A Dahaad in Goa: How Victim No. 16 led police to ‘dupatta killer’ | India News
ON JANUARY 15, 2009, when a head constable at a police outpost in North Goa jotted down an inquest report of an unidentified woman’s decomposed body found at a cashew plantation, Goa Police had no inkling that the case would end with the arrest of Mahanand Naik, a man accused of carrying out a string of murders of women – 16 at last count.
Of the 16 murders and one rape case lodged against Naik, he was convicted in three cases of murder and the rape case by the sessions court. After he filed an appeal challenging his convictions before the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court, he was acquitted in one of the three murder cases and the rape case. Though police say he confessed to the murders, they could not secure his conviction in several cases, especially where the bodies of the victims were either highly decomposed or never found. Naik is currently serving two life terms in Goa’s Colvale jail.
In a decision that recently prompted widespread outrage in Goa, 55-year-old Naik was in mid-June granted a 21-day furlough — his first release from jail in 14 years. On the surety of a priest, Naik, a goods rickshaw driver, spent his furlough at an institute for the differently abled in Old Goa and returned to jail in July.
Investigators said Naik, married and with a daughter, was careful about hiding his real identity and had different names for himself every time he identified a new victim. “To Yogita, he was ‘Yogesh’. To Gulabi, he was ‘Govind’. He drove a luggage rickshaw till 2004 and was unemployed after that. However, he told each woman he met that he was either a businessman, hotel owner, electrical shop owner, a fan vendor or a mason. He aligned his backstory carefully, with some aspect from the woman’s life, to befriend her,” said an officer.
The Indian Express went through police and court records, and conducted extensive interviews with investigators and family members of the victims to join the dots in some of the 16 cases of murder that Naik allegedly carried out in a span of 15 years.
The murder of Yogita Naik
According to investigators, it was the murder of Yogita Naik, a 30-year-old STD booth worker in South Goa’s Ponda, that finally did Naik in. He was convicted by a Sessions Court in 2012 for her murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. His appeal before the High Court of Bombay at Goa, challenging the conviction, was dismissed in 2013.
In the first week of January 2009, Yogita confided in her mother that a man named Yogesh, who worked at a hardware shop, had proposed to her. Disapproving of the potential match, her mother is said to have pointed out that Yogesh had two missing teeth in his lower jaw. Yogita replied that he lost them in an accident and would get them fixed before their marriage.
Over the next few days, Yogesh convinced her to accompany him to his sister’s house in Sanquelim on January 10 to finalise their marriage. Police records say he also instructed her to wear a suit and jewellery for the “special occasion”. A day before the meeting, Yogita purchased an orange-green churidar suit and a silver bag. She wore a gold chain, gold earrings and paired them with jewellery her parents had purchased for her eight months ago — a gold ring, silver anklets and fake gold bangles.
Police say that at 9.20 am on January 10, she received a phone call from Yogesh. Ten minutes later, she walked out of her home in Nagzar Curti in Ponda, towards a bus stop near a sweet shop, where Yogesh was waiting for her. The couple changed buses to cover a distance of 30 km, going from Marcel to Sanquelim and finally to Morlem in Sattari — where they sat on a cemented platform outside a general store and sipped two soft drinks. It was noon by the time they walked about 200 metres towards a cashew plantation.
Yogita went missing that very afternoon. Her family tried contacting her, but her phone was not reachable. Still, the family did not file a missing complaint in the hope that she would return home soon. They felt that putting her name in a police complaint could jeopardise her matrimonial prospects. After exhausting all possible attempts to locate her, Yogita’s brother finally lodged a missing report at Ponda police station on January 14.
Three months after Yogita was reported missing, as police combed through her call detail records, an officer spotted something unusual. On the day she went missing, Yogita had received two calls — at 9.20 am and at 9.47 am. But it was the call made from her phone at 7 pm, hours after she was last seen, that made them suspicious. That number led police to a woman’s house in south Goa.
The woman informed the police that she had passed on her SIM to her sister and that her sister’s friend, Mahanand Naik, had been using that number. On April 21, the police summoned the sister, who alleged that Naik had been sexually assaulting and threatening her for the past four years. A case of rape was lodged against Naik and he was brought in for questioning and subsequently arrested.
Naik’s confessions over the next few weeks during the remand led the Goa Police on a trail of 16 murders that he allegedly carried out between 1994 and 2009. A majority of the cases fell under the jurisdiction of one police station. It was then that police joined the dots — the body found in the cashew plantation in January 2009 was Yogita’s.
“He denied any involvement in her murder at first. He had used a fake identity, claiming that he was Yogesh, to contact her … He later confessed to killing Yogita and many others,” said a senior police officer who was a part of the investigation.
How the lanky rickshaw driver from Tarvale in Shiroda managed to evade arrest for over 15 years left police perplexed. Naik’s arrest sent a tsunami of outrage and horror across the state. A week after the news of his arrest broke, a mob set his house in Shiroda on fire. Citing a threat to life, Naik’s wife and daughter sought police protection and later left the state.
Naik’s modus operandi of strangulating his victims with their dupattas earned him the nickname ‘dupatta killer’.
On Naik’s Murder No. 16 that finally did him in, police say that on January 10, 2009, he allegedly had sex with Yogita under a tree in the Morlem plantation after which he used Yogita’s brand new orange dupatta to strangle her. Police records state that Naik then proceeded to remove Yogita’s ornaments and picked up her silver bag, cell phone and clothes. Leaving her body at the plantation, he set off for Bicholim bus stand, 15 km away, where he dumped Yogita’s clothes. At 1.20 pm, Naik walked into a Bicholim-based jewellery store, where he allegedly spun a tale about a sick daughter and sold the ornaments for Rs 34,000. Naik then boarded a bus home.
That evening, he went to the market in Ponda, where he threw the two SIM cards he was using and Yogita’s phone at separate spots. Police say that he later stashed her silver bag in the rape victim’s house. When he got wind that police were looking for him, a day before his arrest, he threw the bag behind the house.
“He was using two SIM cards and devices. One SIM was registered in the name of the rape victim’s sister and the other was a phone he said he found in Ponda. The owner of the second phone was an engineering student who had lost it during a bus ride. Since both numbers were not in his name, he was confident that the crimes would not be traced back to him. That’s where he slipped up,” said an investigator.
The ‘soft-spoken’ killer’s modus operandi
Police officials who investigated the 16 murder cases described him as a “soft-spoken” and a “cold-blooded killer” who allegedly murdered for gold by targeting vulnerable women from marginalised backgrounds. According to Naik’s case file, of the 16 women he was accused of killing, seven worked as domestic help, three were unemployed, two worked at a tailoring shop or a factory and the rest sold garments or milk.
“He would specifically target women having difficulty in finding a match or nearing the so-called acceptable marriageable age. While driving his rickshaw, he would stalk women near temples and markets. Barring a few cases, he would propose marriage within days of meeting these women,” said retired police officer CL Patil, who was Inspector at Ponda Police Station, when Naik was arrested.
“To ensure there was no issue with the marriage, he would tell the women that he belonged to the same caste as them. He sold lies to lure women and offered them financial security,” added Patil.
Careful to keep his courtship short, he would ask the women to wear their finest clothes and gold jewellery to meet his family on the pretext of fixing their marriage, investigators said. Then, he would take them to deserted hillocks, plantations, jungles or near rivulets, where he would allegedly have sex with them before strangling them with their dupatta and robbing their jewellery.
“While embracing the women from behind, he would strangle them using their dupattas. In the first murder that he was accused of, the woman was wearing a sari. According to our probe, he strangled her and used an object to hit her in the face. Since she had put up a fight, he would ensure that all other women later wore suits since it was easier to strangle them using their dupattas,” said another investigator.
After the murders, Naik would allegedly take the women’s clothes and jewellery, and sell the ornaments to local goldsmiths the same day, said the police. The probe led the police to a jeweller in South Goa who claimed that Naik had sold him jewellery on at least seven occasions in 15 years.
“Naik would not leave anything behind at the crime scene that could help reveal the identities of these women. Most of these women were either reported missing or cases of unnatural death were registered. When a missing case was reported, Naik would keep track of news reports and the police probe, often going back to the crime scenes,” said an officer.
The disappearance of Vasanti Gaude
According to police records reviewed by The Indian Express, Naik’s first brush with the police was in 1995. He was brought in for questioning by Ponda police after 19-year-old Vasanti Gaude, a house help, went missing that year. The records state that Naik was arrested on September 12, 1995, and interrogated for his alleged role in her disappearance.
“Naik drove a luggage rickshaw. The local rickshaw union and drivers brought a morcha to the police station in protest against his arrest. They claimed he was at another location when Vasanti went missing. Naik also had contacts in the local unit of a political party, which pressured the police to not investigate the matter. He was released three days later due to lack of evidence,” said an investigator.
Records show that 10 days after he was arrested, on September 22, Vasanti’s cousin Ramnath Gaude lodged a complaint with the Deputy Collector and SDM of Ponda, suspecting Naik’s role in Vasanti’s disappearance.
According to police records, Vasanti, a house help in Khadpabandh Ponda, had bumped into Naik while dropping her employer’s children to school one morning in 1995. In the brief courtship that ensued, Naik allegedly spun an elaborate tale claiming that his father and he owned two hotels in Ponda market and an electrical shop. Soon, he asked her to marry him. To prove that he was sincere in his affections, he offered to deposit Rs 50,000 in her bank account. On September 10, 1995, a day before she went missing, Vasanti visited her family home in North Goa’s Madkai and informed them about Naik’s proposal. She asked her parents for the passbook of her savings account.
Ramnath said, “Vasanti said Naik’s father had given him Rs 50,000 and that he wanted to deposit it in her account. Since her house did not have an electricity connection then, he promised her that the money would help her get one. He was shrewd like that … preying on such vulnerabilities.”
Suspicious of Naik’s intentions, Ramnath was against giving Vasanti the passbook. However, since she was adamant, Ramnath and his brother Sonu Gaude agreed to accompany her to the bank the next day.
“On the pretext of introducing her to his family to finalise their marriage, Naik had instructed her to wear gold ornaments and a nice suit. He said it was necessary for her to dress well so that his parents would approve of the match,” recalled Ramnath.
At 11 am on September 11, 1995, Vasanti’s cousins took a bus and waited for Naik, who arrived in his rickshaw, near a pharmacy. After a brief conversation with Naik, Vasanti sat in his rickshaw and told Ramnath and Sonu to meet them at the State Bank of India in Ponda. The brothers say they waited at the bank for an hour but Naik and Vasanti never turned up. Eventually, the family filed a missing complaint at Ponda police station on September 13. But Vasanti seemed to have disappeared without a trace.
In 2009 — 14 years after she had gone missing — Vasanti’s family spotted Naik’s photo in a Marathi newspaper. He had been arrested in connection with Yogita’s murder. Vasanti’s family immediately went to Ponda police station and lodged a case against Naik alleging abduction, robbery and murder.
On September 11, 1995, the police said, Naik took Vasanti to a river near the Opa water treatment plant and then a jungle area in Bethora, where they sat down and ate biscuits. Afterwards, he allegedly strangled her with her pink dupatta. Taking the Rs 500 she had in her purse and her gold ornaments, he left for Ponda in his rickshaw. Police said he sold Vasanti’s jewellery to a goldsmith on the pretext that he needed money for his mother’s treatment.
In 2011, the Sessions Court convicted Naik in the case. His appeal, challenging the conviction before the Bombay High Court at Goa, was partly allowed. While his conviction under IPC section 201 (causing disappearance of evidence) was quashed and set aside, his conviction under IPC sections related to murder, abduction and robbery charges was upheld.
Sitting in the verandah of his house in Ponda’s Shirshirem Borim on a rainy July evening, Ramnath said, “There was gross negligence by the police in Vasanti’s case. She was last seen going in his rickshaw. I was convinced that he had abducted her. They should have conducted an investigation, lodged an FIR at least, but only a missing complaint was filed. The police gave in to the pressure from the autorickshaw union and due to Naik’s affiliation to the Shiv Sena, and released him. Had the police put him behind bars then…”
The disappearance of Sushila Faterpekar
When Sushila Faterpekar from Curca, a sweeper at a hospital, met Naik at the hospital where his daughter was admitted in October 2007, he wrote his name as ‘Suhas Gawade’ and his phone number on a lottery ticket and handed it to her.
According to police records, on October 23, 2007, Sushila visited her sister’s house and told her that Suhas wanted to marry her. She took her gold bangles from her sister. The next morning, around 9 am, Sushila left her house wearing a green suit. She also wore a gold chain, two gold bangles and a pair of earrings. She went missing the same day. Police records show that her brother filed a missing complaint at Agaçaim police station on October 31, 2007.
Two years later, in May 2009, Naik allegedly confessed in police custody that he had killed Sushila. He told the police that he took her to an isolated area in the bushes behind the Goa University Library and strangled her to death with her dupatta. After killing her, he left her body in the bushes and went to a goldsmith in Ponda. He sold her gold ornaments for Rs 15,000, claimed the police.
Following his confession, some bones were recovered from the bushes behind the library. Sushila’s family lodged a case of abduction, robbery and murder against Naik. Though he was convicted in the case by a Sessions Court in North Goa in 2011, he was acquitted after the Goa Bench of Bombay High Court set aside the Sessions Court order in 2013.
“It could not be established in court that the bones recovered belonged to the victim or that the death was a homicide or if the bones were recovered at the instance of the accused,” recalled an officer.
“In some of the other cases, the bodies were never found. In cases where they were found, the bodies were either highly decomposed or had been reduced to bones. This posed a challenge in securing convictions. This was the reason why some cases fell flat. Fearing stigma, the families of some victims also did not co-operate with the investigation,” the officer added.
The disappearance of Deepali Jotkar and her sister Pallavi
Naik told Deepali Jotkar, a 22-year-old woman from Margao who worked as a domestic help, that he was a gaudi (mason). Deepali’s father Dattaram Jotkar said, “Naik was aware that we were looking for a contractor to construct a room. He said he was a mason and we agreed to hire him.”
For several months, as he hired labourers to construct the room, Naik kept visiting the family and got acquainted with Deepali. In November 2005, Deepali left a note for her family. The note stated that she had “eloped with her boyfriend and not to inform the police”. The family assumed she would get married and return after a few years.
“I was a painter and mostly at work. My wife Reshma worked as a domestic help in Kuwait. Naik was a regular visitor to our house. We didn’t know anything about their friendship,” said 70-year-old Jotkar.
“Years later, when we saw his photo and read about what he had done to those other women, we were convinced that he had killed Deepali,” Jotkar said.
In 2009, the family lodged a case of abduction and murder case at Maina Curtorim police station. Naik was acquitted in the case in 2014. After Naik’s arrest, the family filed a missing complaint at Maina Curtorim police station in connection with Deepali’s 17-year-old sister Pallavi. She continues to remain missing since 2004. “We suspect Naik’s involvement in Pallavi’s disappearance too. She used to attend dance classes run by Naik’s wife in Shiroda. Earlier, we assumed that she had eloped. We filed a complaint in 2009, but there was no investigation. After his acquittal, we lost faith and felt stigmatised. So we did not pursue the case,” said Reshma.
For families of the victims, the news of Naik’s recent furlough came as a shock. At Nagzar Curti, the mere mention of Naik draws the ire of the locals. “People haven’t forgotten about him. We read in the newspaper that he was released on furlough. If he comes here, he will be given appropriate punishment,” said a shopkeeper.
At their house in Nagzar Curti, Yogita’s brother Pramod Naik said, “When I heard about his furlough, my sister’s face and all those memories flashed before my eyes. After she died, our father would always remain tense. He died due to diabetes-related complications a few years ago. Such convicts do not deserve any mercy. They should be hanged to death.”
Vasanti’s cousin Ramnath said, “I was shocked to hear that they released Naik on furlough. For 14 years, we held on to hope that she was alive. We try to move on, but there is no closure for us.”
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