The family of a 23-year-old software engineer from Andhra Pradesh, who has been missing since January 5, on Thursday claimed to have found her body in Bhandup, an eastern suburb of Mumbai.
The body, found in a marshy, secluded area off the Eastern Express Highway, was charred beyond recognition. But the family of the woman, working with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Mumbai, claimed a ring found on one of the fingers helped them identify her.
Cops probing her disappearance said calls made from her mobile phone were last traced to Bhandup, where the burnt body was discovered. The techie’s family, based on those inputs, arrived in Mumbai and began looking for her in that area. A foul smell emanating from the swamp, during their search, led them to the body.
For the family of the victim, an employee with Tata Consultancy Services, the brush with the Mumbai Police couldn’t have been worse.
The lethargy and inaction of the police for 12 days was criminal, the family says, and possibly cost the girl her life. Suzeeth (last name withheld to protect the family’s identity), a relative of the victim, was among those who eventually found the body.
“Nothing was moving so we decided on doing a combing operation ourselves,” he said.
Having landed in Mumbai from Vijayawada on the morning of 12 January, almost a week after the girl went missing, Suzeeth and other family members fanned out in the slums of Bhandup, armed with photographs. “We went to the slums, up the hillock, asked locals if they had seen her, if they had seen anything suspicious,” he said.
They approached the police, the railway police (where the FIR was registered before the case was moved to the Mumbai Police Crime Branch), a senior IPS officer and others. They knew her cellphone had been active last in Bhandup, a fact gleaned by tapping sources in BSNL to track her cellphones.
The family had done the bulk of legwork usually undertaken by the police — tracking the cellphone location, obtaining call records and search parties walking around the last active location of her phone.
A missing person’s complaint was lodged first at the Vijayawada railway police station. The victim should have reached Mumbai at 5.10 am on board the Vijayawada-LTT Express, on 5 January.
The train had reached Secunderabad on schedule, where a friend gave her a packed lunch. She had also called around midnight, from Solapur, promising to call the following morning upon reaching Mumbai. When she did not call by 6 am, her worried father began to call both her cellphones. They kept ringing unanswered.
Her grandfather’s brother, a retired commandant of the special police batallion in Andhra Pradesh, was approached for advice. Since the girl had made two trips to Mumbai earlier without incident, he advised the family to be patient.
Her father also received a call from the hostel in Mumbai where she was to have checked in that the girl hadn’t arrived. Then, around 3.30 pm on 5 January, both her phones were switched off.
Family members pitched in, made calls to people they knew in Mumbai and in the offices of the telephone service providers and got to work immediately.