On May 1,when two charred bodies were found near a stone crusher unit at a field adjoining the Satara highway,the only clue the police found was a small golden earring.
The earring shifted the probe to Pune,where the family of a missing woman identified the ornament. Usha Rajshekharan Nair (51) had not returned home in Kondhwa since April 29. Phone calls confirmed that neither had her boss,Vinod Broker (84). Usha used to assist Vinod,who dealt in real estate.
With their identities established,a probe spanning three cities and several witnesses led the police to the root of the murder,Janki Kutir,a sea-facing bungalow in Mumbais upmarket suburb Juhu owned by Vinod.
A day after the bodies were identified,three men,Ibrahim Ismail Shaikh (38),a Bandra-based garment dealer,Nitin Dayabhai Bhatia (51),a Vikhroli-based retired BEST employee,and Ravindra Shankar Reddy (37),a Khar-based construction site supervisor,became the first suspects.
The first crucial statement was of Vinods house-help,who recounted snatches of conversation overheard in different meetings between Vinod and the three suspects where money was often spoken with haughtiness by everyone in the room,says an officer. Vinod,a former horticulturist and son of noted Gujarati writer and Padmashree awardee Gulabdas Broker,was in a hurry to sell his Juhu bungalow,Janki Kutir,and shift to Pune.
The three suspects,who later confessed to having mounting debts,instead wanted to grab Vinods bungalow. The Pune polices first suspect was Shaikh.
In a meeting on April 26,residents of Vidya Building,a housing society adjoining Janki Kutir,had warned Vinod against selling his property to Shaikh. Vinod had allegedly protested saying he was getting an unthinkable offer. Probe revealed that while a Bollywood actor had offered Rs 30 crore to Vinod,Shaikh had walked with a Rs 42-crore offer.
Vinod had sold his fathers ancestral bungalow in Juhu to Mayfair Housing for Rs 21 crore in 2007. It was this money that he had bought the six-bedroom Janki Kutir for Rs 7.8 crore.
On the same day (April 26),Vinod and his secretary Usha left for his Pune residence.
During the probe,the Pune police contacted inspector Sanjay Satardekar,in-charge of the Bandra Crime Branch unit,after they found that Shaikh had approached him on April 30,a day after the murders. Shaikh had gone to Satardekar with a sale agreement he had purportedly signed with Vinod and wanted the inspector to intervene to tackle the opposition to the deal by residents of Vidya Building.
I told him that police were not expected to intervene in a civil matter unless asked by the court, says Satardekar,whose unit verified Pune polices finding that Shaikh and his associates were last seen visiting Vinod at his Konark Enclave flat in Punes Koregaon Park. Satardekars unit nabbed Shaikh,who led them to Reddy. By May 5,Bhatia was also nabbed.
According to police,Shaikh wanted to usurp Janki Kutir. He and his two associates met Vinod five times in Mumbai and twice in Pune. The police now have phone records to prove these meetings and location details.
Shaikh told the police he never intended paying Vinod anything. But to gain his confidence,he had to pay him Rs 4 crore as token amount,which was arranged from a local financer whom he promised to give double the amount after the bungalow was sold, said an officer.
On the day of the murder (April 29),Shaikh,Reddy and Bhatia met Vinod and told him they wanted to see papers of Janki Kutir. A meeting was fixed at Vinods Pune apartment,where Usha reached in her SX 4 car. The suspects reached there at 10.30 am.
Even as the Janki Kutir deal was in progress,Shaikh convinced Vinod to join them to check out a property at Shirwal on Satara Road. Usha too joined them.
The two were strangled in a hired Innova as it passed through the dark Katraj tunnel on the way. They then drove for 1,300 kilometres away from Pune to Shivad where they set the bodies on fire.
After the murder,they took the bodies in gunny bags to a stone crusher unit at Mauje Kesurdi in Khandala,Satara. They removed the wallet and other belongings on the bodies,so that no identities could be established. The suspects took keys of Vinods apartment in Konark Enclave before burning the bodies, said senior police inspector Bhanupratap Barge of Pune police Crime Branch.
The suspects had initially planned to dump one body in Karanataka. But Bhatia wanted to return to Mumbai early and plans were hurriedly changed. If they had dumped one body in Karnataka,outside our state limits,it would have made it difficult for us to join the dots sooner, says Barge.