Mumbai: How JJ Marg cops hunted down Junera Sheikh's killers

Sensitive, rigorous investigation by JJ Marg cops to find missing girl gets them Deepak Jog Award for Best Detection of 2016

Junera Sheikh’s mum Saeeda with a photograph of her daughter, who went missing on December 5 from her Nagpada home. Investigation revealed that her kidnappers — two college-going kids — had accidentally killed her on the evening of her abduction, following an overdose of chloroform. Pic/Suresh KarkeraJunera Sheikh’s mum Saeeda with a photograph of her daughter, who went missing on December 5 from her Nagpada home. Investigation revealed that her kidnappers — two college-going kids — had accidentally killed her on the evening of her abduction, following an overdose of chloroform. Pic/Suresh Karkera

In december last year, when JJ Marg police cracked the gory murder of abducted four-year-old Junera Sheikh from Nagpada, little did they realise that they were also scripting one of the finest investigations of 2016. Earlier this week, seven officers from that erstwhile detection team took home the Deepak Jog Memorial trophy, one of the most prestigious awards given to the best detection team in Mumbai. The award, which was first instituted in 1997, has been revived after nearly six years.

Senior police inspector Dilip Shinde and his team comprising police inspector Hemant Bawdhankar, sub-inspector Dhiraj Bhalerao and constables Deepak Patil, Sopan Jadhav, Jamil Mehboob Sayyed and Imran Ahmed Ali Mulla, were given the award at the Azad Maidan Police Club on Thursday. A committee comprising the additional commissioners of police crime, central region and special branch, shortlisted the best team from among 12 others. The winner was announced after the approval of all joint commissioners and the Commissioner of Police Dattatray Padsalgikar.

The detection was a unique case in police records, Additional Commissioner (Crime) KMM Prasanna told mid-day. Over 10 teams were formed to search for the young girl, the network of informers was activated like never before, and more than 100 CCTVs were scrutinized, before the police finally got their hands on the two accused 20 days later. "The consistency and accuracy the cops showed when zeroing in on the accused was exceptional. The investigation also sent the message loud and clear that no matter who you are and where you live or how you try to misguide investigators, we will finally nab you. That's what earned them the prize," Prasanna said.

Her decomposed body was found dumped under a water tank on the terrace of Haji Kasam Chawl in Nagpada, after the police traced the two accused on December 24. Pic/Suresh KarkeraHer decomposed body was found dumped under a water tank on the terrace of Haji Kasam Chawl in Nagpada, after the police traced the two accused on December 24. Pic/Suresh Karkera

Total recall
Last year, on December 5, the teeming residential pocket of Nagpada saw one of its most brazen kidnappings. Four-year-old Junera Sheikh had stepped out of her house in Sharbatwala Chawl to play around 8 pm, but never returned home. "It was 1 am, and I was sitting at the station house when a visibly disturbed man in his late 30s stormed inside," recalled sub-inspector Bhalerao. The man, who identified himself as Muntaj Khan, had come to register a missing person's complaint for his daughter.

After DCP (Zone-1) Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma was informed about the incident, he gave instructions to the officers on how to begin the search operation. "We took pictures of Junera from the family and circulated it among various police groups," said DCP. "We were eyeing the Masjid Bunder railway station, and all entry and exit points of the city. We also analysed CCTV footage across the vicinity," said DCP Sharma.

Junera Sheikh went missing on the evening of December 5 from her house in Sharbatwala Chawl, Nagpada. Pic/Suresh KarkeraJunera Sheikh went missing on the evening of December 5 from her house in Sharbatwala Chawl, Nagpada. Pic/Suresh Karkera

"Our ultimate aim was to rescue the child, as there was no ransom call, or any kind of contact from the kidnapper," said one crime branch officer.

Over two weeks had passed, when finally, on December 19, Junera's father got a ransom call. The man asked Khan to arrange for Rs 1 crore if he wanted to see his child alive. "The police asked me to continue talking to the kidnapper. I even agreed to pay part of the sum, but every time the kidnapper called, he changed the venue to meet. In the span of a few days, he had made over 53 calls, but at no point, did he allow me speak to my child," recalled Khan.

On December 23, the caller finally settled on a ransom amount of R28 lakh and asked me drop the bag between Kalwa and Mumbra stations. The police had laid a trap. "Before I could even drop the bag at the location, the cops spotted a duo in the dark. The duo, however, managed to escape," remembers Khan.

Muntaj Khan Junera Sheikh's fatherMuntaj Khan Junera Sheikh's father

The next day, the police arrived at Sharbatwala chawl. "Based on the call records, we had specific leads that the kidnappers lived in the same building," said Bhalerao. The team managed to take the residents into confidence and maintain absolute secrecy about the lead, in order to throw the kidnappers off track After enquiries, the police picked up one 17-year-old, Akram (name changed), who was Junera's neighbour. "We were confident that he had something to do with the crime. We interrogated him for three hours. Finally, he broke down and revealed that he had killed the girl," said Bhalerao.

Akram, a student of a South Mumbai college, had thought of making a quick buck by kidnapping Junera. Since Junera's father had a scrap dealing shop, he thought he'd be able to cough up the huge sum. On December 5, he had successfully lured Junera into his home. However, the girl died due to chloroform overdose. He got scared and called his 16-year-old friend Sayyed (name changed) for help. The duo then dumped the body under a water tank on the terrace of the nearby Haji Kasam Chawl. Both the accused were immediately arrested and sent to juvenile custody. They are currently being tried at a sessions court.

The team that was led by inspector Hemant Bawdhankar and PSI Dhiraj Bhalerao receive the award from CP Dattatray Padsalgikar (centre) The team that was led by inspector Hemant Bawdhankar and PSI Dhiraj Bhalerao receive the award from CP Dattatray Padsalgikar (centre) 

'Cops were of great help'
Though Khan lost his daughter, he is still grateful to the police for having cooperated with his family, and tirelessly following up with them. "They worked day and night to look for my daughter. Unfortunately, she was already dead when the probe began. Nevertheless, we must congratulate and support the police," said Khan.

Sub-inspector Dhiraj Bhalerao of JJ Marg police helmed the team that detected the case Sub-inspector Dhiraj Bhalerao of JJ Marg police helmed the team that detected the case 

While the cops, who were part of the investigation, are now posted at different police stations, the case still holds an important place in their careers. "I am glad that the investigation was chosen for the Jog trophy. It's by far my best investigation," says Bhalerao. "To get the award means a lot to us. But, it was a team effort. We wouldn't have been able to catch the accused without the help of Junera's family and the residents," said DCP Kumar.

Police inspector Hemant Bawdhankar of JJ Marg police helmed the team that detected the case Police inspector Hemant Bawdhankar of JJ Marg police helmed the team that detected the case 

Top detection prize
The Deepak Jog trophy was instituted in 1997 by former DGP of Maharashtra Surykant Jog in memory of his 36-year-old son Deepak, an IPS officer from the Maharashtra cadre, who passed away while on duty in November 1996. The award is given to the best detection squad each year. The award has been revived after nearly six years. The last award was given in 2011, to the property cell, crime branch for detection of the assassination of senior mid-day journalist, J Dey.

What the cops got right
>> Activated network of informers
>> Checked more than 100 CCTVs
>> Took residents into confidence and maintained absolute secrecy to throw kidnappers off track

20 No. of days investigation took to complete

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