Hema Upadhyay case: Police ascertain modus operandi, motive still elusive

  • Debasish Panigrahi, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 15, 2015 23:22 IST
Mumbai-based artist Hema Upadhyay, who was found dead in a drain in Mumbai's Kandivali suburb late evening on Saturday. (PTI)

Did the main suspect Vidhyadhar Rajbhar keep even his employees in the dark about what he had planned when he invited artist Hema Upadhyay to his workshop at Kandivli on Friday? Four of them have now been arrested for the murder of Upadhyay and her lawyer Harish Bhambani, while Vidhyadhar is on the run.

Sources close to the investigation told HT that the arrested claimed Vidhyadhar told them he wanted to ‘scare’ Hema and sought their help. Vidyadhar had procured a can of chloroform on Thursday morning.

During the day, an employee in his firm, who has been made a witness in the case, heard him telling someone over the telephone to visit his firm on Friday evening. Vidyadhar apparently told the person at the other end that he wanted to discuss some “good evidence” that could help in the divorce case with her husband, the witness reportedly told the police. “He actually spoke to Hema. We have verified the fact from the timing of the call as given by the witness,” sources said.

Vidyadhar told his employees to switch off the lights as soon as Hema entered the room and gag her so that her screams were not heard by the neighbours. However, a few hours before Hema started off to Kandivli from her Juhu studio, she spoke to Vidyadhar again, telling him that Bhambani was accompanying her.

“There were some adjustments in the plan and the workers were asked to scare two, instead of one,” sources said.

Hema and her lawyer walked up to Vidyadhar’s workshop after parking Bhambani’s car at a distance.

“Vidyadhar opened the door and offered them chairs. As soon as the duo sat, Vidyadhar signalled to the employees who lay in hiding. They immediately switched off the lights and held cloths doused in chloroform, which Vidhyadhar had given them, to the faces of the two,” sources quoted the arrested as claiming.

Hema succumbed in a while after inhaling the heavy dose of chloroform while Bhambani kept struggling for life.

“In the scuffle, Vidhyadhar’s face and nose were badly scratched by Bhambani, before he was finally overpowered by the others,” sources said.

In order to completely incapacitate Bhambani, the assailants wound black tape around the lawyer’s face and eyes,” sources said. After switching on the lights, they realised both had died by then.

Then came the plan to dispose the bodies. “Initially, they planned to dump the bodies outside the city. However, the idea was dropped as they feared they could be caught during a police check,” sources said. Around midnight, the bodies were wrapped in cardboard and plastic (the materials they used to pack paintings and murals in the workshop) and were hurriedly dumped in the sewage canal, not far from the workshop.

Significantly, one of the accused reportedly told the police that Vidhyadhar was present at the site near the nullah when the police took possession of the bodies after they were discovered by a sweeper on Saturday. “From there he went to his house in the MHADA colony at Charkop and told his wife that he was going out of town. While Shivkumar fled to Varanasi along with the deceased’s credit/debit cards, valuables and sim cards, the other three went into hiding at different locations in Kandivli,” the sources said.

“We have a fair idea about how the duo was killed. The motive will be established only after we lay our hands on Vidyadhar,” the sources said.

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