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Man uses cobra as ‘murder weapon’ to stage own death for $5 million life insurance

On April 22, the accused forcefully took Aanap to a secluded location where a snake handler identified as Harish Kulal induced the cobra to bite Aanap on the toe.

Written by Sushant Kulkarni | Pune |
Updated: October 26, 2021 7:32:14 am
Prabhakar Bhimaji Waghchaure and four others were arrested over the last week. (Courtesy: Ahmednagar police)

Using a cobra as a “murder weapon”, a 54-year-old man in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district staged his own death by killing a destitute man in order to claim a $5 million (Rs 37.5 crore) life insurance policy with a US-based insurance firm.

However, the plot unraveled when the insurance firm sent an investigator to make inquiries, and over the last week, police arrested the accused and four of his accomplices.

According to police, Prabhakar Bhimaji Waghchaure had been living in the US for 20 years, and after returning to India in January, he started living at Rajur village in Ahmednagar district.

On April 22, officials at Rajur police station in Ahmednagar received a report from the local government hospital about Waghchaure’s death.

When a police constable went to the hospital, a man who identified himself as Waghchaure’s nephew, Praveen, identified the body. Another person, identified as Rajur resident Harshad Lahamge, too identified the body as that of Waghchaure.

After receiving the preliminary medical report, which stated that the cause of death was a snakebite, the body was handed over to the nephew for last rites to be performed.

However, the plot began to unravel when officials from the insurance firm investigating Waghchaure’s life insurance claim contacted Ahmednagar authorities seeking more information on his death.

As part of the probe, police initially visited Waghchaure’s house in Rajur. A neighbour said she had not heard of any snakebite incident but had seen an ambulance come to the house at the time of the alleged incident. When police contacted Lahamge, he claimed that Praveen had died of Covid.

As police were unable to trace any relative of the deceased, they started looking at Waghchaure’s call records, which revealed that not only was he alive, he had posed as Praveen at the hospital. Soon afterwards, Waghchaure was placed under detention.

Ahmednagar SP Manoj Patil on Monday said, “The insurance claims investigator had started digging deep into the claim on Waghchaure’s death because he had fraudulently claimed the death of his wife for a life insurance claim in 2017. His wife is alive… Waghchaure and other conspirators hatched an elaborate plan. Probe has revealed that they
procured a cobra from a snake rescuer. They found a destitute person, with similar looks as that of Waghchaure, and had killed him with the bite of the cobra. Waghchaure himself posed as his nephew Praveen and reported the snakebite death.”

Police have now identified the deceased as Navnath Yashwant Aanap (50), who had been living in the same area.

The police investigation has revealed that days before they staged the death, Waghchaure started living at a new residence in the district. Two of his relatives — Sandeep Talekar and Prashant Chaudhary — found Aanap and Lahamge, who procured a cobra from a snake rescuer.

On April 22, the accused forcefully took Aanap to a secluded location where a snake handler identified as Harish Kulal induced the cobra to bite Aanap on the toe.

After he died, Aanap’s body was taken to Waghchaure’s residence, where an ambulance was called.

Later, Waghchaure, posing as Praveen, identified the body in the hospital, and the last rites were performed with only the suspects in case in presence. Days later, after receiving the death certificate, Waghchaure moved the US-based firm for the life insurance claims on behalf of his family, officials said.

Patil said, “We have now arrested Waghchaure and his four accomplices. Waghchaure has promised Rs 35 lakh to the other suspects. We are also contemplating action against the snake rescuer from whom the suspect procured the cobra.

Our probe shows that the fact that Waghchaure was living abroad for a long time and hardly anyone knew him here, worked in his favour.”

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