A high-flying burglar wanted for over hundred house break-ins managed to hoodwink cops in Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Ahmedabad and Jaipur for years with his hip approach to the crime - he’d drive a Land Cruiser up to the targeted house with an assistant by his side to fool security personnel, and fly between cities.
He, however, could not pull the wool over the ageing eyes of 69-year-old civilian even for a span of six months after robbing his Worli residence. Baba Ghatkar, a Worli-based retired engineer, put his nose to the grindstone to crack the burglary at his house, scouring video footage, scanning newspapers and speaking with dozens of police wallahs, to zero in on his target.
All his endeavours paid off when he established that notorious housebreaker Munna alias Salim Ali Hussain Khan alias Qureshi, picked up by the Pune Crime Branch recently, was the man who had broken into his residence at Kalptaru building in November 2012. Qureshi and his gang, who cops said were the most high-profile housebreakers of the past decade, have committed more than 100 thefts at houses in the different cities. But when they laid siege at Ghatkar’s residence, the civilian decided not to sit back and rely on cops but initiate a parallel enquiry. He cracked the case before the cops.
“I must have met at least dozens of police officers in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai and given them the description of the accused. After six months, a news piece in a regional paper caught my attention, with which I managed to solve the burglary,” said Ghatkar.
On the night of November 21, while Ghatkar was away with his family in Jaipur, his house was burgled. Upon returning, he found that his entire house had been rummaged. Around one-and-a-half kg of silver, an ATM card along with the bank document stating its PIN, and some cash were missing. The police were called and after conducting a panchnama, a case was registered with the Worli police station.
As the police began investigations, Ghatkar found that the burglar had used his stolen ATM card to withdraw Rs 30,000. The burglary had taken place around 2.30 am while the cash was withdrawn from a Citibank ATM in Vashi, the police said. “As the probe proceeded, I informed the investigating officer that I would make parallel investigations and he appreciated that. With the help of Worli police, I retrieved the CCTV footage from the ATM centre in Vashi to identify the burglar,” Ghatkar said.
“While going through the footage, I realised that - going by the beard and the attire the accused was sporting - he belonged to the Muslim community. I visited all police stations in and around the Muslim pockets in Mumbai, Thane and Navi Mumbai. I kept reading newspapers to get leads on any burglars who had used a similar modus operandi.
I visited the Crime Branch and local police station looking for clues. In the first week of March this year, the Vashi Crime Branch arrested a 25-year-old Virar resident who was once a renowned boxer. I visited them too but the facial appearance of this arrested man differed from the one in the footage.” Days and weeks passed. Then, on June 6, while Ghatkar was reading the paper while sipping on his tea, a news article caught his attention: Unit 3 of Pune Crime Branch had arrested the man who bore a striking resemblance to the man in the footage from the ATM.
Ghatkar was convinced that Qureshi was the one he had been hunting for. “I got the numbers of Pune police control room from the Web and got in touch with the Crime Branch officials who had investigated the case. After I discussed the accused’s features with them, they asked me to mail the CCTV grabs for a final confirmation,” Ghatkar said. After the exchange of images, the Pune Crime Branch confirmed to Ghatkar that Qureshi was the one who had burgled his residence.
Doing his bit
Ghatkar said, “I don’t have any complaint or grudge against the policemen. They have helped me a lot in whatever I did to solve my case. The police team is already burdened with a lot of responsibility, and if citizens shoulder their responsibility in whatever little way possible, it can do miracles.” Appreciating Ghatkar’s initiative, Senior Inspector Dipak Pawar said, “It is a great thing that such a senior citizen took such serious efforts in chasing the case. It will help us detect the case quicker.”
In the police net
The Pune Crime Branch nabbed Salim Ali Hussain Khan alias Qureshi (39) and his aide Suresh Mithalal Soni (39), for 10 house break-ins in the past one year in the first week of June. The suspects had broken into houses in Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Hyderabad, and, interestingly, always chose to fly between cities, cops said.
The police team laid a trap at Govandi in Mumbai to arrest the criminals. There was a spate of housebreakings in Bhosari, Warje, Market Yard, Chatuhshrungi, Sanghvi and Hinjewadi areas of Pune. The police recovered large amounts of gold and silver ornaments, equipment used to break open doors and a car worth Rs 20 lakh that was used in the crimes.
Qureshi and his accomplices have allegedly committed over 100 thefts in different parts of the country since 2008. He was arrested a couple of times before but would always manage to get bail. Qureshi, who is from Govandi, stays in Hyderabad with one of his wives, while his other wife stays in Bangalore. He frequently travelled between the two cities and used connecting flights. He always kept his Land Cruiser parked at the respective airport.