Case File | A double murder in a quiet lane with dark secrets
When a local betting operator, Joginder, was killed in a round of firing in Bakkarwala JJ Colony, the police weren't sure of the motive. That was until the police found out about another betting operator in the area.
New Delhi: Located on the southwestern outskirts of Delhi — about an hour and a half drive from Connaught Place — Bakkarwala JJ Colony, a slum cluster near Mundka mostly inhabited by people of low-income group, is a typical rural village where silence prevails after sundown. The evening of August 22 was no different — until 9 pm, when gunshots were heard in the residential neighbourhood as two unidentified masked men opened indiscriminate fire inside a single-room house killing two men — a 45-year-old house owner and his 60-year-old neighbour — and injuring another 62-year-old neighbour.
The unusual incident triggered panic and fear among residents as people began to speculate about the possible reasons behind the killings. Different residents had different views on the double murder inside a room that was used as a “betting den”, where people came to gamble with cards. The area is quite dark and police patrolling was infrequent in the area. One of the dead men was an alleged betting operator and owner of the room named Joginder Singh, 45. Some locals believed that the firing might have happened over a financial dispute. Others suspected it was a case of rivalry between local betting operators.
“Nobody was sure why the killings happened. Since three more neighbours apart from the house owner were present in the room, we were not sure who among them was the intended target of the killers. The family members of the dead and injured men were also unsure about it,” said Rakesh Nangia, a resident.
Even the local policemen who arrived after being informed about the firing were perplexed about the motive. Their only hope was the 62-year-old injured man, Mohan Lal, who, despite being hit by two bullets, reached home and was admitted to a nearby private hospital by his wife and son. The police went to the hospital and recorded Lal’s statement. But instead of providing some clarity, Lal’s statement regarding what happened in the room confounded the police further, and the mystery surrounding the crime continued.
“Lal told us that the two suspects entered the room and asked for Satish’s house. Joginder pointed out the photo of his dead father, Satish, (hanging on the wall). The assailants immediately opened fire. Despite being hit multiple times, Joginder ran towards his other house in the neighbourhood. The assailants chased after him and pumped more bullets into him, killing him in the lane. It made us suspect that at least Joginder was a target of the attackers,” said a senior police officer associated with the investigation.
The other victim, 60-year-old tent operator Mangal Singh, could not move out of the room after being shot. He died on the spot. The fourth person, who escaped unhurt, survived the attack as he fled using the room's back door, the moment the assailants whipped out their firearms. His name has been withheld by the police as he is a key witness in the case and revealing his name may put his life in danger, a second police officer said.
Apart from verifying the antecedents of Joginder, the police also spoke with his family members to ascertain if he was receiving any life threats or extortion calls or if he was involved in any dispute or rivalry. It emerged that Joginder was previously booked in three cases of the Excise Act for the illegal sale of illicit liquor, but they were all before 2007. However, his wife Pooja (single name) was continuing the illegal activities and she was booked in two such cases this year alone. His family claimed Joginder had quit the illicit liquor trade, did not have any enmity with anyone, and had never received threats or extortion calls, the officer said.
“My brother was into the garment business, but had left it some months ago, as he was suffering from hypertension and diabetes. He mostly remained at home. There was no threat to his life, and he never received any extortion calls. Had he received any, he would have told me about it,” said Kuldeep Singh, Joginder’s brother.
A case of a mistaken identity
Although the investigators were pursuing Joginder’s family’s liquor trade angle, what left them baffled was that the attackers asked for Satish’s house before opening the fire, but Joginder’s father Satish died a few years ago. The police broadened their probe and carried out a local enquiry. The statements of some locals, who were present around the crime scene and had encountered the attackers, were recorded.
A couple of them told the police that the attackers met them in the lane outside Joginder’s single-room house and asked them about the place where satta (betting) happened. Although there were two places in the area where satta took place, the two locals directed them to Joginder’s room on the right side of the lane as it was closer. The police enquired further and came to know that the other betting den — a bigger one — was run by another resident named “Satish” from his house that is on the left side of the lane and nearly 30 metres away from the house where the firing and murders happened.
This crucial information changed the direction of the police probe. Investigators quickly made the other Satish record his statement. What he revealed shocked the investigators and prompted senior police officers to rope in some specialised units of the Delhi Police in the probe.
The probe widens
The police said that interrogation of Satish revealed that he had been operating the betting racket at a large scale and under the protection of the members of a gang led by jailed gangster Sunil Maan alias Tillu Tajpuria, with whom he was also associated. He had been paying protection money to the gang. However, for over a month, he had been receiving threats and extortion calls from a person, who identified himself as Ankesh Lakra, a key member of Tillu’s rival gang named after its slain leader, Jitender Maan alias Gogi, who was killed by his two rival gang members at a courtroom in Rohini court complex on September 24 last year.
The investigators said that Lakra had been telling Satish that he had to pay ₹20,000 per month to his gang as “protection money” for running his betting business without any hindrance. If he doesn't, he will be killed. The officers also said that as Satish was aligned with the rival Tillu Tajpuria gang, he refused to succumb to the demands of Lakra, who was lodged in Delhi’s Mandoli jail. He informed the key members of the Tillu gang about Lakra’s threats and extortion demands. They assured him that nothing would happen to him since he was under their protection, the second police officer said.
“Satish took the assurance of Tillu’s gang members seriously and felt so secure that he even went ahead to the extent of mocking Lakra, saying that he was only giving empty threats during one of the phone calls that the gangster made. Lakra was miffed and decided to get him killed. He contacted his gang members and got two hitmen arranged. The duo executed the murder plan but ended up killing the wrong people due to a mistaken identity,” said the officer.
What seemed to be a double murder due to mistaken identity further emerged as a fallout between two rival gangs who are trying to control the extortion business in outer Delhi. The real plot was revealed after the police arrested Lakra from Mandoli jail, two days after the crime, and interrogated him after securing his one-day police custody from the concerned city court. Lakra confirmed that the intended target was the betting operator Satish, the police said.
“Lakra’s interrogation revealed that the firing and double murder were committed by two men, Amit and Fauji. Our teams are collecting information about them, and efforts are on to arrest them,” said deputy commissioner of police (outer), Sameer Sharma.
The two murders, the officers said, were committed by the Gogi gang to send out a “strong message” to other betting operators at Bakkarwala and its adjoining neighbourhoods that they will have to “face consequences” if they refused to pay extortion money or sought protection the rival Tillu gang.
While Lakra was arrested and again sent back to jail after the interrogation, Amit and Fauji are still absconding, despite multiple teams of the local police, special cell and crime branch trying their best to locate and nab them. Their arrest and interrogation may lead the police to those who helped them with logistical support or were part of the murder conspiracy, the police said.
Lakra was among the seven people of a group that exchanged fire with four policemen during their attempt to get Gogi’s key aide, Kuldeep Maan alias Fajja, free from police custody at east Delhi’s Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) hospital on March 25 last year. Lakra was injured in the gun battle and arrested, while his accomplice, Ravi Malik, was killed. Their other associates, including Deepak Pahal alias Boxer, managed to escape. Fajja was killed in a police shoot-out at a flat in Tulsi Apartment in Rohini on March 28.
The police said they have learnt that Amit belongs to Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh and has no previous criminal record. The other suspect, who goes by the nickname Fauji, is a 40-year-old retired army man from Sonepat, Haryana.
Fauji was earlier associated with gangster Neetu Dabodia, who was gunned down by the Delhi Police’s special cell in 2013. Thereafter, he joined the Gogi gang, said an officer from the special cell, asking not to be named.
The two took orders from gangster Deepak Pahal alias “Boxer”, who currently heads the Gogi gang after Gogi was shot dead by two rival gang members inside a courtroom in Rohini courts last September, the officer said.
Pahal is among the Delhi Police’s 10 “most wanted” and took care of the gang’s affairs outside jail. Another key aide of Gogi, Deepak alias “Teetar”, operates the gang from inside the jail.
The police investigation has revealed that Lakra allegedly roped in “Boxer” to arrange for hitmen to kill a betting operator in Bakkarwala.
The puzzle is solved but fear continues
Although the police have claimed that they have by and large established the prime motive behind the firing and double murder, the family members of the victims and locals were not convinced. They feared a backlash. The alleged prime conspirator, Lakra, is a resident of Mundka village, which is not far from Bakkarwala. As his hitmen attempted to kill a person who was under the protection of the Tillu gang, locals feel that the rival gang might strike back to settle the scores.
“Satta is a common business in our locality and it's happening in many houses right under the nose of the police. But everything is managed here with money. As our neighbourhood has become a hub of betting dens, criminal gangs find this as an opportunity to earn easy money in the name of ‘hafta’ or “protection money”,” said a resident, who refused to be identified.
“Now that the two major gangs have locked horns to claim their supremacy over the satta operators, the incidents of firing and murders won’t stop with just the two killings. There may be more,” he added.
Sonu Singh, the elder son of the dead Mangal Singh, said that his father was killed without a reason but more than a week after the crime the police have still not been able to arrest the killers.
“My father had gone to Joginder’s house to watch TV. Police told us that jailed gangster Ankesh Lakra was behind the killings, and they had arrested him. However, unless the killers are arrested and are sent behind the bars, we don’t think the case has been cracked,” added Sonu, who works in a private factory in Mundka.