Two weeks after the severed head of an infant was found on the roof of a cab driver's house in Hyderabad's Uppal area, the police say they have managed to crack the case.
The horrific crime had occurred at Chilkanagar, and the head had been found on the roof of a house belonging to a man named Rajashekar, a cab driver.
Though the family had told the media that they believed someone had dumped the infant's head on their roof, in a twist to the case, the police say they have found that Rajashekar and his wife Srilatha had indulged in a human sacrifice. The couple allegedly killed the baby as part of a black magic ritual, to 'cure' Srilatha of a long-term illness, says police. The incident took place on the night of the recent lunar eclipse, which was dubbed a 'super blue blood moon’.
The head had reportedly been kept on the terrace under the lunar eclipse's moon light. "But what went wrong for the couple is that Balalakshmi, Srilatha's mother, who lived in a portion of the same house, discovered the head on the terrace. The woman who lived in one part of the house that had been partitioned into two sections was horrified at the sight of the severed head and alerted the neighborhood," the police said.
The police said that around 40 witnesses were examined, 45 suspects were questioned and the CCTV footage of around 100 cameras were analysed to crack the case.
During investigation, the police realised that Rajashekar was superstitious, while his wife, Srilatha, had been ill for around four years.
The police said that two years ago, the husband and wife attended the Sammakka Saralamma Jatara or Medaram Jatara, which is a famous tribal Hindu festival celebrated in Telangana.
At the event, they came across a person belonging to the Koya Dora tribe, who told them that the ill-health was due to 'evil spirits' and advised them to sacrifice a human girl child.
Following this, Rajashekar consulted three black magicians, but their efforts yielded no results.
The police said that Rajashekar began looking for a girl child to sacrifice, taking care to leave no traces of kidnap. On January 31, the police said that between 7pm and 8pm, Rajashekar identified a girl child aged between 3 to 6 months near Bhoiguda.
At around 12:45 am on February 1, Rajashekar allegedly left from his home for Bhoiguda with a knife and a polythene bag and kidnapped the baby from a couple who used to live on the roadside near the Secunderabad railway station.
At 2 am, the police said that Rajashekar reached the banks of the River Musi near Pratap Singaram, and proceeded to behead the child. After throwing the body and knife into the flowing water, he waited for around half an hour for the bleeding to stop, the police said.
At around 3 am, he reportedly reached home with the baby's head in a polythene bag.
"Following this, Rajashekar and Srilatha performed a puja at their Chilkanagar residence, by placing the head on an altar," the police said.
At 4 am, Rajashekar went to his terrace and kept the head in the south-west corner under the lunar eclipse's moon light.
To avoid suspicion, Rajashekar left for work as usual, and tossed the empty polythene bag at a garbage bin in Nacharam.
(The lane where Rajashekar stays)
Cracking the case
Speaking to reporters at a press conference, Rachakonda Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat said, "Ever since we detained him, he pleaded innocence. He said that he was an ordinary cab driver, and even had a tie-up with Uber. He also said he had recently undergone an operation and he was not well. He kept making misleading statements."
On February 1, the CLUES unit of the police collected forensic evidence including blood samples and sent it to the Forensic State Laboratory (FSL).
The head was shifted to the state-run Gandhi Hospital for a post-mortem even as the police hunted for the body.
After more than a week on February 9, the CLUES team inspected Rajashekar's house again, and collected a blood sample from the floor of his living room.
On February 14, the FSL confirmed that the two blood samples found on the roof and the living room were the same.
The police arrested Rajashekar in the early hours of February 15, following which he reportedly confessed to the crime and they also seized his car.
During interrogation, the police said that Srilatha also confessed to have "encouraged and assisted" her husband's plan.
"Besides a travel bag, two mobile phones of Rajashekar were also seized during investigation. A bow and arrow made of coconut leaf-midribs and a few bamboo leaves tied like a broom symbolising black magic were also seized," the police said.
Neighbour is innocent
Initially after the crime, the police and locals had suggested that Rajashekar's neighbour had been the main accused.
When the Uppal police called in a dog squad and the CLUES (investigation) team to collect forensic evidence, a sniffer dog circled the roof a few times, before leading the investigating team to the neighbour's house.
The adjacent house, which doubled up as an 'electrical works' shop in front, had two residents, Narahari and his son Ranjith.
However, after being freed in the case, Narahari told reporters that he was innocent and the police only detained him as part of regular questioning.
"Since the dog entered my house, they picked us up. However, the police did not even touch me. They just detained and questioned me, and now they have left me off. I'm free to go," he said.
A case has been registered under Section 302 (Murder) and 201 (Causing disappearance of evidence of offence, or giving false information to screen offender) of the IPC.