Laboratory of murder clues

How Agra police cracked the murder of a researcher and arrested a student who they say had been stalking her

Written by Ananya Bhardwaj | Agra | Published: April 25, 2013 2:14 am

He slipped into the laboratory,where she was working late,according to the police’s reconstruction of the March 15 murder. She reportedly told him to leave her alone. The moment she turned her back,police say,he pressed to her nose a handkerchief soaked with chloroform.

Neha Sharma,27,fought back,police have concluded from the signs of the struggle at the laboratory at Agra’s Dayalbagh Educational Institute,where she was a research student. Her shirt was found ripped off,with the killer apparently intending rape,though police believe murder had always been part of his plan. They say she slapped him,and he picked up a paper cutter with multiple blades and slashed at her.

The postmortem would find 12 cuts,some 3 cm deep,and one on the throat 4 cm. “When the last blade came off,he picked up a surgical blade and continued slashing until the intestines came out,” a police officer said,after arresting Uday Swarup,also 27,and in BSc third year.

Police say Uday,whose grandfather heads the group that runs the institute,had one of four keys to the lab,the other three being with Neha,her research guide and lab technician Yashwir Sandhu,who has been arrested on charges of helping Uday destroy evidence.

For 20 minutes,according to the police reconstruction,the killer sat by the body,before picking up tissue sheets to wipe the floor. He used a bar of soap,too,later recovered along with the tissues,while stains across the floors of two rooms indicated how he had chased her. Police also cite evidence of the murder having been planned: “The killer wore a rubber glove on one hand.”

He apparently decided to leave the removal of evidence until the next morning. Neha’s slippers were found inside the lab; had the killer left them outside,these would have betrayed her presence inside. The lab was then locked up,with the killer allegedly telling the technician to dump her car on the highway.

“They wanted it to seem Neha had left. The plan was to dump the body in a river early the next day,” the officer said.

Police say Uday then went to a friend’s home and vomited repeatedly,unable to digest what he had done. This is according to what the friend has reportedly told the police.

The discovery

Two things gave the suspect away. One was bloodstained strands of hair that police found beside the body,and which they later matched against Uday’s hair. The other was the way the car was dumped. Police found it that very night,leading to the discovery of the murder.

Headlights shining,the driver’s seat pushed back,and its ownership papers inside,the Alto stood on Khelgaon Marg,barely 200 m from the institute. Police went through the papers and contacted Neha’s father,who told them she often worked late at the lab. Inside,police found the mutilated body.

“Neha’s mother told us she had called her and a male voice had answered,” said Subhash Chand Dubey,SSP,Agra. “He told her Neha had gone to the market and would call back. After a while,her phone couldn’t be reached… We knew an insider was involved.”

Police collected hair samples from 500 students and staff and looked for a match. The search narrowed down to 13 suspects,and Uday’s samples allegedly provided a perfect match.

The police also recorded Uday’s voice. “When Neha’s mother heard the clip,she identified the voice as the one that had answered Neha’s phone,” the SSP said. “But we waited for the forensic report on the hair before making the arrests (on Tuesday).”

The obstacles

Police say they always suspected Uday but struggled to find people who would testify against him. They add some students had seen the technician drive Neha’s car but were reluctant to report that,too.

A senior officer said evidence kept cropping up at sites where after earlier searches had revealed nothing. “The first day,we could not find Neha’s laptop anywhere. The next day,it was recovered from the shrubs 50 m from the lab,all data deleted,” he said. “The third day,her mobile was found 40 m from the lab; it had not been there the first day. All logs and messages had been erased.” The police got the content restored at the CBI laboratory in Ghaziabad.

Uday’s grandfather,Prem Kumar,is a retired IAS officer and now the president of Radha Swami Satsangi Community,which runs the institute. Kumar is next to the guru in the community’s hierarchy.

“The boy is innocent and is being framed,” Kumar told The Indian Express. “It is true that he often went to the lab to surf the Internet,but on the day of the unfortunate incident,he had left by 4.45 pm. He was applying for internships and went to meet his seniors. Even the laboratory head agrees he didn’t go to the lab that day.”

The institute’s authorities denied a police allegation that they did not cooperate in the investigation. “The unfortunate incident has brought the institute a bad name. Why would we not cooperate with police?” said V G Das,director of the institute. “We were eager that the culprit should be caught. We sent a plea to the high court requesting that unless the police found the culprit in 15 days,the case should be transferred to the CBI.”

A member of the Satsangi community accused the police of harassment. “Uday and another boy approached the high court alleging that they were beaten up and given electric shocks during questioning,” he said.

Police sources concede cases of harassment have been filed against them.

The ‘stalker’

Police say the records in Neha’s mobile,once retrieved,included “inappropriate messages” from Uday,and up to 50 calls a day at “odd hours”. Neha’s elder sister,Kirti,told The Indian Express that Neha had told her about Uday’s persistent calls and the way he would leer at her,but she dared not complain.

Neha had been with the institute for seven years and bagged several academic awards. She was working on a Rs-1-crore research project on antibodies.

Uday frequently went to the lab,supposedly to surf the Internet,which is how he got one of the keys. Neha’s research guide,Amla Chopra,said he had told her he wanted to apply for a summer course and needed the laboratory connection,since the Internet is banned inside the institute’s residential colony.

Uday appeared in the institute exams on Wednesday,under escort.

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