The double murder of an elderly couple who had just arrived from the US by someone who had worked for them for years has shocked the city. It has also raised concerns of safety for senior citizens staying alone in the city
An eerie silence envelops the duplex house, ‘Mahalakshmi’, at 19, Dwaraka Colony in Mylapore on Saturday morning, so eerie that it belies the rather tumultuous events that this house stood witness to recently. Only last week did the house witness betrayal, assault and murder, all at once, in a mystery plot that rivalled Arvind Adiga’s award-winning novel The White Tiger. The gruesome double murder of Mylapore made the headlines in the city, and while the speedy cracking of the case was impressive, the case threw up concerns of the elderly living alone in the city.
Anatomy of a murder
The couple who lost their lives tragically were R. Srikanth, 58, a chartered accountant and president, corporate finance, of the Gujarat-based Infibeam Avenues Ltd, and his wife Anuradha, 53, an engineering graduate and home-maker. While this strange story of betrayal has its beginnings from a previous generation, the current sequence of events can be said to begin last November. It was then that the couple flew to California, U.S., to visit their daughter, Sunanda, 28, a postdoctoral research fellow and their son Sashwath, 25, a medical student. They continued to stay in the U.S. to assist in the delivery of their daughter, and their bungalow in Chennai remained locked.
After six months in the U.S., they returned to Chennai on May 7, Saturday. It was 3.40 a.m. when they landed at the Chennai airport. As soon as they landed, the couple sent a selfie through WhatsApp to their son informing him of arrival at the airport. Srikanth also told his son that he was waiting for customs clearance, and their part-time driver Padam Lal Krishna, or Krishna, was waiting outside with the car. That was the last the world heard from the couple, the police said.
One hour later, Sashwath called his parents up on their mobile phones, but there was no response. He then called Krishna about 8.30 a.m. and asked him why his parents were not answering his calls, the latter claimed that the couple were sleeping and he had come out to have breakfast. He promised to tell Srikanth to call Sashwath when he went back home. Again when he was called at 9.15 a.m., Krishna replied that he had come out to buy vegetables. Sashwath called again at 10.15 a.m. and he responded that he had been asked to go to their farmhouse on ECR. Later, Krishna’s mobile phone was also switched off. Sunanda smelt a rat, and tried to check the CCTV feed of the house online, but found it offline, and she was also worried that her parents’ mobiles were still turned off, this was unusual for them. Not willing to wait any longer, at 10.45 a.m., Sunanda made an international call to the emergency number 112 and the call landed at the police control room.
On receiving the alert from the control room, a mobile patrolling team reached the spot and knocked on the door and reported back that there was no response from inside. Meanwhile, Mylapore inspector M. Ravi and P. Ramesh from Zamin Pallavaram, who is a relative, also reached the spot. They broke open the main door and entered the house.
After a search, it became clear that the couple were not inside the house. The driver Krishna and their silver-coloured car (Innova) were missing. One suitcase was found in the hall and two boarding passes on the dining table. The police said the kitchen seemed to have been cleaned with a disinfectant, and another suitcase was open on the first floor. Sashwath said his parents had carried five suitcases in all, and three of them were missing. He asked his relatives to check the locker which reportedly contained gold ornaments, cash and other valuables. The locker was empty and they could not find anything inside the locker, the FIR said. The police said that at this point, suspicion fell on Krishna. Krishna was a Nepalese national who had been working for them on and off for a decade and staying at their farmhouse at Soolerikadu near Nemilichery. His father had been in the employ of the family too.
Additional Commissioner (South) N. Kannan says, “We found things were disturbed in the house and cupboards were open. Our inspector informed us that the utility area seemed to be washed off and faint blood stains were visible. Initially, we suspected that it was a kidnapping and the couple might be harmed. We thought they might have been abducted and left tied up in the farmhouse.”
Teams fan out
Immediately, special teams were formed to trace the suspect and the couple and they fanned out to several places, including the farmhouse and toll plazas in surrounding areas of the city.
The team which went to the farmhouse reported back that there was no one there. But they found the remains of a burnt mobile phone and a burnt cloth lying near what seemed like freshly dug soil. The police then started to suspect murder.
Chennai City Police Commissioner Shankar Jiwal said, “Our investigation started around noon with six special teams. Of them, one scrutinised CCTV footage and another looked at call detail records. We also checked whether the car used by the accused had a FASTag. We immediately alerted all toll gates in the State and the Andhra Pradesh police to keep a watch for Krishna. We alerted two routes up to Vijayawada and Vishakapatinam and tied with Andhra Pradesh’s Additional Director-General of Police Ravi Shankar Ayyanar. He alerted all Superintendents of Police in the State.”
Mr. Jiwal continues, “We saw some messages from FASTag that showed that the car was moving on a highway in Andhra Pradesh. Our teams rushed there. The Ongole police laid a trap at one of their toll plazas. They stopped the car and in under six hours we found the driver and the car, at around 5.40 p.m.”
Mr. Kannan says, “We nabbed the accused in a record time in Ongole, which is 300 kilometres away from the city, and brought the accused to the city. With him, was his associate Ravi Rai. Over 1,000 sovereigns and silver articles, looted from Srikanth’s house, were also brought back.”
Both Krishna and Ravi Rai, a native of Darjeeling, on being apprehended by the police, confessed to have plotted and murdered Srikanth and Anuradha. They led the police to the farmhouse and the pits they had dug to bury the bodies. The bodies were exhumed.
A back story
Further investigation disclosed a horror tale, one that began rather sedately nearly two decades ago.
Krishna’s father Padam Lal Sharma had lost his job in an amusement park 20 years ago, and Srikanth stepped in and gave Sharma’s family shelter at the farmhouse. Sharma and his four sons, Krishna among them, had worked as gardener and security guard of the farmhouse since then. Krishna also served as a part time-driver with an IIT professor, the police said, but stepped up every time Srikanth required him for tasks. From 2019, Krishna was appointed to look after Srikanth’s aged parents living at Dwaraka Colony.
As Krishna recounted the sequence of events to the police, the threads of a cold tale of pre-meditated murder for gain unravelled.
On the day of occurrence, after bringing Srikanth and Anuradha back home from the airport, Krishna on the sly opened the suitcase to check for valuables he could steal. Disappointed with that, Krishna and Ravi hit Srikanth on the head with the wooden handle of a shovel and stabbed him on the neck with a knife. This was on the ground floor. They then went over to the first floor where Anuradha fell to a similar attack.
Then, they washed off the blood that had splattered on the floor of the utility area on the ground floor and the first floor using disinfectant. They took a bunch of keys from Srikanth’s body and opened the locker. They looted the jewellery and silver articles that were kept in the locker and also used bed sheets to cover the bodies.
Then came the second part of the plot. They moved the bodies into the car, and also the loot. By dawn, they were on the way to the farmhouse on the ECR. There, they claimed they had placed the bodies in a sitting position in a pit dug a couple of days ago.
They then covered the pit with soil and placed boulders on top so as to keep away stray dogs from disturbing the area. Then they drove the car away, hoping to make it to Nepal, and safety, said the police.
A senior officer said that during interrogation, Krishna said he wanted money and he had learnt that Srikanth had completed a real estate deal recently that made him richer by ₹40 crore. “My son is studying in Darjeeling and I needed the money for his education. I am 40 years old already, and have to work my entire life as a driver. I thought I should settle down once and for all,” Krishna told the police.
The police later said Krishna was able to loot 1,000 sovereigns of gold and 60 kg of silver articles from the Mylapore bungalow. The accused believed that if they escaped to Nepal, they would never be caught.
Apprehensions among seniors
The murder has created a sense of apprehension among elders living in the city all by themselves.
Pennathur Subramaniam Prabakar, a long-time resident of Mylapore and correspondent of P.S. Senior Secondary School, says, “It has also made us question the basis of our support system — people who help us. Also, the lesson is that we should be careful while discussing financial matters when support staff are around. We need to store our valuables and jewellery in bank lockers, especially when we are away from home for long periods.”
Keeping to themselves, especially in upscale areas or buildings, may not be a great thing, says Edwin Babu, joint director programmes, Helpage, as this makes them more vulnerable. “There are local residents associations, or senior citizens forums that they can be part of so that the members check on each other periodically. Children who live abroad and have aged parents living by themselves in rural or urban areas should also make it a point to engage with their neighbours as well as relatives in the same city from time to time — there should be a reliable, safe network around them,” he adds.
“Earlier, the policeman who used to visit our apartment, would sign a book — the senior citizens police point book — which would remain with the apartment. This ritual has been given a go-by for reasons best known to the authorities, and it would be helpful if it is brought back,” says V.S. Jayaraman, of the T.Nagar Residents Welfare Association.
Mr. Jiwal explains the facilities available, “We are already running helplines for the elderly that cater to 10 to 12 people per day, on an average. Now we are planning to intensify the entire exercise with the introduction of WhatsApp numbers for three categories of people — elderly couples staying alone, single elderly persons staying alone and elderly folks staying with their children. This are numbers they can message if they want any assistance from the police like regular visit or volunteers from NGO for even small issues or medical assistance. They can register with us and we will help out depending on the need. Another service we are providing now, but is not used so much, is verification of antecedents of support staff. This year it is free, but from next year, it will be done on payment of a fee.”