A joint operation between Uttar Pradesh’s Special Task Force (STF) and the Mumbai police saw investigators arrest the first suspect in the double murder of artist Hema Upadhyay, 42, and her lawyer, Haresh Bhambani, 65, on Monday.
The police have detained three people who they suspect helped dispose of the bodies, while a team has been formed to hunt for 25-year-old Vidyadhar Rajbhar, believed to be the prime accused. Vidhyadhar is the son of Vanshraj Rajbhar, the man who took care of Hema’s paintings through his firm Vanshraj Arts. Vidhyadhar took over the business after Vanshraj’s death three years ago. Sources close to the investigation say they are probing leads that hint at professional rivalry and differences over payment for paintings between Hema and Vidyadhar.
The police suspect Hema and Vidyadhar met on Friday night at his warehouse in Kandivli to sort out their dispute over money; Vidyadhar reportedly wanted Rs 5.20 lakh, while Hema apparently felt she owed him just Rs one lakh. Police suspect that in a fit of rage Vidyadhar and his employees had committed the crime. As of now, police suspect that Bhambani was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
According to UP (STF) sources, Shiv Kumar Rajbhar alias Sadhu, a resident of Gosaipur village, had reached Varanasi from Mumbai by train and was on way to his house in the village when he was arrested. STF sources claimed he confessed to the crime during interrogation. STF has recovered 11 ATM cards from Kumar, six of which belong to Hema, while five belong to the advocate, and her husband Chintan Upadhyay’s visiting card.
The bodies of Hema and her lawyer Haresh were recovered from a drain near Dhanukar Wadi in Kandivli (West). Their bodies were wrapped in plastic sheets and packed in cardboard boxes, said police sources. The bodies were identified on Sunday after the police got a call on Saturday evening.
Hema was locked in a bitter divorce battle with her husband Chintan, a well-known artist himself, and Bhambani was her lawyer. Chintan was being interrogated by a special team formed to crack the case until late on Monday evening. Investigators also said while they have not Upadhyay to have played a role in the murder yet, he has not been given a clean chit as of now.
Kumar, who makes plastic idols, claimed he was hired to kill her. He, however, did not disclose who hired him for the crime.
“The accused is one of the killers and we suspect that at least five people are involved. We will interrogate the accused once he is brought here,” said Deven Bharti, joint commissioner of police (law and order).
Kumar revealed Hema and her lawyer were first drugged using a chemical smothered on a handkerchief after which they both fell unconscious. They were later strangled to death, Kumar told the police. After killing both of them, all those involved fled the city.
According to STF sources, the Mumbai police’s crime branch traced Kumar’s number to UP after which the UP STF was contacted. On Monday, the joint team traced his location around Gosainpur, 1.5 km from the Varanasi airport and arrested him.
Bipin Rai, senior inspector, STF, confirmed Kumar’s arrested and said he was being interrogated.
Sources in the police said a relative of another accused, who reportedly is also from Kumar’s village, was interrogated.
Hema’s body was found with her hands tied behind her back, while Bhambani’s face was mangled and his eyes covered with black tape. She had called up her domestic help, Lalit Mandal, around 6.30pm on Friday and told him to have his dinner because she would be eating out. Bhambani, too, had told his family he was to have dinner with a client.
The bodies were discovered around 7.30pm on Saturday in the drain opposite a crematorium by a sweeper, who noticed the large boxes. The police suspect the bodies were dumped in the drain between 1am and 4am on Saturday because people who lived in the area told them they had been around in the area until after midnight.