Fresh Evidence In Hema Upadhyay Murder Case, No Leads On Accused
A supplementary chargesheet filed by Mumbai police throws new light on the Hema Upadhyay-Haresh Bhambhani murders.
The Mumbai crime branch, investigating the double murder case of artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer, Haresh Bhambhani, submitted a supplementary chargesheet in the case before a Mumbai sessions court earlier this week. The 200-page chargesheet, which provides fresh evidence in the case, has statements of two box makers, who revealed that the absconding accused in the case, Vidyadhar Rajbhar had ordered for three wooden boxes in October 2015, indicating that the murder was planned at least two months before the crime.
Rajbhar, a fabrication workshop owner, has been a fugitive for over one and a half years now, and his last known location was the Chennai- Coimbatore highway - a month after the crime was perpetrated.
Bodies of Hema and her lawyer were found stuffed in cardboard boxes, abandoned in a suburban sewer on 11 December, 2015. Immediately after the murders came to light, four men, all employees of 26-year-old Rajbhar, were placed under arrest. Her husband, Chintan Upadhyay was also arrested soon after on charges of masterminding the crime. While the five accused are currently awaiting trial, Rajbhar is still untraceable.
Absconding Accused Vidyadhar Had Called to Enquire About Family
The supplementary chargesheet, which carries statements of 21 witnesses, also has the statement of a man, who is in a live-in relationship with Rajbhar’s sister. The witness, an employee at a tea stall in Andheri (East), told the Mumbai crime branch that at 5.20 pm on 1 February 2016, Rajbhar called him on his cell phone, and inquired about his mother, wife and daughter, who was barely a few months old then.
“I recognised his voice the moment I answered the phone. After he inquired about his family, he started crying. I told him that he should surrender to the police. That’s when he disconnected the call. I tried calling him back, but he had switched the phone off. I called him from different numbers, but could not get through. Later that day, I learnt that Vidyadhar had also called my employer the same evening, asking for me,” the witness told the police.
Accused Vidyadhar Had Ordered for 2 Boxes
Apart from this witness, the crime branch have also recorded statements of two wooden box makers, who informed them that they had delivered three wooden boxes to Rajbhar in October, 2015. The witness, in his statement, told the police that in October 2015, Rajbhar got in touch with him saying that he was looking for three wooden boxes – two with dimensions 36 x 36 x 48 and the third with 48 x 18 x 28. The witness told Rajbhar that the boxes would cost him Rs 15,000, and that he would have them delivered to Rajbhar once they were ready. Rajbhar agreed on the price, but insisted that he would visit with a tempo, and get them picked on his own.
Around noon on October 30, 2015, Vidyadhar arrived at my uncle’s workshop at Sakinaka in his tempo, picked up the boxes, and left. When asked for the money, he said he would pay me later. After regular follow ups, he wrote me a cheque, but it bounced. When I went back to his workshop, he said he would pay me at the soonest. But another of his cheque bounced soon after. When I could not get through his phone thereafter, I went to his workshop, and found it locked. After making inquiries, I learnt that two people were murdered there, and that while Vidyadhar’s mother was admitted in a Varanasi-based hospital after the revelation, Vidyadhar had been untraceable.Statement by witness
The Mumbai police believe that since the boxes were ordered and procured well in advance before the double murder took place, the conspiracy was a long-standing one. These boxes, however, were not used to dispose the bodies, which were eventually stuffed in cardboard boxes since the wood made them heavy and difficult to ply.
Accused Vidyadhar Was Going Through a Financial Crunch
The supplementary chargesheet also has statement of Rajbhar’s landlord, where the man has stated that Rajbhar had not paid rent for his workshop for four months, and had told him about his financial crunch. This, the Mumbai police believe, probably compelled Rajbhar to make a quick buck through the murders.
“I let out my space to Rajbhar for eleven months, starting August, 2015. He paid me the deposit of Rs 1.5 lakh, but hadn’t paid the rent of Rs 40,000 for four months until the murders in December. The cheque he had given me for the electricity bills had bounced too. He had rented the space to make statues, but he wasn’t doing anything related in the workshop. In the last week of November, he had told me that his financial situation was bleak, and that he would pay me soon,” the landlord told the police.
Hema’s Missing Rings
In another new lead in the supplementary chargesheet, the police have also attached details of two rings belonging to Hema – one diamond and another gold-coloured – recovered from one of Rajbhar’s four employees, Shivkumar Rajbhar. Investigators believe that Shivkumar had stolen the rings off Hema’s person, after she was murdered.
Statement on Chintan
The chargesheet also has a statement from Hema’s uncle, who narrated his struggle and conversations with Hema’s husband and main accused in the case, Chintan after she went missing. The 73-year-old former engineer, in his statement, has told the police that around 6.30 am on December 11, 2015, he learnt through Hema’s house help that she hadn’t returned home. The house help further told him that Hema was accompanied by her lawyer, Haresh Bhambhani when she left the previous day, and that he too hadn’t returned since. His daughter, the house help told the witness, was at the Matunga police station, registering a missing person’s complaint.
“Between 10 and 10.30 am that day, I called Chintan on his cell phone. I introduced myself, and told him that Hema hadn’t returned home since the previous night. He said he didn’t know where she was, that Hema has a lot of friends, and must be out with them. When I probed further, he said that he hadn’t spoken to Hema in eight years. The following morning, Chintan called me and said that Hema had been murdered,” her uncle informed the police.
The supplementary chargesheet also has several forensic reports of Chintan’s laptop, hard disc, and pen drives. While the police had claimed that Chintan had made a painting about Hema saying “I will destroy you,” which was considered as a crucial piece of evidence in the case showing Chintan’s intent, no such portrait was found on any of his devices.
No Leads on the Absconding Accused Vidyadhar
However, despite the fresh evidence in the case, the police have no leads on the location of Vidyadhar Rajbhar, who is a first-time offender, according to investigators. His escape has left the Mumbai police baffled as he has not got in touch with his family ever since the crime took place, not even to check on his daughter who was only two months old when he first escaped.
An office privy to the investigations had earlier told The Quint, “These people are not too attached to their families. Immigrants like him normally stay in Mumbai while their families are away in their hometowns. And he wouldn’t commit the mistake of getting in touch with them. It’s not as important as his life, is it? As for the money to support his run, he’s a skilled labour, does specialised work. It’s not difficult for him to find work or make money.”
Meanwhile, Hema’s family believes that Chintan’s friends are supporting Rajbhar’s fugitive life. Sanchu Menon, Hema’s friend and the family’s spokesperson told The Quint, “The artist community is huge, and there are about 62 to 69 artists who are supporting Chintan, believing that he is innocent. We suspect that some of them are helping Rajhbhar while he is on the run. How can an escapee survive his run without money? The police suspect he has fled to Nepal or Bangladesh. But how will Rajbhar, a slum dweller, know his way outside the country? We suspect that Chinatn’s artist supporters have sent him abroad. They are financially well-off. Also, we suspect that they’re feeding information to him about the police’s moves here.”
Rajbhar is a crucial missing link in the case, the man who can establish Chintan’s guilt, and prove that he was the one who had masterminded the crime.
(The writer is a journalist, and author of the critically-acclaimed true crime book, ‘The Front Page Murders’.)
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