A Bhiwandi couple who had racked up debts building a two-storey house and purchasing a car, an air-conditioner and an expensive smartphone, allegedly murdered their elderly neighbour and disposed of her body in a lake last month to steal and sell off her gold jewellery, police said Tuesday. The accused, Somnath Wakade, a driver and his wife Neelam, an anganwadi teacher, were reportedly inspired crime-based television show, they added.
According to police, septuagenarian Sonubai Chaudhari of Chaudharpada, a village in Bhiwandi town, was last seen on November 21, when she had walked into house of her neighbour, Neelam Wakade, for a post-lunch chat. Her son, Manik, registered a missing person’s complaint at Padgha police station the next day after he was unable to find her.
Around six kilometres away, at Wadunavghar, villagers reportedly spotted a woman’s body in a lake on the same day and alerted the police. Shivaji Rathod, Superintendent of Police, Thane Rural, said Manik identified the body as that of his mother. A post-mortem examination later revealed that Chaudhari had been killed by a sharp blow on her head with a blunt object.
During the course of its probe, police had found that the Wakades had accumulated a debt of more than Rs 2.5 lakh over the past one year and were unable to pay it off through their incomes. “The couple had built a bungalow and bought a Honda City car, an air-conditioner and iPhone. They were barely able to make ends meet with their combined incomes and had been finding it very difficult to pay off their debts. We are also investigating the reason behind these purchases,” Vyankat Andhale, senior inspector, local crime branch, said.
The couple, police claimed, had decided to steal from Chaudhari as she used to wear a lot of gold jewellery. “They assumed that she had a lot more jewellery at her home,” Andhale added.
Neelam, police claimed, found inspiration from popular crime shows, Crime Patrol and Savdhaan India, and hit Chaudhari on the head with a wooden washing bat, killing the frail woman instantly. Somnath then took Chaudhari’s necklaces, rings and ear rings, loaded her body into his car, drove to Wadunavghar and tossed the body into the lake, police said.
“The accused had been watching the TV shows for at least two years. She claims to have got the idea to commit the crime from these shows,” Andhale added.
Police said they have scanned CCTV camera footage in Chaudharpada and Wadunavghar and found that Somnath had driven to the lake and back home on November 22. A cell phone tower analysis also placed his phone location near the lake at the time he allegedly disposed of the body, Andhale said.
Police arrested the couple Sunday and retrieved the gold jewellery, worth Rs 2.90 lakh, from their possession.