Once the sun sets, the road that dissects Aarey Milk Colony to connect Goregaon and Powai becomes pitch-dark. Only three spots along the six-kilometre stretch have streetlights, thanks to roadside food stalls. The stretch is generally avoided at night, even by auto and taxi drivers, thanks to stories of people being robbed and apocryphal tales of ghosts trying to hitch rides.
The Aarey colony road used to have a toll plaza and entry was restricted after 11.30pm. But it has since been removed, giving commuters and others unhindered access. This has made it a popular route for commuters looking to cut travel time to Powai. And though few use the secluded road at night, the stretch has CCTV cameras.
This is what has mystified policemen investigating the bizarre murder of 22-year-old Brandon Gonsalves in Aarey colony on December 19, 2016. Gonsalves was from a middle-class family and pursuing his graduation in arts. On December 19, he took his dog for a walk in Aarey colony at 7am and returned home after a while. Ten minutes later, he stepped out once again and never came back.
His family, which registered a missing-person complaint the same day, was shocked when on December 22, Brandon’s dog led policemen to his naked, headless body in a secluded spot and, seconds later, to his severed head a few metres away. His blood-stained clothes were also found nearby.
The police examined the body closely but were unable to establish any leads. Gonsalves’s head had been severed from very close to the shoulder blade. His tongue and larynx (voice box) had been cut off and could not be found. Even more bizarrely, two symbols, resembling crosses, were carved on his forehead and hand with a sharp blade. Family members said that he didn’t have any tattoos like those.
To determine the sequence of events precisely, the police checked CCTV footage from the Gonsalves’s neighborhood. Footage from one camera showed Gonsalves leaving from his apartment with a plastic bag. It is unclear what the bag contained. Later, he was seen walking on the road near Krushi Udyog Bhavan (Maharashtra Agro Industries Development Corporation Limited) in Aarey colony.
That was the last anyone saw of Gonsalves, who did not show up in footage from the camera near Aarey police station about a kilometre away. It was in this blind spot between the two cameras that he was presumably murdered, and where his body was found, hidden in grass around 50 metres off the main road.
The police’s investigation revolves around two dirt tracks near where the body was found. They said Gonsalves may have changed his route and either taken left or a right from the main road between Krushi Udyog and the police station.
The post mortem report, the police said, suggested that Gonsalves was killed between 11am and 2pm on December 19. The police suspect that his body was dumped in the field in the middle of the night. But CCTV footage shows no such activity, which has lead the police to believe that the killers where well-versed with the area and the locations of the various CCTV cameras. There are dirt tracks that the killers could have used to completely CCTV cameras and exit Aarey colony from the Goregaon end. “Those who killed Gonsalves, it seems, knew the area inside-out; no outsider could know the roads so well,” said an investigator.
Despite the unusual nature of the murder, the police have few leads, if any. While searching Gonsalves’s home the police found his diary, in which he had drawn several doodles. This led them to suspect that it was a case of human sacrifice. The police question several tantriks in the western suburbs, including one from Malwani in Malad (West) who had performed a ritual at Gonsalves’s home. “But we still did not get any lead or identify any suspect,” said an officer.
“Gonsalves was strongly built and it appears that more than one person may have been involved in the murder,” said another officer on the investigating team.
The police have also probed other angles, including property dispute and personal enmity. “But despite investigating all the angles we have been unable to establish why Gonsalves was killed,” the officer added.