Mumbai: Family exhumes Melwin Fernandes' body to unearth reasons for his mysterious death

May 21, 2016, 08:20 IST | Shailesh Bhatia and Bipin Kokate

Nearly nine months after Melwin Fernandes was laid to rest with mid-day's help, his family had his body exhumed to find out whether he may have been murdered over property or money

The last memory Carmelina Fernandes had of her brother was from Raksha Bandhan last year, when she tied a rakhi to his lifeless body before laying it to rest at St Peter's Cemetery. Nearly nine months later, as his body was exhumed from the ground yesterday, the sight of that rakhi brought back all the bitter memories surrounding her brother's mysterious death.

Melwin Fernandes
No rest in peace: Melwin's remains being exhumed at St Peter's Cemetery yesterday

"My brother would have completed 37 years this October, had he not left us. We were in so much grief and shock at his untimely demise that we did not request for a post-mortem after his body was flown in. In the following months, we found some startling facts and discrepancies in the case, which compelled us to approach the authorities to investigate the matter," said Carmelina.

Melwin Fernandes

It was with mid-day's help that the Fernandes family was able to bring back 36-year-old Melwin's body from the US, where he was found hanging on August 14 last year. mid-day had reported that devastated as they were by Melwin's sudden death, his kin couldn't afford to fly his body back. Moved by their plight, Good Samaritans donated over Rs 20 lakh to help bring Melwin's body back to India ('Strangers donate R20 lakh so father can bid final goodbye to son', August 20).

Click to view: Strangers donate Rs 20 lakh so father can bid final goodbye to son
mid-day report highlighting how a crowdfunding campaign helped his family bring his body home (Read the full story)

At the time, the family was so relieved to receive his body that they did not question how he died. Officials had told them that he had committed suicide on August 15 after a fight with his wife over financial issues.

Suspicion grows
In the months since his funeral, his family tried to put the facts together and understand what happened, and they now fear that he might have been the victim of a well-planned murder. On January 11, Carmelina wrote to the additional chief secretary of the home department, seeking his help to establish the probable cause of her brother's death. Throwing some light on the matter, Carmelina explained that just five days before his demise, she had messaged Melwin, requesting for some funds for their father's cataract operation. But Melwin said he could not gather the funds immediately, despite the fact that he was earning well, drawing a salary of Rs 4 to 5 lakh as a restaurant manager.

The Fernandes family was accompanied by a team of 30 cops and forensic experts as Melwin's body was exhumed yesterday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
The Fernandes family was accompanied by a team of 30 cops and forensic experts as Melwin's body was exhumed yesterday. Pic/Bipin Kokate

"He called me on August 13, at 10.30 pm, and broke down saying he was scared for his life and was being tortured for his money and property. This is when he told me that he had invested Rs 8 crore in a hotel in Virginia and had other investments in properties in Mumbai, which include a flat at Mira Road and a bungalow in Shahapur," she added.

Inheritance issues?
The family fears that not only did this wealth lead to Melwin's death, but it could also become the centre of an inheritance dispute in the future. Melwin's uncle Wilson said the family had also requested that Melwin's DNA samples be analysed to prevent any such issue in the future.

Melwin’s sister Carmelina and father Luis outside St Peter’s Cemetery. PIC/BIPIN KOKATE
Melwin's sister Carmelina and father Luis outside St Peter's Cemetery. PIC/BIPIN KOKATE

The sample will be matched with samples from Melwin's father to establish the family DNA, and can be used to prove DNA in future inheritance claims as well.

This is particularly important because the family has now heard that Melwin's wife now has a child. They have not heard from his wife Cadida even once since the day of his funeral, and they are not even sure about her whereabouts. There was no love lost between the family and Cadida, as Melwin had married her against their wishes. This could well be reason that the family has also requested a DNA test of Melwin's remains, to ensure they are prepared for any future inheritance claims.

"She has never contacted us in all these months. We don't even know where she is. Some friends warned us that she might use the child to stake a claim on Melwin's property," said Carmelina.

The Collector's office had allowed exhumation of the corpse under Section 176 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and the Worli police had requested forensic experts from not just JJ hospital, but also to Nair hospital and the Kalina forensic lab. When they all got there, the experts were puzzled as to who should actually do the exhumation. Sources said the family even suspected that the grave might have been moved, but when the coffin was opened, they found several personal items inside by which they identified Melwin's remains.

Findings so far
The mortal remains were shifted to the post-mortem centre at Nair hospital, where forensic experts could only ascertain ligature marks around the neck, but due to the intense decomposition, they could only state that the "ligature markings seemed identical to those found in a case of hanging." Samples of the femur bone, teeth and hair of the deceased were taken for DNA analysis as well, and will be sent to Forensic Science Laboratory, Kalina.

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