In a city where vacant space is fast evaporating and real estate is at the heart of many a dispute, three hired killers murdered a 45-year-old housewife, also a landlord, in her own house in Goregaon on Tuesday noon over a suspected property dispute, even as neighbours tried in vain to stop the assailants.
Around 11.15 am, two of the three assailants, armed with knives and choppers barged into the residence of Jayashree Ringde in the thickly populated Shahkarwadi Shehkar Society chawl at Goregaon East.
The third stood guard at the door with a revolver. Jayashree, who was inside the kitchen, tried to put up resistance, but soon gave up as the two assailants stabbed her 18 times all over the body with a kitchen knife and a chopper, police said.
Hearing her screams, some neighbours, largely women and children, tried to intervene. However, the assailant at the door threatened them at gunpoint and shooed them away. Within minutes of their deed, the trio made good their escape, leaving a profusely bleeding Jayashree inside. She succumbed to her injuries before she could be admitted to the Cooper Hospital.
Jayashree's husband Malangshah, who was away at the time of the attack, has told the police that he suspects a local builder to be behind it since his wife had refused to sell a Malad plot to him.
Police said it was obvious that the attack was pre-planned. Within five minutes, even before Jayashree's daughter Manisha, who was sitting on the verandah of the house, chitchatting with some neighbours, could react, the attack was over. The killers, all suspected to be in their early 20s, struck with impunity, not caring that the sprawling cluster of tenements is located in one of the busiest areas of the suburb and the locality is always crowded.
They walked away without any resistance and vanished in the narrow lane cutting through the colony that even houses several small scale industries. The knife was later recovered from the scene of crime as it was left behind by the assailants.
Jayashree Boratkar (60), a neighbour of the Ringdes told HT that minutes before the incident took place, Jayashree, too, was chatting with her on the verandah outside the tenament. "As usual, after the men in our families left for work, we sat in the verandah talking to each other. Jayashree, her daughter Manisha and another woman from the neighbourhood were sitting with me," she stated.
She said she distinctly remembered the killers faces, who quietly came and stood at a distance near the window of Jayashree's tenament. "One of them was a stocky person with a heavy built while the two others were tall and frail built. They spoke fluent Hindi with a North Indian ascent. The stocky fellow was holding a black bag. We hardly suspected their intention," Boratkar added.
In the meantime, Jayashree went inside the house to stir the dal that she had left cooking on the stove. "As soon as she entered the house, the stocky man pulled out a knife, a chopper from his bag and gave it to the other two, while keeping the gun with him. Before we could understand what was happening, the two men barged into the room and then we heard Jayashree's screams," she added.
However, her attempts to gather people against the attack proved futile as all men members in the chawl were away at work.
The Goregaon (West) police, under whose jurisdiction the murder took place, later summoned the sniffer dog squad. One of the dogs went up to a nearby autorickshaw stand after which the trial went cold. This suggests that the assailants had fled in an auto after committing the crime, said police officers.
The Ringdes, who belong to the Warli tribe, are natives of Goregaon. In fact, they own considerable landed property in the suburbs between Goregaon (East) and Malad. They own as many as 30 tenaments in the chawl where they stay while Jayashree inherited six and a half acres of land from her mother at Appa Pada in Kurar village, Malad (east).
A part of the chawl at Goregaon is presently being developed under the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) scheme, informed her husband. There are as many as 40 tenaments on the six acre plot at Appa Pada and they are rented out to tenants.
Jayashree's husband runs a travel agency. In 1984 a private builder had agreed to buy the six acre plot at Appa Pada. "However, he never paid us any money. Recently, Jayashree had expressed her unwillingness to the same builder to sell the property to him as they were quoting an abysmally low price," he added.
Some neighbours also claimed that Jayashree, who was looking after the affairs in her chawls at Appa Pada, had some differences with the tenants as she was trying to sell the plot to some builder for developing under SRA scheme.
The incident has nevertheless enraged the locals, mostly tribals, who also staged a protest in the locality following the incident.
Meanwhile, inspector Rajendra Sawant of the Goregaon (west) police station, who is investigating the case, told HT that the police was trying to prepare the sketches of the assailants on the basis of eyewitness account. He said some tenants of the chawl and partners from a construction company in Malad were being detained for questioning. "In all probability, it looks like a fall out of a property dispute," Sawant said while refusing to elaborate on the suspects.