Case File | What procedures do the police follow in blind murder cases?

  • Delhi saw 1,592 unclaimed bodies this year, many unidentifiable due to being severed or completely putrefied. This makes for difficult investigations, which require careful and calculated procedures, to find the suspects. Here's how they are done: 
Delhi Police statistics show that 459 murder cases were registered in 2021 while 472 and 521 murders were reported in 2020 and 2019 respectively. (HT Photo) PREMIUM
Delhi Police statistics show that 459 murder cases were registered in 2021 while 472 and 521 murders were reported in 2020 and 2019 respectively. (HT Photo)
Published on Jun 22, 2022 07:49 PM IST
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New Delhi: It was a warm Sunday night on June 5. Two policemen from east Delhi’s Pandav Nagar police station were out on bike patrolling when they noticed a foul smell from the bushes in an open field behind the recently inaugurated cyber police station near Kalyanpuri. From their policing experience, one of them, a head constable, suspected that the foul smell may be of a decomposed body and asked his colleague to immediately alert senior officers at the police station.

Within five minutes, two inspectors along with some personnel arrived and went to the place, where the two policemen by then had spotted three plastic bags; one of which was partially torn and a putrefied human leg could be seen. The personnel cut open the other bags and altogether found a pair of human legs but in four pieces and highly decomposed to an extent where it was impossible to ascertain the gender. The human remains were sent to the mortuary of Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS) hospital for identification and autopsy purposes.

Two days later, while the investigating team members were making efforts to identify the deceased, they received information that an 18-year-old had spotted a putrefied human head in the same field, some 100 metres away from the spot where the body parts were found. The head was also sent to the mortuary for identification. It was also in such a state that ascertaining the gender was impossible. On the third day, one decomposed arm, supposedly of the same body, was recovered from the field during a search operation.

But that was the end as no further parts of the body, including the upper torso and the missing second arm, have been found to date. The autopsy report of the recovered body parts could only suggest that they were likely of a man who was above the age of 18. The investigating team scanned several CCTV cameras installed around the field and zeroed in their probe on a man and woman, who were seen around the crime scene twice between June 2 and before the recovery of the body parts.

Although investigators are trying other technical and manual ways to identify the deceased and nab his killers, their probe has hit a roadblock in the want of the missing body parts and identification of the two persons seen in the video footage. They opine that either the case will be cracked in a week, or it will end up being declared an “untraced, unsolved, blind” murder case.

In a similar blind murder case, the highly decomposed body of a man in his 40s was found hanging from a tree in the forested area of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Vasant Kunj on June 3. Weeks later, the deceased is still unidentified.

The two incidents are among the 1,592 unclaimed bodies found in Delhi to date this year, according to the Zonal Integrated Police Network (Zipnet). Delhi Police statistics show that 459 murder cases were registered in 2021 while 472 and 521 murders were reported in 2020 and 2019 respectively.

The procedures in blind murder cases

So what exactly happens in such blind murder cases and what all procedures and investigating skills do the police adopt to solve them?

In police parlance, crimes are divided into two sections – heinous (extremely evil or horrible) and non-heinous. Delhi Police have categorized heinous crimes into seven heads – dacoity, murder, attempt to murder, robbery, riot, kidnapping for ransom, and rape. Of them, the police consider murder as the most serious crime as it involves the loss of life.

“At the same time, solving a murder case is the most challenging investigation, as many times the police find the body of the deceased in a decomposed — beyond identification — condition, with important identification parts such as head, missing, and no identification mark or document found on the body at the time of its discovery,” said a senior police official. 

Whenever any unidentified human body or severed body parts are found in the city, either through a telephone call or physical search, the Delhi Police follow a host of steps that are even mentioned in the department’s standard operating procedure (SOP). Much before the registration of the first information report (FIR), an inquiry begins by making an entry about the recovery of the body or body parts in the daily diary (DD) of the police station concerned.

While the DD entry is made, police officers from the station visit the spot where the body or its parts were found. As crowds start gathering after seeing police presence or getting information about the crime, the police officers immediately preserve the spot by cordoning off the areas using “do not cross” tapes or placing barricades.

Preserving the crime scene

“Preserving the crime scene is the most important aspect of any murder probe because chances of getting evidence and clues against the perpetrators and regarding identification are always high. The evidence such as fingers and footprints may be destroyed if the crime spot is not preserved till forensic experts collect necessary samples from there,” said the officer.

After the crime scene preservation comes the evidence collection step and for that, the police invite their crime scene inspection team and experts from the concerned forensic lab. Apart from the traditional forensic evidence collection such as measurement of the body and photography of body or body parts, the spot and areas around it, and items in which they were found, special attention is given to DNA collection, as this advanced technology plays a key role in the identification of the deceased and ascertaining his blood relatives, said Delhi Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) director Deepa Verma.

“Special care is given on photography of the available identification marks on the body such as tattoos, any visible injury mark, moles, ornaments, clothes and their brands as well as tailor marks or shoes. In several cases, these items led to the identification of the deceased and the cracking of the murder case. Forensic experts help investigators in ascertaining how the person was killed and what weapons were used in the murder or to cut the body parts,” said Sanjeev Kumar Gupta, additional director of the FSL.

Once the entire spot inspection is over, the body or body parts are sent to the nearby mortuary, where they are preserved for at least 72 hours for identification purposes. In case the deceased is identified and his body is claimed by his relatives, it is handed over to them after the autopsy. If there is nobody to identify and claim the body, the autopsy is conducted and the body is either buried or cremated following due process.

The identification procedure starts with the flashing of a message on wireless sets to all station house officers (SHOs), assistant commissioners of police (ACPs) across Delhi and all district senior superintendents of police (SSPs) in India. Thereafter, uploading of the physical description details and clicked photographs of the body or body parts on the Zipnet is done. The collected DNA sample is sent to the FLS for preservation and matching while a search slip of the deceased is prepared and sent to the fingerprint bureau for identification through the fingerprint database. The local police conduct enquiries in areas around the spot where body or body parts were found. Hue and cry notices with photographs of the deceased are circulated in the city through various mediums such as WhatsApp and are also published in newspapers. Announcements through loudspeakers are also done, said Rajender Singh, who retired as an ACP from Delhi Police.

“These are traditional but tried and tested ways that police follow for identifying an unidentified deceased. In recent times, advanced forensic and technical methods have played a key role and made the job of police officers easier,” said the former ACP.

Tech assistance

The technical investigation includes scanning the footage of CCTV cameras installed around the spot and on routes leading to the place where the body or body parts were duped. As a large number of government and private CCTVs are installed across the city, their footage has been instrumental in solving 70-80% of blind murder cases. The examination of dump data of cellphones active in the areas around the spot and checking of call details records of suspicious phone numbers are also effective in finding breakthroughs, another senior police officer said.

For the police, dump data means details of cellphones that were active in the crime spot zone but the users of the phones were not from the neighbourhood. Police officers scrutinize such phone numbers and verify the antecedents of their users. In many cases, the dump date led investigators to the perpetrators of the crime.

Parallel to the technical investigation, biological identification through autopsy reports that clarify the exact cause of death and the time since death is also done. The doctors also give opinions on the probable weapon that was used in the murder and the kinds of injuries on the body or body parts. In all cases, the doctors give an opinion on whether the deceased was administered poison through any means before being shot, stabbed, strangled, smothered or attacked with a blunt object. They always try to establish if the injuries or chopping of the body were “ante-mortem” or “post-mortem”.

“If the procedures mentioned in our SOP for dealing with unidentified bodies are religiously followed, the chances of finding a breakthrough in the murder case are always high. But there are cases like the recovery of decomposed human remains in Kalyanpuri that may end up as unsolved cases. Such cases are declared “untraced” if they are not solved despite the best possible efforts of investigators. However, the cases are never dead, as any day a clue in any form can come before the police,” the officer added.

The successes in this procedure 

Among the many blind murder cases that Delhi Police have solved using their SOP and traditional as well as technical methods of investigation, the recent case of the murder of a 17-year-old boy by his friend of the same age in the Rohini area is worth mentioning.

The reason: The teenager’s body was stuffed in a trolley bag and dumped at a secluded place in Mangolpuri, nearly two kilometres away from the house in Rohini Sector-2 where he was hacked to death, to avoid identification.

On March 25, at around 7 am, a passerby spotted blood oozing out of a purple trolley bag and alerted the Mangolpuri police. The personnel opened the bag and found a male body clad in white kurta-pyjama and with his throat slit. The local enquiry did not help the police ascertain the deceased’s identity. Following the standard procedure, a wireless message was flashed across police stations in Delhi, sharing physical descriptions of the deceased, the clothes he wore and the design, brand and colour of the trolley bag.

The descriptions of the deceased announced in the wireless message were similar to a 17-year-old boy whose missing complaint was filed at South Rohini police station just six days before the discovery of the body. The South Rohini police contacted their counterparts at Mangolpuri and sent a team along with the family of the missing boy to identify the deceased. The family identified the deceased as their missing kin and the case was transferred to South Rohini police that added a murder section to their already registered kidnapping case.

The first breakthrough in the blind murder case was made with the identification of the deceased and the next challenge for the police was to identify the killer and the motive, apart from the entire sequence of events leading to the murder and disposal of the body on the roadside in a bag.

“We carried out a local enquiry and learnt that the teenager was last seen with another boy from the neighbourhood. Since the suspect was a juvenile, we wanted to collect concrete evidence before apprehending him in the case. The previous night’s movement of the two teenagers was checked through the scanning of CCTV cameras. They were last seen near the suspect’s house. The suspect was examined and he confessed to killing his friend following an altercation over a friendship with a girl,” said an investigator.

After hacking his friend to death, the 17-year-old boy stuffed the body in a trolley bag and brought it down from the second-floor house through the staircase by himself. He dragged the bag to the main road from where he took an e-rickshaw and reached Mangolpuri. After deboarding the e-rickshaw, the teenager dragged the trolley bag further to a secluded place and left it on the roadside before returning home, where he cleaned the blood and removed other evidence of the crime, the officer said.

“The CCTV cameras captured everything that the teenager did to dispose of the body. The video footage is important evidence in the case,” added the officer.

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    Karn Pratap Singh has been writing on crime, policing, and issues of safety in Delhi for almost a decade. He covers high-intensity spot news, including terror strikes, serial blasts and security threats in the national capital.

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