MUMBAI: In a major breakthrough in the double murders of installation artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani, the Mumbai police, in a joint operation with the Special Task Force (STF) of the UP Police, on Monday arrested two accused including main suspect Shiv Kumar alias Sadhu Rajbhar from his village near Varanasi.
Rajbhar, a fabrication artist, was the last person with whom Upadhyay had talked over the phone before it was switched off around 8.30 p.m. on Saturday. The Mumbai police, who believe someone may have hired Rajbhar and his associate to eliminate the duo, also quizzed Upadhyay’s estranged husband Chintan.
A source in the city police told Express that Rajbhar has confessed his involvement in the twin murders. He reportedly told the police that he had gagged the victims before killing them. The police also claimed to have recovered clinching evidence including personal belongings, ATM cards and identity cards of the victims from Rajbhar. Some TV channels reported that Rajbhar was Chintan’s associate till a few years ago and then started working for Hema Upadhyay when he shifted to Delhi. The police, however, have not backed this claim.
An officer said Rajbhar and his associate were involved in negotiations over some property in Matunga in which Upadhyay had a stake. She lived in Juhu but was reluctant to give up the share for a small amount. She and Bhambhani met the suspects on Friday night near her studio at the Laxmi Industrial Estate in Andheri (West).
The talks did not go well as Upadhyay rejected the settlement terms and had a heated argument with the suspects. The city police had traced Rajbhar with call records and after collecting further information, found that he had fled to Varanasi on Saturday night.
The UP STF raided his place in Kavirampur village acting on an alert from the city police. Amit Pathak, Seninor Superintendent of Police with the STF, said Rajbhar and the other suspect, whose identity has not been revealed, were employed as fabrication artists in the city. The police also quizzed Gotu, owner of a warehouse, where Upadhyay used to store her art work.
They reportedly had some dispute over `5 lakh. A truck driver, who allegedly carried the victims’ bodies and the killers from Gotu’s warehouse to a drain in Kandivli, reportedly provided the police vital information.
The killers reportedly had told the driver they wanted to dispose of some waste material and asked him to stop at the spot. The driver realised the “waste material” could be dead bodies when he read in the newspapers about the finding of two bodies in the same drain.
He informed his employer who contacted the police. Chintan’s lawyer Niteen Pradhan has maintained that his client had paid `2 lakh to Bhambani on Friday as part of alimony on a court’s direction. The police are waiting for the autopsy report to know the exact cause of the death of Upadhyay, 43, and Bhambani, 65.
DCP (Detection) Dhananjay Kulkarni said the bodies were found with their hands and feet tied in two cardboard boxes. Bhambani’s eyes were covered with a black tape and face was mangled indicating violent death from multiple blows with a blunt object.
A ragpicker had found the boxes on Saturday evening. Upadhyay and Chintan had been locked in a bitter divorce battle since 2010 after nearly 12 years of marriage. She had filed a case againt him in 2013 alleging that he had painted obscene pictures on the walls of their apartment in the city’s plush area Juhu. Bhambani had represented Upadhyay in that case.