7 years, 15 victims: How Gurugram serial killer Sunil Kumar got away
Set amid sprawling greenery, the chhatris (cenotaphs) that mark the kingdom of Gwalior are a major tourist attraction. Most reviews on travel websites describe them as “peaceful” and “relaxing”. None of the visitors here could have imagined that the remains of a five-year-old girl had been scattered under a Gulmohar tree on the edges of the walled compound.
For over five years, the remains were lying at an isolated spot covered with thick vegetation before they were finally discovered by the local police on November 24.
“The bones were not even properly buried, but only covered under a thin layer of dirt. We found them easily after clearing away the shrubs surrounding the tree,” said Dharmendra Singh, assistant station house officer at the Kampoo police station in Gwalior. The remains were immediately sent for forensic examination.
On November 20, Gwalior police headquarters received a call from the Gurugram crime branch asking them if their records from five years ago mentioned a five-year-old girl missing from near the city’s Achaleshwar Mahadev temple. The office of Gwalior’s superintendent of police asked the nearest police station, in Kampoo, to scan their files. “We found an unsolved case matching the details,” said Singh.
Mode of operation
Sunil Kumar couldn’t say exactly when he committed his first rape and murder, but he told a special investigation team (SIT) of the Gurugram police that over the past seven years, he killed at least 15 victims.
His method largely remained the same. He would lurk at community kitchens to pick little girls from poor families. Then he would offer them sweets to lure them to isolated spots nearby which he had picked in advance. After raping and killing them, he would leave their bodies at the same spot.
A day labourer who only worked occasionally, Kumar targeted girls across a wide swath of area — Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh — according to his statements to police in these four states.
Several factors helped Sunil Kumar evade police attention over the years — constant movement, planning everything in detail, overloaded police stations — but none as much as his choice of victims. They were all as poor as him.
As Samuel Little, an American ex-day labourer who recently owned up to 90 murders over 50 years in neighbourhoods marked by poverty, drug addiction and unsolved crimes, told his investigators, according to an article in the New York Times: “I can go into my world and do what I want to do … I won’t go into your world.”
At 10am on September 23, 2013, the five-year-old daughter of a daily wage labourer left her house in Hanuman Tekri with her 10-year-old sister to line up for free food at the weekly community kitchen at the Achaleshwar Mahadev temple. By noon, she went missing.
Later that afternoon, the girl’s mother filed a first information report (FIR) at the Kampoo police station alleging that her daughter was kidnapped by an old friend of hers with whom she had fought a year ago. The woman who was accused by the family had been spotted at the temple by the missing girl’s sister, according to the FIR. Her family suspected that the woman sold the girl to a rich family. The police raided the woman’s house and questioned her, but found nothing suspicious.
As the five-year-old remained missing, over the next two years her mother accused a series of people of kidnapping, including another familiar woman spotted at the temple and her ex-husband. In jail at the time his daughter went missing, the girl’s father, too, named several people as accused, including a man he once brawled with over Rs 2000. “We raided every location they pointed us to, and questioned everyone they suspected. To no avail,” said Dharmendra Singh.
Nothing came out of the missing-person notice published in the newspapers describing the five-year-old (‘fair complexion, round face, white kurta-pajama, Hindi-speaking’), either. From Sector 57 in Noida to Dholpur in Rajasthan, the Kampoo police team visited several places where people had claimed to have seen someone like her, but only in vain.
By 2016, the police unearthed a lot of information about the case, including the fact that the girl’s mother, who had five children with her husband, had run away with a lover a month before her daughter’s disappearance. But they had still made no headway in finding her. No new development in the case was noted after 2016. The family continued to believe the five-year-old was alive and enslaved.
On the morning of November 20, 2018, a 21-year-old man in the custody of Gurugram Police made a startling confession. Sunil Kumar told the officers that he kidnapped, raped and killed a five-year-old girl in Gwalior in 2013. He gave them exact details of every step of this process, starting with how he lured her away from the temple by giving her Rs 10.
On November 23, a team from Gurugram Police drove Kumar down to Gwalior for a day’s interrogation at the Kampoo station. A regular visitor at the community kitchen hosted by the Achaleshwar temple, Kumar told them he had been watching the area for some time before executing the crime.
“He even told us about the spot on the boundary wall from where he jumped over into the garden with the girl,” said Dharmendra Singh, pointing to a low tree straddling the wall. “He told us that after raping the girl, he picked up a stone and smashed her head. He made no attempt to cover the body. It must have lain there rotting for a long time, possibly carried away in parts by wild animals in the thick woods nearby,” Singh added.
Kumar would have carried on preying on little girls untraced if he hadn’t been caught on a CCTV camera in Gurugram. On November 11, 2018, Gurugram’s Sector 65 police station was alerted about the dead body of a three-year-old girl found in a vacant shop at Sector 66. “We found her in a pool of blood with three bricks on her body and her face wrapped in a polythene bag,” said Usha Kundu, a member of Gurugram’s SIT. Her clothes were lying near her body.
Deepak Mathur, forensic expert at the Civil Hospital which conducted the post-mortem examination, said the child’s body had suffered multiple injuries and was brutalised with a 10-cm wooden stick
By the next day, police had acquired the footage from three security cameras installed at an apartment complex near the shop. It showed a young man arriving in the colony with the girl at around 11am the previous day. “He is seen sitting and talking to her outside the room. He then takes her inside and, after 20 minutes, he is seen fleeing the spot without the girl,” said Shamsher Singh, assistant commissioner of police (ACP), Gurugram.
The man was also identified by two girls who were playing with the victim in her slum around 300 metres from the shop. They told the police he was a neighbour who offered the three-year-old some chocolate and then took her away.
Kumar later told police he came to Gurugram to see his mother and two sisters who lived at the same slum cluster, Gupta Colony, which mostly houses migrant workers. Kumar’s mother and sisters worked as domestic help in some apartments nearby. Although he left shortly after committing the crime, the police took his mother and sisters in for questioning.
They told investigators that Kumar was likely hiding somewhere on the border between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh where several members of their extended family lived. On November 19, Kumar was spotted on the CCTV cameras at the Newara station in Jhansi. A police team went to his sister’s house in a village nearby and told her to warn them if he comes.
When he finally arrived at the house, his sister and her in-laws locked him up in a room as per police instructions. He was arrested and sent to Gurugram the same day.
By November 27, family members of two minor girls from Gurugram who had been raped and murdered in 2016 and 2017 had identified Kumar.
“During interrogations, it was revealed that in November 2016, the accused had also raped and murdered a four-year-old girl and dumped her body near the bushes behind Omaxe Mall in Sector 49. In another case two months later, he raped and murdered a five-year-old girl and dumped her body in a drain in Rajiv Chowk. In both these cases, he was seen by the family members of the victims at the spots from where they went missing,” said Shamsher Singh.
After 15 years of marriage and five years of fertility treatment, a migrant couple from MP gave birth to twin daughters in 2012. The 58-year-old father, who runs a foot cart in Gurugram’s Sector 15 with his wife, said the two girls were as different from each other as night and day. “One was shy, one fearless.” He said he was a bit fonder of the fearless one. “My younger daughter was very active, very smart. She looked innocent with her big eyes, but she was always jumping walls and creating mischief. She used to shoo cows and dogs away for her timid older twin. She would tell her older sister, ‘don’t be scared, I am always there for you’,” he said, boiling a pot of tea on his cart.
On January 5, 2017, the girls went to the community lunch at the Peer Baba shrine in Civil Lines hand-in-hand, followed by their 89-year-old grandmother. “After we had eaten, she [the younger twin] said she was going to a public bathroom across the road from the temple. The place was crowded, with police vehicles posted on both sides, so I wasn’t concerned,” said the grandmother.
“She never came back,” she added.
“The older one doesn’t leave us anymore, not even to go out and play,” said her father. On January 25, the police found the girl’s body in a drain on the edges of Dronacharya park, a kilometre from the shrine.
“She had a thin metal rod inserted in her head. Her waist had turned blue,” the girl’s mother said. The family has waited for the police to find her killer every day since. “The night before I got a call from the police, she was in my dreams again, crying the entire time,” said her father.
“They called me in twice to identify the accused,” said the grandmother. “I remembered seeing him at the temple. My eyes welled up.”
The family of the four-year-old girl, who went missing from a community lunch on 24 November, 2016 from outside a temple in Gurugram’s Sector 49, saw Kumar’s face in a newspaper. “I thought it’s the same guy whose family lived behind our house,” said her maternal uncle.
For some months in 2016, Kumar’s sisters lived near the temple in Ghasoula slum, where he occasionally dropped in for a visit.
The girl’s uncle said initially the local police did not believe them when they reported the disappearance. “They told us we were drunk and lying, and refused to file the report,” he said. Later, he alleged that the police also tried to blame family members for the four-year-old’s disappearance.
“They put a pistol to my ear and asked me, ‘where have you sold her sister?’” said her cousin. “They even asked me why her clothes had been found in my jhuggi,” said her uncle. “I told them that she used to come here often — to play, to bathe, to just hang around.”
Shamsher Singh said they have not received any complaint against investigating officers in this matter yet. “If they approach senior officials, strict action will be taken against the officer for assaulting the victim’s family. We will check the statements recorded during that period.”
On November 30, 2016, three days after the girl went missing, the police took the family to a morgue to try and identify the body of a four-year-old. “I identified her,” said the girl’s grandmother. “One of her arms was broken. She had cigarette burns on her body.”
Who is Sunil Kumar?
Sunil Kumar is short, skinny and, currently, scared. For past few weeks, he has been passed on from custody of one state police to another. Dressed in an oversized denim shirt and loose beige pants, he looks dazed as the officers from the Gurugram Police fling questions at him. Asked if he drinks before committing rape and murder, he said he is used to taking drugs for sexual potency. Asked why he picked young girls, he said it was because “they were easier to handle”.
Investigators say his words come out slow and stilted. His family members say he doesn’t talk much. “He only speaks when he is asked to speak, and you can’t even rely on him to always do that,” said his sister, Sita Sriram, 26, at the house of her in-laws in Magarpur village in Jhansi.
Of the six siblings — four sisters and two brothers — who grew up poor in Ganj village in Naugaon district, Sunil, the youngest, was also the oddest. “When Papa, a day labourer, was around, he used to force Sunil to go to school, but even then he used to go and hide. After our father died 10 years ago, my brother went entirely off track,” she added.
“He first left home 10 years ago, and has been wandering since,” said his older brother, Anil Banskar, at the family’s old house (two rooms, one mattress, little else). “When he was younger, we used to pick him up from here and there and bring him back home. Once, I even beat him up to put some sense into him. He cracked his head, but bore it quietly. Then he left again,” Anil said.
“I last saw him five or six years ago. I remember he used to beat up his mother,” said Mahendra Ahirwar, a young man in the village.
“He used to get really angry at all of us,” said his mother, Lilawati, 48, sitting next to her son Anil. “He was always more angry when drunk,” she added.
For years now, he rarely visited his family and that too only for a few days at a time. “Still, whenever he showed up, I always made food for him. At times he ate, at times he didn’t. I would ask him to change his dirty clothes, but he didn’t care. On some of these visits, he handed me some money saved from his earnings, like ₹500-₹600.”
In the aftermath of his arrest, Kumar’s family members said they have found themselves broken and uprooted. “The moment the word of his arrest spread, a mob of neighbours from our slum barged into our house and attacked us. They tried to snatch our children from us, saying they wanted to do to them what my brother had done to the girl from the slum,” said Sita, who said she had to flee the place along with her sister, husband and mother.
“Earlier, we had no idea that he was a criminal,” said Lilawati. “But now that we know what he has done, we are scared.”