On Sunday afternoon, the roads in Sambandham Nagar in Kundrathur were near empty and the few hawkers present on the streets manned carts of meat, fruits and vegetables listlessly.
The overwhelming quiet was highly uncharacteristic of a metropolitan city. But this unnatural calm immediately reminded this reporter of yet another suburb that had been shocked into silence in February this year- Mugalivakkam.
And the connection between these two areas, which stand 10 km apart are murders allegedly committed by the same man.
As the TNM team walked into Sriram Salai, two young men on a bike stopped to ask what we were looking for and they immediately pointed to a large house, with a locked gate. The pink two storey building was marked as plot number 145 and behind its closed doors, a brutal murder had taken place on Saturday. A 45-year-old woman was allegedly murdered by her own son, who then escaped with the jewellery in the residence.
The main suspect behind this crime is 23-year-old Dhasvanth, a techie who has already been accused of sexually assaulting, murdering and burning the body of seven-year-old Hasini in Mugalivakkam. He had allegedly used a puppy to lure the child who was his neighbour at Nikita flats. The hearing for this case which was filed in February is to begin on Tuesday and the accused was out on bail after the Court struck down the Goondas Act against him in September. But now, with the accused missing, it seems unlikely that the hearing will take place.
"The family moved close to seven months back on rent," says 42-year-old Priya, who lives adjacent to Dhasvanth's house. "Ever since they moved in we hear constant yelling from their home but we did not make much of it because it is their problem. A young man moved in with them only two months back," she adds.
Priya's 18-year-old son Dileep then adds, "They had a labrador with them when they first moved in but it was gone in a couple of days."
Have they interacted with the family? "No, they wouldn't come out of the house or talk to us. I tried smiling at the woman once to say hello and she just ignored me," says Dileep.
For this family, the news of a murder in their neighbouring came as a huge shock. "We were taken aback when the police arrived here on Saturday afternoon. We had heard about the Hasini case but had no idea this was the family," says Priya. "If we had known, we would have never agreed to let them stay here," she adds.
According to the police, the murder happened at around noon and a sharp object was used to bludgeon Sarala. A necklace and some bangles were removed from the house. Dhasvanth too disappeared from the house following this.
His father, Shekhar alerted Sarala's sister who lives close-by when his wife failed to attend phone calls. When her sister arrived, she brought in help to break the lock and found Sarala's body on the floor.
"We heard the wails of grief at our home," says Narayani*, a mother of two, who lives across the site of murder. "We had a function on the terrace and soon saw police arriving at the spot," she adds.
And how has this incident affected the neighbourhood?
"Do you see anyone on the road now?" asks Narayani. "Usually it will be full of children playing and adults talking on a Sunday. Now my children are so scared they refused to go to the grocery shop. That is why I have come. If the police had kept this man inside jail, everybody would have been safe," she adds, walking away.
At the Kundrathur police station, a sense of tension prevailed. Officers from neighbouring stations had also come in to enquire about the status of the case and senior officials had arrived to lift the morale of the team on a Sunday.
"Two ex-cons have been arrested because phone calls were traced from Dhasvanth's phone to theirs after the murder," one official told TNM. "These two were in the same prison block as this fellow and that is how they know each other," he adds.
James and David, the history sheeters have reportedly said in their testimony that they tried to help Dhasvanth sell the jewellery but did not know that his mother was dead.
And while this has led police to further suspect Dhasvanth's role in the murder, one investigating official told TNM that it is hard to believe that he would kill his own mother.
"But the murder weapon was not found," admits the officer. In the Hasini case too, Dhasvanth had allegedly gone to great heights to erase all traces of the crime from his home. It was CCTV footage that had finally led to his arrest.
Who is Dhasvanth?
TNM decided to travel to the police station where the case was first opened to find the answer to this question. The Managadu police station, in south western Chennai was bustling with activity and female constable was admonishing a drunk two wheeler rider. The area is less than four kilometres from Kundrathur.
When this reporter asked for details of the alleged murderer, the police immediately set out to find his file.
What followed next were sparse clues into Dhasvanth's past. He was born and brought up in Chennai, did his schooling in the city and received a diploma in Mechanical Engineering from the Central Polytechnic college in Taramani. Soon after this, he was placed at an IT firm in Mylapore.
Dhasvanth's father, who brought him out on bail, used to work in Ashok Leyland but is now a consultant at a private firm in Guindy. His younger brother meanwhile has completed his engineering degree and is currently training to join the Indian navy, say the police. His mother was a homemaker.
"He lived in Saidapet, which is where his father was from but we do not know where exactly. His mother however is from Kundarathur and family still lives there," says the officer. "For some reason they left their own house in Saidapet and came to the house in Mugalivakkam," he adds.
Was it a result of any misdemeanor on Dhasvanth's part?
"We can't rule it out from what we know of his character. His laptop was full of pornography showing children below ten years of age," says the official.
It took a short trip back to Kundrathur and enquiries with at least seven shopkeepers and 15 residents to find Sarala's ancestral home. Multiple wrong turns later we arrived at a street and the lights literally guided us to the house. The tall white building was the only residence in the locality to have not lit lamps for Karthigai deepam.
"Their family has lived here for decades," the residents of the opposite house tell TNM. "Their business was to stitch lungies and this entire street was employed by them for the activity," adds the middle aged neighbour.
His wife meanwhile, recalls how Dashvanth would come home as a child to play. "He and his younger brother would come to our house then. He was twelve years old and was a very nice child. We don't know what could have happened," she says.
Other neighbours described Sarala as a shy and soft spoken woman who kept to herself. "We used to play together as children but even then she would hardly even step out of the house. It is heart breaking to see what has happened now," says a tenant in the next building. "Her husband used to bet on horses though," she adds, lowering her voice.
A ritual was underway at Dhasvanth's grandparents' home when we walked into the premises. The family made it clear that they were not willing to speak and as we took our leave, multiple members gathered at the entrance of the house, silently staring and talking amongst themselves.
It was strange that at both residences, no one seemed to know much about Dhasvanth, or perhaps they thought it better not to speak about him.
A few neighbours came to stand besides this reporter, as the family looked on and one of them simply said, "They should have never taken that boy out on bail."