Despite a five-city manhunt lasting three months, and the deadline for chargesheet filing almost here, prime accused Vidyadhar Rajbhar is wanting. The story of why the police have nothing and how others before him ‘disappeared’ from the face of the earth
It’s been three months since the mutilated bodies of artist Hema Updhyay and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani were discovered floating in a Kandivili drain, but cops are still at a loss when it comes to finding one of the main accused in the case — Vidyadhar Rajbhar.
The police case against main accused Chitan Updhayay, Hema’s estranged husband, who they believe conspired with Vidyadhar to have her murdered, rests on Vidyadhar’s confession and any other evidence he may provide against Chintan. Uptil now, all that the cops have against Chintan, currently in judicial custody at Thane jail, will come up for hearing on Monday. Worse, cops only have uptil March 10 to file a chargesheet in the case. If they don’t have build a strong case until then, it will be easy for Chintan to get bail and also an acquittal.
The problem, however, is that Vidyadhar remains elusive.
5 teams, 20 cops
Since the bodies of the Hema and Bhambhani were identified, five people — including Chintan — have been arrested for their role in the double murder. All the four — one of them was later identified as a minor and thus cannot be named — are from Vidyadhar’s village Kavirampur, in Uttar Pradesh, which is 25 km from Varanasi. Pradeep, Vijay and Shivkumar have been accused of helping Vidyadhar. Vidyadhar it is believed called Hema and Bhambhani to his workshop at Kandivali — he worked with fibre glass and would often collaborate with Hema and Chintan and other artists — on the pretext of providing her evidence against Chintan that would help her in her acrimonious divorce against him. The police case is that, then Vidyadhar, with the help of the other four accused over-powered Hema and Bhambhani and used chloroform to make them unconscious after which the two were killed and their bodies hacked.
The last real trace that police had of Vidyadhar Rajbhar was on December 17, when they tracked his IMIE number to a cellphone tower in Itarsi, Madhya Pradesh
While the other accused were arrested within days with help from UP police, cops haven’t had much luck locating Vidyadhar.
Without Vidyadhar, the police’s case against Chintan Upadhyay remains weak. Chintan’s bail application comes up for hearing tomorrow at the Dindoshi court
In December, 20 teams of five officers from various police stations — Kandivali, Malad, Bangur Nagar, Charkop and Borivali — were formed. These teams are being led by an officer of the rank of assistant police inspector or police sub-inspector and four officers of a junior rank. “The officers have been hand-picked up from the crime detection branch of the respective police stations. They are believed to be good at their work,” says a senior officer close to the investigation, not wishing to be identified.
Vidyadhar Rajbhar’s mother at their house in Charkop. Police say that they have put 15 people on surveillance to help locate his whereabouts
Yet, the closest that the cops have come to arresting Vidyadhar was on two months ago on December 17.
The trail runs cold
On December 17, the Mumbai police, while tracking the IMIE number of Vidyadhar’s phone, got a location from Itarsi in Madhya Pradesh. The officer sunday mid-day spoke to said, “A phone’s location will show up in the cellphone tower till two hours after the phone has been switched off. It’s possible that Vidyadhar switched his phone on and then switched it off,” he adds. Though Mumbai police informed their counterparts in Itarsi and sent photos of Vidyadhar to them, a team also rushed to city on a flight and reached the area the same day. They spent the next six days scouting for the wanted man but got no inputs from anyone.
‘Chintan’s friends helping Vidyadhar hide’: Sanchu Menon, a family friend of Hema Upadhyay’s, who is also handling all the legal work on behalf of her family, says they are satisfied with the police investigation. “There’s a possibility that Chintan’s artist friends are helping Vidyadhar remain in hiding. Otherwise, without any financial help it’s very difficult to hide for such a long time,” Menon said. He said it’s possible that Vidyadhar is carrying money with him, but it must have got over by now. He added that it’s easy to falsify identification papers
Vidyadhar has relatives in Bhopal and police believe that he may have gone there to find a safe place. However, the relatives had no information on him.
In the last three months, the cops have been to Jaipur thrice - once in December and twice in January, after Chintan’s arrest. Chintan’s family lives there and Vidyadhar was known to have lived there on and off, while working with Chintan. Police believe that they’d get a clue from the people he interacted with there, but no luck.
They also went to Delhi, where Chintan resides and has an office. They believed that they’d be able to find clues to Vidyadhar’s location there. Besides this, cops also went to Kavirampur thrice.
However, police say, that though many of Vidyadhar’s relatives stay there, none had a clue of his possible location. “They said they barely know Vidyadhar. His mother would come to the village, but not him,” the officer said.
The clues also led the cops to Bengaluru in January where Vidyadhar’s supplier of chemicals is based.
“We found that this man had been supplying chemicals to Vidyadhar’s studio since his father’s time. We thought that there’d be a possibility that Vidyadhar had tried to contact the supplier and found a place to hide.
We stayed in the city for five days and met the supplier, but found no clue of Vidyadhar’s wherabouts.”
What the police did find however, is that the bengaluru supplier also supplied chloroform to Vidyadhar - the chemical used to render Hema and Bhambhani unconscious.
For now, 15 people have been put under surveillance in case Vidyadhar tries to contact any one of them. While some are artists that Vidyadhar may be in touch with, others are relatives.
He’d get a job anywhere
How can a man survive on the run without money?
Police believe that Vidyadhar can find a job anywhere. “He is a good artist. There are lots of places in the country where he will find similar work. In fact, if he goes to interiors of the country or far flung places where people won’t be keeping track of what’s happening in Mumbai, Vidyadhar will be able to take on an assumed identity and get a job easily,” the officer said.
The cops however don’t feel that Vidyadhar has the cunning to keep him away from cops. It’s fear that is preventing him from contacting his relatives. Living in Mumbai, they believe, would have taught him the working of cellphones and towers and he’d know not to switch it on.
“There is pressure on us from senior officers to trace Vidyadhar as the artist fraternity has come together in support of Chintan and are claiming that he has been framed,” he added.
If Vidyadhar isn’t located, the police case against Chintan — which is entirely circumstantial until now — becomes weak. The police have call records between Chintan and Vidyadhar, however that is not proof of conspiracy as the two could say that they were discussing work.
Sunday mid-day also tried speaking to Vidyadhar’s mother. The reporters went to Charkope where his house is, but his mother refused to speak.
Just waiting for husband's release: While Vidyadhar remains absconding, the family of Vijay Rajbhar, the tempo driver who dumped the bodies in the drain, has fallen on bad times. Vijay has been lodged at the Thane Jail along with other accused. Vijay’s family stays at Laljipada in Kandivali near the Vidyadhar’s studio. Vijay’s father is a scrap dealer while his wife makes hair clips and imitation jewelry at home. With Vijay not earning money, the family is short on money. His family hopes that is waiting for the chargesheet to be filed so that they can apply for bail soon.
Other cases of elusive criminals
In July 2014, the Mumbai Crime Branch arrested Pravin Chabinath Singh, who was wanted for kidnapping a boy from Bandra in 2010. Singh was the mastermind of the kidnapping and along with two accomplices. They had kidnapped the boy in February 2010. Singh had called the parents from public phone booths in Vakola, Andheri and Borivli, demanding a ransom amount that ran into into lakhs. He threatened to kill the boy if not paid. The gang held the boy for five days. Eventually, based on information from sources and tip-offs, cops found the location where the child had been kept and managed to rescue him.
The three were arrested and later got bail. Then, Singh left his Bandra home and fled to Nallasopara where he turned into a builder, constructing small buildings, while his accomplices were sent to jail. Pravin was arrested after a source tipped off the cops about his newfound occupation and the police arrested him.
– Saurabh Vaktania
After evading arrest and giving police sleepless nights for five long years Abrar Ahmad Maulana Shaikh, 30, who along with his three partners robbed a Mumbai businessman of R30 lakh at gunpoint on the Ahmednagar-Pune National Highway in 2009. After the crime, Shaikh had headed to Bengaluru but returned to Mumbai to get married. He kept the loot money safe with him and cut off all communication from his Govandi-based family. If he’d talk to them, it would from PCOs and then rarely. After five years, he decided to get married. Returning to Govandi, he found employment in RCF as a welder. However, his activities aroused suspicion. Shaikh would spend very less time at his house and would spend hours not working in the lanes next to his house. Cops were tipped off and they barged into his house and detained him. During interrogation Shaikh admitted to his crime.
– Vinay Dalvi
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