In an ironic end to his months on the run, 23-year-old Ankur Panwar landed in the Crime Branch net just days after returning home to get a verificiaton from his local police station. Ankur, arrested for the murder of New Delhi nurse Preeti Rathi, had been working at a hotel in Ahmedabad for the past few months.
The police said there had been a robbery at the hotel in December, after which the management asked its staff to get a police verification done at their respective homes. It was this visit that helped open an eight month probe that had foxed two police agencies.
At the first chance that they got to question Ankur, the crime branch established that he was lying about his movements when the crime had occurred in Mumbai.
A crime branch officer said Ankur had been away from home for the majority of the investigation, carried out first by the Government Railway Police and then by the Mumbai Police crime branch.
Preeti (25) who was to join the INHS Asvini in Colaba as a Lieutenant, died of severe acid burn injuries at Bombay Hospital a month after she was attacked at Bandra Terminus.
Ankur, a hotel management graduate, is a neighbour of the Rathi family in the Bhakra Beas Management Board Colony in New Delhi’s Narela locality. The police said the Panwars, natives of Alwar in Rajasthan, had settled in Narela when Ankur was 12. “We first questioned him 15 days ago and grew suspicious when he couldn’t provide clear answers about his movements,” said the officer.
The first breakthrough came when they detected white scars on Ankur’s left forearm. The police said a bit of the acid that Ankur had flung at Preeti fell on his forearm, causing burn injuries. “He had taken to wearing full sleeved shirts after returning home. It was easier to hide the burns in Ahmedabad, because no one knew him there,” he said.
Once the burns healed, however, Ankur became complacent. “In January, he stopped wearing full sleeves. Three white spots were easily discernible. When our team asked him how he got those, he could not provide a clear answer,” said the officer.
The police then began to verify his phone records and phone location, finding that he had been in Mumbai when the attack took place on May 2. Ankur is alleged to have lied to his parents about going to a hotel in Haridwar for a job interview during that period.
Another officer said Ankur had also lied to his parents about how he had suffered the injury. “He told them that he had been hurt by barbed wire,” he said.
After allegedly attacking Preeti, Ankur returned to the same Garib Rath train on which she had arrived with her family minutes earlier. Ankur then went to another platform and waited for Preeti’s family to take her to a hospital, before taking the first available train to New Delhi, the police said.