The act of returning to the crime scene to dispose of the victim's body became the nail in the coffin of a man who was sentenced to death.
The person, identified as Vadivel Devendra, Friday, was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl in 2019.
The victim, who stayed with her parents in Nehru Nagar, Vile Parle, had gone missing on April 4, 2019. She had just returned from school when her grandmother sent her to fetch tea for her ailing mother from a small local eatery. When the victim did not return home for hours, her grandmother approached the police and an investigation was initiated.
While conducting inquiries, the police found out that Devendra, who had earlier been convicted for sexual assault on a minor, had not been seen since the day of the girl's disappearance.
A manhunt was launched and Devendra was picked up from a house in Nehru Nagar slum on April 5. After sustained interrogation, he confessed to having raped and killed the victim and led the police to her body, which he had discarded in the septic tank of a toilet in the slum.
“Devendra kidnapped the victim while she was on her way to buy tea for her mother and took her to an unoccupied house in a secluded corner of the locality. There, he forced himself on her and brutally killed her by bashing her head against the wall. He left the scene but returned around 2 a.m. the next morning when he carried the body to the public toilet and tossed it inside the septic tank,” retired police inspector Ashok Sawant, who was the investigating officer of the case, recalled.
This same attempt to destroy evidence, however, provided the police with their strongest piece of evidence against him. Some of the victim's blood got on Devendra's clothes while he was carrying her, and when the police seized the clothes he had been wearing at the time, they still had her blood on them.
Samples were sent to the Forensic Sciences Laboratory to be compared with the victim's blood and both samples came back as a positive match.
“We also found eyewitnesses who had seen Devendra lead the victim away by her hand, and CCTV footage of the both of them together, all of which nailed him,” Sawant said.
The case had sparked off a wave of fury throughout the entire slum, and a mob of around 15,000 residents had gathered outside the Juhu police station to voice their anger on the day that the victim's body was found.
A video of then Additional Commissioner of Police (West region) Manoj Kumar Sharma went viral on social media, in which he was seen placating the bloodthirsty mob using a police loudspeaker.
“Most of us here, including me, have children of our own, and I know fully well what we would do if, god forbid, something like this happened to them. I pray to everyone to please give the police one chance,” Sharma had said.
Sawant remembers the case as among the most horrific and challenging ones of his career.
“I was the duty officer on the night shift when the girl's family came to report her missing. A special team was formed to probe the case and none of us went home for the next three days,” Sawant said.