Detectives who have long been transferred from Kurar police station in Malad East still carry around in their cellphones copies of a poster. The poster has four pictures — one of a dead woman’s face, her saree, slippers and a tattoo on her left forearm — along with a request for information about her identity.
“Look, it doesn’t matter where you are posted as long as someone finds a clue that leads to her identity. As long as this case is detected, receiving credit for it is not important,” said a former investigating officer of the murder case.
While the officer is now able to look back at his participation in that probe with a measure of equanimity and the benefit of hindsight, the desire to bring the case to its solution has not left either him or his colleagues on that probe.
Two summers ago, they spent six months on the trail of a woman who had been killed and dumped in a remote forest area in Kurar, a locality that gained notoriety in 2011 after a local, Uday Pathak and his friends, allegedly murdered four men in extremely brutal fashion.
On May 6, 2016, local residents, taking a shortcut through the forest past tribal hamlets to reach Kurar, alerted the police about an unconscious nude woman found lying in a dense thicket of trees. Close to her body, the police found a white saree with a floral pattern, a pink handkerchief, a pair of red and grey slippers and bottles of beer. On her body, the police noticed the words ‘INDR’ tattooed on her left forearm and close-up pictures revealed a dash of sindhoor (vermilion) on her forehead. The police estimated her age to be between 25 and 35 years.
A post-mortem examination at Bhagwati Hospital in Borivali concluded that the woman had been strangled to death less than 12 hours before as her body was still fresh and had only started to show the first signs of decomposition. A number of scratch marks on her face and neck were attributed to the violent struggle that preceded her death, the police had said.
With her face clearly visible, the police printed our hundreds of flyers, pasting them at railway stations and bus stops across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, while passing on the description of the unidentified woman to police stations in the city and adjoining districts. A team of 15 police personnel was dedicated to trace the woman’s identity. Her body lay in a morgue and doctors were instructed to stave off decomposition by pumping in preservatives.
“We went door to door in Kurar with pictures of the woman, asking local people if they knew her. But no one could identify her,” the official said.
Police branched out the probe by possibilities that the woman may have been a local in Kurar or from further off in the city, a sex worker or bar girl. As more and more possibilities were considered, the pile of papers in her case file kept growing.
“We inquired with all bars between Andheri and Dahisar but no one working there knew her,” the officer added. Inquiries at brothels in central and south Mumbai met with the same result.
Police also followed up on the tattoo on the woman’s arm. “The name had been carved into the skin with a sharp object. We suspect that it might be the name of the woman’s boyfriend or husband,” said the officer.
Simultaneously, the police also analysed records of women between the ages of 25 and 35 reported missing in Mumbai in the weeks preceding the murder. Even so, one woman with the strongest resemblance turned out to be a false alarm. “There was this one woman reported missing in Kurar who looked a lot like the deceased. Her last known address was in West Bengal. The then Deputy Commissioner of Police was convinced that we had found the right person. But when our team reached the village in West Bengal, we found that the woman was alive and had run away to live with someone else. We ended solving a missing person’s case,” said the officer.
As the months wore on and no one came forth to claim the woman’s body, it became increasingly difficult to preserve her remains. So, after a sample of her DNA and her articles of clothing were stored, the police disposed of her body late in 2016.
Limbanna Vhanmane, the then senior inspector at Kurar police station, said his strongest theory is that the woman had been living with a man in Kurar for a short span of time and that he had killed her for a reason yet to be discovered. Udaykumar Rajeshirke, the present senior inspector at Kurar police station, said that efforts are underway to identify the woman.