The bodies of two college students were recovered from a desolate spot between Bhushi dam and INS Shivaji, a training naval station, in Lonavla in early April. The bodies were completely disrobed and bore multiple injury marks, and the mouths were gagged. The absence of mobile phones from/near the bodies raised the suspicion that the students were victims of a violent robbery. They were identified, on the basis of their college identity cards, as Sarthak Waghchore (24), hailing from Rahuri, Ahmednagar district, and his girlfriend, Shruti Sanjay Dumbre (22), of Otur in Junnar taluk, Pune district.
Lonavla City police sources said two persons have been detained in the case. An officer from Lonavla police station said Waghchore and Dumbre were students of Sinhagad Engineering College in Lonavla. They had failed to return to their respective accommodations — Waghchore lived in a rented house and Dumbre in the college hostel — on Sunday, but no missing complaint was registered. Initially, the police suspected that they had committed suicide, but the extent of injuries and the state in which the bodies were found prompted them to consider the murder angle. The officer said the bodies were discovered by a tribal cattle herder on a mountain between Bhusi dam and INS Shivaji, with injuries on the head and the hands, and stripped of clothes. Waghchore's motorcycle was parked around 200 ft from the crime spot. A cousin of Dumbre said, "The family was informed of it around 7 pm. We rushed to Pune thereafter. We were told by the police that she committed suicide with her boyfriend, but we knew about their relationship and had no problem with it." Chandrakant Jadhav, senior inspector of Lonavla City police station, said the dog squad had been pressed into service in the search for clues. The police said they are also looking into other angles.
Parents of the deceased couple said they'd planned to meet each other to begin a new relationship as in-laws, but ended up meeting in such unfortunate circumstances instead. Sarthak's father Dilip said, "I was happy and waiting for his examination to end, as he was going to start working soon. My son has been killed very brutally; only a hardened criminal can commit such an attack. Why did my son leave me? I was waiting for the day when he would step into my shoes and earn money," he added. Shurti's maternal uncle Santosh Naikwadi said, "Shruti was the eldest daughter and both her parents are teachers. She was one of the most educated girls in our family. She had also been selected to work for a Hinjewadi-based IT company in a campus interview. She was to start the job by next month." Naikwadi added that the incident could have been averted had the college alerted them in time.
MS Gaikwad, principal of the Sinhgad Institute of Technology, said, "We are saddened by the incident. Shruti was staying at our campus hostel while Sarthak was residing in a rental flat. Every weekend, the students staying in the hostel can visit their parents. Accordingly, a headcount was made on Sunday and Shruti seemed to be missing. Our warden had called her and she said she is with her father in Talegaon, where she usually visited them. When our warden insisted on speaking with her father, someone impersonated him and claimed she was with him. We alert our students about prohibited areas on a timely basis, but they neglect our orders."
Meanwhile, a post-mortem of the bodies performed at Sassoon General hospital mentions that the couple died by being hit on their head with a blunt object. A doctor who conducted the procedure said, "The death is due to head injuries. The girl's face was gagged and her hands were also tied, but we have ruled out the rape. The body might have turned black and blue because of sunburn. The deceased were assaulted with a stick or a rock. Some of her teeth were also shaken and broken." Chandrakant Jadhav, senior inspector of Lonavla city police station said, "The incident might have taken place on Sunday night, as the duo were there at 7.30 pm. We suspect the murder took place between Sunday night and wee hours of Monday. As on Monday, duo was supposed to appear for an exam." He added, "The culprits might be misleading this case by presenting such fabricated facts before us. The post mortem does not mention any [kind of] rape, which means the culprits could be more than two or five people, going by the way they have killed them."
Three days after the murders the Lonavala city police met students of Sinhagad Engineering College. According to police sources, several students rushed to the crime spot after news of the alleged murder of the two engineering students made headlines, which prompted the police to take the investigations to the campus. After a meeting with the students, the police learnt that the isolated spot is popular among college-goers. During interrogations police found that the spot, where the bodies were discovered was popular with local drug abusers. Police questioned more than 1,000 students from the college had been interrogated, as well as 100 notorious local goons, but could obtain no leads.
Over a month after the murders of Sarthak Waghchore and Shruti Sanjay Dumbre, near Bhushi dam, the police formed a Special Investigation Team (SIT), due to lack of leads and slow pace of investigation, and also announced a reward of Rs 50,000 to anyone who can give them a lead in the double murder case. Suvez Haque, superintendent of Pune rural police, confirmed the formation of the SIT and the reward.
Meanwhile, the victims' parents were losing patience with the slow progress of investigations. "I have given 20 days to the police to investigate the case. If they fail to do so, my wife and I will start an agitation and go on a hunger strike outside the headquarters of the police superintendent," said Dilip, the father of Sarthak Waghchore. Shruti's father, Sanjay, said she had spoken to her mother on the phone just a few hours before her murder on the night of April 2. "My daughter was scared of the dark, I don't know what she was doing out so late, or what could have led to her murder. We knew that Sarthak was her friend, but we are not aware of whether they were in a relationship. I have faith that god and the police will not leave such a brutal person to roam free," he said.
Over two months later, police finally cracked the case and arrested one. Another accomplice is on the run, but the police has ascertained that the motive for murder was robbery. The detained youth has been identified as Asif Shaikh, whereas his accomplice is one Saleem Shaikh alias Sandy. A senior official, part of the investigation said, "The duo was zeroed in on when they brought in the stolen cellphones for repair and we managed to locate them. Both have past criminal records and are drug addicts. It appears that the duo chanced upon the couple when they were sitting in a secluded spot and attempted to extort them. They also attempted to rape the girl and when they failed, stoned them both, leading to the injuries. We have still not recovered the handsets and the cash." The two have now been charged for murder, attempt to rape and robbery. Meanwhile, Shruti's father Sanjay said, "I trusted the police and knew they would detect the case. Now, I just now hope to engage a good lawyer and pray that the culprits are hanged to death. Only then will there be justice for my daughter and her friend."
Pune rural police arrested Saleem Shaikh on Sunday (June 11). Both him and co-accused accused Asif Shaikh have been sent to police custody till June 16. The police said their case became strong after two eyewitnesses came forward; until now, no one had been spoken up because Saleem is said to be associated with notorious goon, Kiran Pardeshi. While one witness had seen one of the accused cleaning bloodstains from his clothes, another had heard the co-accused describing the murder during a phone call. Inspector general of police (Kolhapur range) Vishwas Nagare-Patil said, 'Initially, when our team had grilled Saleem, we had failed to get anything out of him. But Sub-Inspector Anirudha Gije and Constable Amar Thosar followed up on it. Saleem had claimed to be at his sister’s house in Ahmednagar, which was found to be false. With the help of the two eyewitnesses, we zeroed down on him.' 'Their modus operandi was to visit isolated spots at night, snatch couples’ mobile phones and strip them naked, so that they wouldn’t approach anyone for help,' he added.
About The Gallery
The brutal murders of two engineering college students in Lonavla led to the arrests of two men, who committed the horrific crime in an apparent robbery attempt. A look at developments in the case
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