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Blind murder is what they call it

Fruitless probe Police questioned 200 suspects for the murder of 76-year-old Hanslata Maheshwari. One was her son.

delhi Updated: Jan 20, 2010 23:48 IST
Karan Choudhury

It happened during the final match of the first season of the Indian Premier League. On June 1, 2008, the country was glued to their television sets watching the cricket match between Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings.

While cricket lovers across Delhi, including Sudheer Maheshwari and his family, were rooting for their favorite team, his 76-year-old mother was tied, gagged, strangled and bludgeoned to death. Her house was then robbed.

All her life, shy Hanslata Maheshwari had been careful about whom she let enter her ground floor residence.

But the unknown intruders were not asking for permission.

They broke open the door of her posh Greater Kailash-II residence, possibly with a crowbar.

Her family watched the cricket match unfold on the especially set up giant screens at Jahanpanah Club in GK-1V, barely two kilometres away.

The intruders dragged Hanslata to the bathroom. They repeatedly hit her on the head — with the crowbar, forensic tests later revealed.

Investigations saw south Delhi police round up over 200 suspects, almost every criminal on record in the city.

Suspects also included 45-year-old Sudheer Maheshwari.

Maheshwari told police he did not mind being questioned. It was about getting his mother justice, after all.

Hundreds of interrogations later, no headway has been made in the murder.

In a city where 45 per cent of the population is above 60, and crimes against senior citizens not uncommon, what singles out Hanslata Maheshwari's killing is the police tag: “blind murder.”

80 per cent of crimes against senior citizens are solved; even a clear motive is yet to be assigned to Hanslata’s murder.

Was it robbery, or a killing for property?

Sudheer Maheshwari was to be administered truth serum, or narcoanalysis test in connection with the case on October 4, 2009, but the test is pending because of a backlog at the Ahmedabad centre.

What happened that night

Sprawling house number E-310 in GK II was owned by Hanslata Maheshwari. Her older son Sudheer and his family lived on the first floor of the property, and Hanslata occupied the ground floor. Another son, Vijay Maheshwari, lives in nearby GK-II M-Block.

That summer night, said Sudheer Maheshwari, he returned home at 10:30 pm. As he got out of his car, he noticed the broken lock on the front door of his mother's residence.

Maheshwari ran inside, sensing something amiss, he said. He discovered his mother lying dead in the bathroom.

“The door was ajar. I went inside and saw the house ransacked,” he said in 2008. Then he called the police.

The house was large and opulent, but no security guard was employed there.

When police arrived at the crime scene, they found cushions thrown around, chairs upended, and knocked down artifacts. Later, they estimated the worth of the robbed goods including jewellery, between Rs 1.5 and 2.5 lakh.

But, strangely enough, say police, the robbers left behind some articles they had lifted from different rooms.

Why the son

Police say the relationship between mother and son was not as cosy as it appeared.

“Sudheer said he and his mother shared a cordial relationship but we found otherwise,” said a senior police officer, now a part of the team investigating the case. “Their relationship had soured over the years. The issue was the multi-crore GK-II property.”

Hanslata had been widowed for 14 years at the time of her death. The dry fruit business started by her husband in Khari Baoli in Old Delhi was being looked after by Sudheer.

Hanslata often threatened her older son with willing the property to her nephews, said the officer. The elderly lady kept to herself, police said, preparing her own meals. The daughter-in-law, Shobha Maheshwari, would cook for her, “but reluctantly and only sometimes.”

Police do not have any concrete evidence against Sudheer Maheshwari.

Witnesses confirmed Sudheer was at the Jahanpanah Club during the time of the murder, but dumb data collected by the police showed that a mobile phone tower near his house caught his cell connection.

“It could be because the house and the club lie within a radius of two kilometers. But we did not want to take any chances,” said the officer.

Sudheer Maheshwari appeared circumspect about the questioning.

“The police questioned us because it is their job to find the culprits. They have tried their best to solve the case. I was more than happy to help them out. I lost my mother and all I want is justice,” he said.

Roundabout investigations

Police initially linked the murder with one of the criminal gangs operating in the area. More than 200 people were rounded up and questioned. Thousands of pages of cellphone records and dumb data were collected. “We questioned everyone who spoke to the deceased. We analysed each call,” said the officer.

When the criminal-gang angle collapsed, police turned to the theory that it could be a murder over property. Every family member was questioned at length. The police even decided to apply for truth serum for Sudheer. A horde of domestic helps working in the area too were questioned.

After exhaustive questioning, the only finding police have is that at least one of the assailants was an insider.

The tag “blind murder” seems to have stuck.