Mumbai, Sept. 1: It was the first of their serial murders that proved the nemesis for sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Gavit, whose death sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court yesterday.
Spurred by a desire for revenge after their father Mohan Gavit left them and married a second time, the duo and their mother Anjanabai had kidnapped and killed their baby stepsister Kranti in 1990.
Six years and eight more alleged murders later, they came into the focus of investigations when Mohan’s second wife, Pratima, who had earlier lodged a missing complaint, told police she suspected Anjanabai had a hand in her child’s disappearance.
Till then, no one had realised that the 13 complaints of missing babies, lodged in various police stations across the cities of Pune, Nashik and Kolhapur, could be linked.
The sisters and Anjanabai had kept hopping from city to city as they abducted the children, used them to divert attention while carrying out petty thefts, and killed them when they were no longer useful.
“There had been cases against the trio in the Deccan and Kothrud police stations in Pune, but the charges were of theft. It was only after Pratima’s complaint against Anjanabai in 1996 that we began to link the disappearance cases lodged in the various police stations,” said inspector Subhash Nadgonda, the investigating officer for the case.
In an ironic twist, the trio fell into the police net a few months later while plotting to abduct Pratima’s younger daughter.
Pratima hadn’t suspected foul play for years after Kranti, whom she had sent from her home in Kolhapur to Pune to live with Anjanabai, was murdered.
The Gavits had suffocated the child to death and moved to Nashik, and all Pratima knew was that her child was missing — till a gnawing suspicion of Anjanabai grew into a certainty in her mind.
Police sources said there was a huge amount of circumstantial evidence against the three women. When co-accused Kiran Shinde, Renuka’s husband, turned approver, the case became watertight.
“The family moved around a lot. Neighbours would often see them with young children. They later identified the children after we found the bodies,” Nadgonda said.
Anjanabai died in 1997, a year after their arrest, and the charges against Kiran were dropped. In 2001, the trial court in Kolhapur sentenced the sisters to death for six of the alleged nine murders. Bombay High Court upheld the sentence in 2004 but said only five murders had been proved.
“These women didn’t show an ounce of remorse. They are cold-blooded murderers. Kiran, who was also involved in the murders, was the only one who showed any emotion during the trial,” said Nadgonda, now attached to Miraj police station in Sangli.
A large team of officers from various cities as well as the state criminal investigation department had probed the case.
Nadgonda remembers meeting families after each kidnapping and murder was solved or a child’s body discovered. “The experience was nearly as emotionally draining for us as for the parents,” he said.