Mumbai Police on Monday claimed to have cracked the murder of TCS software engineer Esther Anuhya with the arrest of the lone suspect, a former railway porter and part-time cab driver.
However, just before Rakesh Maria, the Mumbai police commissioner, addressed a media conference to officially announce the arrest, the woman's family said they needed "proof" to be sure of the breakthrough.
Maria identified the accused as Chandrabhan Sanap alias Chaukiya, who was produced in a court here and remanded in police custody till March 15.
Police said Sanap has admitted to his crime though such confessions in police custody are not admissible in court.
Esther (23) went missing on January 5, the day she arrived in Mumbai from her home in Machilipatnam. She had boarded the Vishakapatnam-LTT Express train from Vijayawada on January 4 after the Christmas holidays.
The victim's decomposed body was found off the Eastern Express Highway in suburban Bhandup on January 16.
The police commissioner said that the Sanap was identified as the culprit after several police teams questioned nearly 2,500 people, minutely studied footage from 36 closed circuit television camera (CCTV) and went through telephone records besides relying on "human intelligence".
The commissioner said that apart from the crime branch, teams of anti-robbery and anti-dacoity cells, nine new teams were formed in the last 15 days to crack the case.
Police claimed that Sanap was the man with whom Esther was spotted on CCTV footage at the railway terminus in the wee hours of January 5, the day she went missing.
She was employed with the IT major at its office in suburban Goregaon.
Murder most foul
Re-constructing the case, the top cop said that on the intervening night of January 4-5, Sanap had consumed alcohol with his friends before arriving at the Kurla railway terminus at around 4.15 am with the intention of robbing railway passengers.
Sanap has cases of mobile theft and bag lifting cases registered against him at the Gamdevi police station, Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh and Manmad railway station among others. He is also a proclaimed offender in the records of Gamdevi police station, said Maria.
Sanap, who spotted Esther sitting at Kurla railway terminus, offered to drop her to her residence at Andheri for a sum of Rs 300.
To convince Esther, Sanap gave her his mobile phone number and brought her to the parking lot at the Kurla terminus, said the commissioner.
When Esther realised that Sanap did not have a cab but only a motorcycle, she was hesitant to go with him.
But Sanap told her that she could give his motorcycle and mobile numbers to any person she knew to ensure that she was safe with him.
"Unfortunately, Esther did not have enough talk time on her pre-paid mobile phone and could not make the call. Esther pretended to make a call and then sat on his bike," said Maria.
Sanap took her to the Eastern Express Highway and tried to rob her. When Esther resisted, Sanap banged her head on the ground and then strangulated her with a stole that she was wearing, added Maria.
"Sanap claims that he did not sexually assault the victim but we are still investigating this angle," said Maria.
Sanap then went to his father's house at Kanjurmarg and called one of his friends, identified as one Nandkishore Sahu, to inform him about the murder.
Later at 10 am, Sanap came to Mulund and boarded a bus to Nashik. Sanap gave Esther's trolley bag to a beggar there and told the beggar that he was donating the belongings of his dead wife.
The crime branch recovered the trolley bag which was identified as Esther's by her friends.
Maria said crime branch was now looking to make the case watertight.
"We have sought for a special counsel in this case to ensure that it is foolproof and watertight," Maria added.
Police have slapped charges of murder and destruction of evidence against Sanap, who had tried to burn the body.
Forensic experts could not ascertain if Esther was sexually assaulted as her body was found in a highly decomposed state.
Family seeks proof
Even as the police claimed breakthrough in the case, Esther's family-members said they are not willing to believe that the case has been solved till the time they are furnished proof.
"We will believe that the case is solved only when the police are able to recover the bag and other articles she (Anuhya) was carrying, from the person they have arrested. Also, they should be able to give us the whole sequence of events," Anuhya's uncle Arun Kumar said.
He also said that the murder was unlikely to have been committed by one person.
"Who are the others? They must have used a vehicle to commit the crime. Where is the vehicle? What is its registration number? We will not believe the case is solved till we get all the proof."
(With inputs from agencies)