mastermind held; hunt on for college extortionists

Shyamal Karmakar, the fugitive prime suspect in the murder of anti-hooch crusader Sourav Chowdhury, had shaved off his hair and moustache and changed his mobile phone SIM to roam incognito but his old handset gave him away.

Police traced Shyamal and an accomplice identified as Ratan Das to Rampurhat railway station in Birbhum district late on Tuesday, hours after they had checked out of a lodge in the temple town of Tarapith. “He had inserted a new SIM into his old handset to make several calls, which helped us trace the route he had taken since last Saturday,” said a police officer probing the case.

Every handset has a unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number that helps trace the user’s location as long as the phone is being used.

Investigators said Shyamal had confessed to being part of the plot to kill Sourav on Friday night in retaliation for the college student’s campaign against hooch dens in Kulberia, North 24-Parganas. The prime accused is known to be a repeat offender who found his calling in the hooch business a couple of years ago.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee used Shyamal’s arrest to fire a salvo at the BJP. “Everybody has been arrested. Ekta dol manush-er vote peye khomotaye eshe bhabche honu hoye gechi (One party that came to power with the people’s mandate have started believing they are big shots). They are trying to provide shelter to culprits, which won’t be allowed. If anything happens, the government will take strict action,” she said in Burdwan.

Sourav’s family demanded capital punishment for Shyamal. “Good to hear that police have finally arrested him. Now we want to see a speedy trial and Shyamal taken to the gallows,” Sourav’s elder brother Sandip said.

Sourav’s beheaded and dismembered body was found scattered along the rail tracks between Bamangachhi and Duttapukur railway stations on Saturday morning. He had been taken aside by Shyamal the previous night while stepping out of a Kulberia club where he had watched a World Cup match with friends.

But the police said Shyamal’s confession was limited to his involvement in Sourav’s murder. “He has denied being the mastermind. He says his accomplices are equally responsible,” an officer at Duttapukur police station said.

Tanmay Roychowdhury, superintendent of police in North 24-Parganas, said all nine persons directly involved in the murder were in custody. “Two others, including Shyamal’s sister Polly Maity, have been charged with harbouring criminals.”

According to the findings of the investigation so far, Shyamal and his accomplices dispersed on Friday night itself. The prime accused took shelter in his sister’s house in the same locality and stayed there till morning.

“Shyamal left Bamangachhi on Saturday morning after hearing that Sourav’s friends were talking about the murder victim being last seen with him. He took a bus to Barasat and boarded a local train there to reach Beleghata,” an officer said, quoting from Shyamal’s confession.

Shyamal spent the entire day at Subhash Sarovar and slept on a bench near the water body.

“On Sunday morning, he realised that he was running short of cash. So he called Ratan and asked him to come to Beleghata with some money,” the officer said. “Ratan reached Beleghata with Rs 5,000 for Shyamal, who then suggested that he come along with him because the police might arrest him if he went back to Bamangachhi.”

Beleghata beeped on the police radar when they were trying to trace Shyamal’s location by monitoring mobile-phone tower signals that were linking to his handset. “We searched several places in that neighbourhood but drew a blank,” the officer said.

Shyamal and Ratan boarded the Gour Express in Sealdah on Sunday night and reached Rampurhat early on Monday. The duo proceeded to Tarapith from there and rented a room in a lodge by pretending to be devotees. Shyamal gave his name as Subhankar Das and Ratan as Tarak Kundu, according to the guest register of the lodge.

“It was while watching news channels in their room that Shyamal came to know about the outrage over Sourav’s death. He decided to change his look and thought that shaving off his hair and moustache would be the easiest way to hoodwink the police,” said another officer working on the case.

Shyamal, who checked out of the lodge on Tuesday morning, claimed he had pledged his hair and moustache to the goddess.

“We conducted raids on several hotels in Tarapith on Tuesday but Shyamal had fled by then. But he made some calls to his friends and the tower locations told us that he was heading for Rampurhat,” the officer said.

“Rampurhat is a 14km drive away and we reached the railway station in 15 minutes. We fanned out in groups along with railway police personnel and spotted two men seated on a concrete slab beside the garden outside the platform.”

Shyamal and Ratan were produced in court on Wednesday along with Tarak Das, Amal Barui and Bhuban Saha, the trio arrested on Tuesday. They were remanded in police custody for 14 days.

A team of CPM leaders, led by Surjya Kanta Mishra, visited Sourav’s house and assured his father of any help he might require.

Sourav’s post-mortem report, which Metro highlighted on Wednesday, states that he was fatally stabbed five times and his body lacerated.