A 21-year-old domestic help was arrested on charges of murdering his 81-year-old employer and setting the body on fire in Southeast Delhi’s GK-II area on Monday night.
While police said the accused, Neeraj, has “confessed” to the murder, claiming he was frustrated with the woman’s constant rebukes, all possible angles, including that of sexual assault, are being probed.
The woman, Rekha Duggal, had done a course in journalism from Punjab University’s Camp College in 1952. She was married to K K Duggal, former editor of UNI, who died in 2005.
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According to police, the police control room received a call around 9.15 pm on Monday alerting them that a senior citizen who had gone for an evening walk had not returned home. The call was reportedly made by Rekha’s son-in-law Man Mohan, who had worked as an editor with The Tribune. Man Mohan resides with his wife Sadhna and their children at Press Enclave, Saket.
Police said they were also investigating robbery as a motive, since Sadhna had recently given Rekha Rs 5 lakh for expenses, sources said.
By the time the PCR van reached Rekha’s residence at S93, GK II, Man Mohan and Sadhna too had reached there.
Speaking to reporters at Rekha’s residence, Man Mohan said, “My mother-in-law’s neighbour Saroj Prakash called us around 9 pm and told us that my mother-in-law hadn’t returned from her evening walk. We were worried since our help Neeraj, who lives in the quarters below, was the one who informed Mrs Prakash. We gave police a photograph of my mother-in-law and a search team set out to find her.”
In the meantime, when police began questioning Neeraj about the whereabouts of Rekha, he told police that until 8.30 pm, he was at his quarters and hadn’t seen her. He claimed he was worried since she usually wasn’t late and, therefore, informed the neighbour, police said. “Neeraj told us he had checked the ground floor house where Rekha resided alone and that all the lights were off,” a senior police officer said.
Sadhna, who too has a flat in the same building located on the second floor, went upstairs to check her house.
“As soon as I opened the door and stepped in, the flat was full of smoke. I ran out thinking there was a fire,” Sadhna said.
Immediately, police personnel and Man Mohan ran upstairs and also informed the fire department. Initially, police suspected that an AC blast may have triggered the fire. However, once the smoke cleared a bit, they found Rekha’s body charred on the bed, with a dupatta around the neck.
All this while, police said, Neeraj was with them. Rekha was rushed to All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) where she was declared brought dead. Police said that she was strangled and then the body set on fire. She sustained nearly 60 per cent burns, police said. A post-mortem examination has been done and police are awaiting the report to confirm sexual assault.
“When we detained Rekha’s cook Bhuvan — both he and Neeraj had been hired seven months ago through relatives — Neeraj confessed to the crime and told us that he had murdered Rekha since he was frustrated with her constant rebukes. He told us that Rekha fell unconscious following a physical tussle with him. To ensure she died, Neeraj strangled her with her dupatta, poured kerosene on her and set her body on fire. He then went to the neighbour’s house and cooked up the story about Rekha’s not returning home,” a senior police officer said.
In a statement, the Delhi Police said, “Teams of CFSL, CBI and Delhi Fire service were called to examine the crime scene. They opined that the bed and the body were deliberately set on fire. At this the conduct of the servant Neeraj Saki, age 21 years, …was found to be suspicious. On questioning he admitted that he killed the lady and relevant evidences were collected. The accused has been arrested…”
Special CP Law and Order Deepak Mishra said, “The accused has said the woman would rebuke him often and he was angered at this and so decided to do away with her. Robbery too could have been a motive.”
When asked if Rekha had been sexually assaulted, Mishra said, “All angles are being probed.”