Trigger warning: This story contains graphic descriptions of violence and sexual abuse.
Delhi Police arrested 28-year-old Aftab Amin Poonawalla today on charges of killing his girlfriend, 26-year-old Shraddha Walkar, in May 2022. This Butcher of Delhi strangled his girlfriend to death, then chopped her body, and scattered the pieces in the Mehrauli forest. The crime brings back memories of several other shocking murders from across the country.
Aftab killed Shraddha after an argument over marriage on May 18 this year. He then chopped up her body into several pieces, and disposed them off in the Mehrauli forest in Delhi.
He has been arrested by Delhi Police and will be kept in custody for the next five days.
As concerning as the Delhi murder is, India has unfortunately witnessed several such gruesome cases in the past. While true crime genre enthusiasts would know about notorious Indian serial killers such as Raman Raghav or the Nithari miscreants, there have been equally shocking individual cases too since the last century.
Most of the criminals in these cases weren’t serial offenders with specific modus operandi. Rather, most of these killings sprung out of internal conflicts or specific targeting of the individual victim.
1. Belarani Dutta murder case (1954): Police resorts to plastic surgery to nab the killer
In 1950s-era Kolkata, a sweeper found a severed hand wrapped in a newspaper near the Kalighat Park. Soon, more such newspaper-covered packets of dismembered body parts were recovered. When a mutilated head was also found, the police could not identify the severely damaged face of the victim, with features like ears and eyes gouged out, and the skin peeled off.
The police even got a plastic surgeon on board to reconstruct the face of the dead woman with the little physical evidence they had. Soon, a sketch of the apparent face of the victim was also prepared based on the surgeon’s findings, circulated in local newspapers for the public to identify.
Finally, Samarendra Nath Ghosh, the officer-in-charge who headed the investigation probe, ended up finding the killer by chance when an empty pharmacy’s employee told him about his owner having gone missing for a month. This missing man was eventually found and identified as Biren Dutta, a man who led a dual life marrying two women named Belarani and Meera.
When Belarani told him that she was pregnant with his child, Biren ended up killing her and the child and cutting up her corpse brutally. The remains scattered across Kolkata were what remained of Belrani. Biren was eventually hanged to death. (You can read more on the Belarani Dutta murder case here.)
2. The tandoor murder (1995): Enraged husband burns his wife’s corpse in a tandoor
Sushil Sharma and his wife Naina Sahni were workers in the Indian National Congress, with the former even serving as an MLA in Delhi. But when Naina revealed that fellow Congress worker Matloob Karim was a childhood friend, Sushil grew increasingly jealous and possessive. On the night of July 2, 1995, he even found her talking to Matloob on call; prompting him to shoot her point blank.
If this murder was not enough, Sushil took his wife’s body to a restaurant called Baigya. The eatery’s manager Keshav Sharma accompanied him in his vicious plan of disposing off the corpse. In what was described by the media as the “Tandoor Murder”, Keshav and Sushil tried burning her body in a tandoor (clay oven). The police eventually nabbed them both, the cause of death ascertained to what was described by Delhi Police as a “fruitful second autopsy”.
While the first autopsy revealed the cause of death to be burn wounds, the second one led police to realise that the burnt corpse actually had bullet holes in the head and neck. This led them to nab Sushil Sharma who himself confessed to the crime and was sentenced to death. His death sentence was later commuted to life; and in 2018, Sushil Sharma walked out of jail a free man, after 29 years in prison. As for Keshav Sharma, he had to serve seven years of imprisonment.
3. Murder of Hetal Parekh (1990): The first criminal to be judicially executed in 21st century India
Kolkata was shocked when Hetal Parekh, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Kolkata, was found raped and murdered in her own house. As her mother went to the temple one afternoon, the crime took place apparently at the hands of the society’s security guard Dhananjoy Chatterjee.
The haunting nature of the crime led to massive protests from politicians and civilian populations in Bengal, even though the guard continued denying any involvement. Public debates among criminologists and academics continued on whether Dhananjoy was actually the killer or if it was someone else.
Anyway, the law found him guilty and even his mercy appeal to then-President APJ Abdul Kalam fell on deaf ears. Hanged in Kolkata’s Alipore Jail in 2004, Dhananjoy also became the first Indian to be judicially executed in the 21st century.
4. Geeta and Sanjay Chopra kidnapping case (1978): Two ex-convicts kidnap siblings for ransom only to brutally kill them
Having just been released from Mumbai’s Arthur Road Jail, ex-cons Kuljeet Singh (Ranga) and Jasbir Singh (Billa) planned on starting a kidnapping racket in Delhi. They started out by abducting 16-year-old Geeta Chopra and her 10-year-old brother Sanjay. Both were children of a Captain in the Indian Navy and had to be picked up by their father to perform at an All India Radio programme.
With Ranga and Billa catching hold of the siblings, both Geeta and Sanjay tried to put up a fight; with Geeta even managing to scar Billa to the point that he had to get hospital stitches after this incident. Billa and Ranga’s aim was to kidnap them for ransom but upon realising that their father might not be that wealthy after all, they decided to kill them in cold blood instead.
Sanjay was the first one to be slain and police reports speculate that Geeta might have even been sexually abused before she was killed. Their father filed an FIR, following which the police managed to track down Billa and Ranga’s vehicle, the courts sentencing them to death by hanging in 1982.
Geeta and Sanjay Chopra are immortalised to this day with the Indian Council for Child Welfare instituting two annual bravery awards for children (under the age of 16). Since 1978, the Sanjay Chopra Award and the Geeta Chopra Award, are given each year along with the National Bravery Award.
5. Neeraj Grover murder case (2008): A TV producer gets killed by husband-wife duo who cut him up and burn his body
TV producer Neeraj Grover was associated with shows like the Shah Rukh Khan-hosted Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hai and a proposed reworking of the Mahabharat. It is through a TV audition that he crossed paths with a Kannada actress, Maria Susairaj.
The two eventually embarked on an extramarital affair, drawing the ire of Susairaj’s husband Lieutenant Emile Jerome Mathew, an Indian Navy officer based in Kochi. After finding his wife in a compromising position with Grover, Mathew’s first impulse was to stab him to death.
Once the deed had been done, both husband and wife conspired to hide the body by butchering Grover’s body into numerous chunks and then drove to the outskirts of Mumbai, burning duffel bags filled with his remains. To trick the authorities, Susairaj herself went to Mumbai Police to file a missing person’s complaint.
Eventually, the police began connecting the dots once some blood markings were found on the door knob of Susairaj’s flat. The blood sample was matched with Grover’s DNA; the actress eventually broke down and confessed to the crime.
Mathew was sentenced to a total of 13 years (10 for homicide, 3 for destroying evidence) in prison, while Susairaj was let off lightly as she was found guilty only of destroying evidence, and was sentenced for three years.