5 murders that destroyed the Tyagi family, and shook a Ghaziabad sleepy hamlet
Located off the dusty national highway in Ghaziabad, Brajesh Tyagi’s rundown house in the middle of Basantpur Saitli village is completely unremarkable. Five airless, dark rooms with chipped paint on the walls and exposed brick for floors earlier supported a family of four, now reduced to two. Charpoys are spread for visitors to sit but the house is barely furnished otherwise.
Tyagi, 60, is a garment worker who cycles to the factory in Muradnagar every day, returning after dark. He earns roughly ₹9,000 a month, and a negligible amount from the 1.5 acre of land he owns. The family has lived in the area for at least three generations.
The Tyagi household is a strange sight in a village with wide cemented roads and dotted with swank farmhouses. Yet, looks can be deceiving. The shabby home is built on a plot worth at least ₹50 lakh, and is ringed by agricultural land with a current market value of nearly ₹3 crore.
The reason: The land lines the Eastern Peripheral Expressway and the Meerut Expressway that form the backbone of commercial traffic into the Capital, and where plot prices have appreciated as much as 20 times over the past two decades.
Police say the value of the land was the main reason behind five grisly murders in the Tyagi family over the past two decades. The victims include Tyagi’s two sons, two nieces and his brother.
The suspect: Tyagi’s youngest brother Leelu, 48, who dropped out of school in class eight, and allegedly killed his brother, two stepdaughters and his brother’s children using deceit and contract killers. But what’s intriguing is the family’s puzzling reticence in involving the police when three children disappeared over a period of 10 years.
“Neither did the Tyagi family realise Leelu could be involved, nor did they have the courage to entertain such thoughts,” said Iraj Raja, superintendent of police, Ghaziabad (Rural).
Leelu is currently in police custody and police say he is owning up to the older killings as well, though it will be difficult to try him for crimes allegedly committed over 20 years ago, given the lack of evidence and timely investigation.
The stout, short man makes no bones about why he carried out the murders: for the sake of his 19-year-old son Vibhor, known to the family as Shanky. “I did it to ensure my son gets the property,” he told journalists shortly after his arrest on September 23.
The middle Tyagi brother, Sudhir, was Leelu’s first target, say police.
In 2000, Sudhir went missing from Meerut where he lived with Anita and two daughters, Parul and Payal. The family launched a brief search, but the police were not approached. Sudhir was never traced. Within a year, Leelu married Anita and soon they were living at Sudhir’s Muradnagar home with the two girls.
Police say Leelu has confessed to shooting Sudhir dead with a countrymade pistol with the help of a Meerut-based contract killer, Subhash. Subhash, who was allegedly paid R1 lakh, died five years ago. Sudhir’s body was allegedly dumped in Gang Nahar canal, but never recovered. “Sudhir killed two birds with one stone. He got to marry Anita and own Sudhir’s share of the property,” said Satish Kumar, station house officer (SHO) of Muradnagar.
Tyagi said Sudhir’s disappearance didn’t draw the family’s attention because he was already estranged and had moved away to Meerut. “Anita herself didn’t show much interest in finding him, so we did not either,” he added.
With Sudhir out of the way, Leelu was assured of a higher share in the family property. But he was still worried, police say. “While Leelu wished to spend his life with Anita, he feared that someday her daughters would seek their share,” SHO Kumar said.
Sometime in 2003, Leelu allegedly poisoned his older stepdaughter, eight-year-old Payal, while Anita was away at her parents’ home in Ghaziabad. When she came back, he was able to convince her that it was a natural death and cremated the girl without involving the police.
Leelu told the family that Payal died of an insect bite. “We didn’t see any reason to not believe him, especially when Anita seemed satisfied,” said Tyagi.
Police say Anita’s behavior was suspicious but add that they’ve not been able to question her because she is on the run, along with her son Shanky.
Three years after Payal’s death, her 15-year-old sister Parul went missing. “Leelu convinced Anita that Parul had eloped. The police weren’t involved and Parul never returned home,” SHO Kumar said.
The police claim Leelu has told investigators that he strangled Parul while Anita was again at her parents’ home in Ghaziabad and then dumped her body in the Gang Nahar canal in Muradnagar itself. Again, Anita didn’t mention her suspicions to the rest of the family, or speak to the police.
Family members remember that Leelu was so convincing in talking about Parul’s alleged elopement that no one suspected foul play. “Leelu is very intelligent,” said SP Raja.
For years afterwards, the Tyagi family hoped for Parul’s return but took solace in Anita’s behavior that nothing had gone wrong. “If there was anything suspicious about the death or disappearance of the daughters, wouldn’t a mother (Anita) have stood up against Leelu?” asked Rajni, Tyagi’s wife.
Leelu later told reporters that he killed the girls to avoid having to bear their wedding expenses.
With his stepdaughters dead, Leelu showered his affection on Shanky, born to Anita and him in 2002. Villagers said Leelu spoilt Shanky, who was arrested in June for allegedly robbing a foreign woman and released on bail in a month. Despite the brush with police, Leelu bought him a Royal Enfield motorcycle.
Leelu also grew increasingly greedy about the share of property for his beloved son – and set his eyes on his eldest brother’s family. His first target was Tyagi’s 14-year-old son, Neeshu.
In 2012, Leelu allegedly paid two locals to strangle Neeshu and dump his body in the Gang Nahar canal. Leelu told police that he always needed people to assist him since he didn’t know how to drive – a curious flaw that later helped police piece together the murder because there were so many accomplices.
This time, Tyagi went to the police and filed a missing person’s complaint. But it never translated into an FIR and Raja said the police failed to trace Neeshu. The Tyagis continued to harbour hopes of Neeshu’s return but neither murder nor Leelu’s role in his disappearance ever occurred to them. “Leelu actively helped me search for Neeshu. He was an ideal brother,” said Tyagi.
Emboldened , Leelu apparently set his sights on the one person standing between his son and the Tyagi fortune: Tyagi’s elder son Reshu, 24.
Reshu worked as a decoration services provider for banquet halls in Ghaziabad, but was looking out for better jobs. Leelu used Reshu’s desperation to lure him away from the house on August 8. “Leelu called up Reshu and told him that he had a new business idea in which he would make my son a partner,” said Rajni.
On the main national highway outside the village, five men in a Hyundai i20 awaited Reshu, said police. The five men included Leelu, a retired UP Police sub-inspector Surender Tyagi, Surender’s associate Rahul Sharma and Leelu’s friend, Vikrant Jat and his nephew, Mukesh.
“They set out for Bulandshahr. They barely travelled three-four kilometres before the gang used a chain and a rope to strangulate Reshu. They kept his body in an upright position between them in the rear seat for the next two hours of the drive,” SHO Kumar said.
In Bulandshahr, they visited an agricultural field belonging to Mukesh where the five men got drunk, police said. They then allegedly stuffed the body in a sack, loaded it in the car’s boot, and dumped it in Gang Nahar canal. The retired policeman was allegedly paid R3.5 lakh and Vikrant R1.3 lakh.
Rajni sensed something was amiss when her son didn’t return home that evening on August 8. “I didn’t want to believe it, but something in me said that Leelu had something to do with Reshu’s disappearance,” she added.
When Tyagi returned from the factory that evening, Rajni made her suspicion clear. Tyagi cycled to Leelu’s home, some three kilometres away, and blamed him for Reshu’s disappearance. “He offered no defence, he just silently stared,” Tyagi said.
Unlike previous occasions, however, the villagers stepped in to offer advice. “We asked him if he didn’t care about Reshu. That triggered him (Tyagi) to file a missing complaint on August 15,” said a neighbour, requesting anonymity.
In his complaint, however, Tyagi, didn’t even mention Leelu. “My head said Leelu killed my son. But I loved Leelu,” he said.
After August 8, Leelu stopped visiting the Tyagi home or even calling his brother. But police said that he made at least two visits to the local police station to enquire about the progress in the investigation. “He was gauging if he was in trouble,” said Kumar.
Eventually, police’s probe narrowed down to Leelu after Reshu’s friends said the victim was last seen with his uncle. The last call on Reshu’s phone was also from Leelu. Villages told the police about the previous deaths and disappearances in the Tyagi family.
Police realised that in the case of each death, Leelu was the sole benefactor. “The police finally persuaded me to file a case against Leelu. I didn’t believe he was involved, but people around me kept warning that I would be killed next,” said Tyagi.
On September 22, a murder case was registered and Leelu was arrested the next day. Arrests of the retired policeman and his assistant Rahul Sharma followed on September 24.
Police primarily used Leelu’s confession and his brother’s statements to explain the unusual behaviour of the Tyagi family in never reporting earlier disappearances to the police. “Leelu wielded great influence over the family. Brijesh loved as well as feared his brother. He wouldn’t even entertain such thoughts about Leelu until he actually heard his confession,” Raja said.
The only time Leelu’s composure broke is when he begged investigators to not involve his son Shanky, said police. “He repeatedly requested us not to target his son,” Kumar said.
Police have little hope of recovering Reshu’s body but say they have enough evidence in recordings of phone calls between Leelu, the retired policeman and his assistant Rahul Sharma. “In the call recordings, Leelu is heard telling the two men that they must go underground since they have been busted. He also tells them that the body is unlikely to be recovered,” said Raja.
Police say that these recordings, recovered from each of their phones, could either be recorded automatically, or saved with a purpose of blackmailing later. Other evidence includes the phone locations of the victim and the suspects.
The rope allegedly used in the murder has been recovered, the iron chain and the car remain untraced. Two alleged accomplices, Vikrant Jat and Mukesh, have surrendered to the Bulandshahr police in connection with other previous crimes. Ghaziabad Police have sought their remand for interrogation.
Villagers and neighbours said they did hear about the earlier disappearances but avoided interfering. “This is an urban village. The family did not seem interested in accepting our theories,” said a villager requesting anonymity. “The deaths were spread out over several years. That helped him (Leelu) avoid suspicion,” the villager added.
On September 23, police brought the brothers face to face for the first time since the night Reshu disappeared.
The story was so improbable that Tyagi refused to believe the police at the Muradnagar police station as investigators narrated the sordid saga of five murders. “I wanted to believe that he was being framed and forced to make these confessions,” said Tyagi.
Thirty minutes later, he was hurtling himself at Leelu’s throat in rage as policemen struggled to hold him back. He cursed his brother and his own stupidity in never involving the police earlier. “I don’t know if I was angry at him for being a remorseless killer, or at myself for believing him to be an ideal brother all these years,” said Tyagi.
In the half-an-hour, he had to come to terms with the revelations that his two missing sons would never return, that he had remained blind to three other murders in his family, and that he and his wife were probably next on the list.
He also found out that police had almost no hope of gathering evidence in the previous murders. “We are focused on the latest murder. Whether he is convicted for one murder or five, it’s the same,” SP Raja said.
Leelu quietly stood and heard his elder brother’s curses and words of anguish, said policemen present at the time. “I am sorry,” he said, before being dragged back to jail.