Poonawala first bought a 300-litre refrigerator. A few years ago, the 28-year-old had trained as a chef and had the skills he needed now to embark on his macabre mission. Using a meat cleaver that he had bought along with the fridge, Poonawala chopped Walkar’s body into smaller parts, intending to get rid of them day by day.
Delhi’s most grisly murder: Why Aftab Ameen Poonawala killed Shradha, chopped body into 35 pieces
The ghoulish work wasn’t easy, the murderer admitted to his interrogators. He would get drunk, tie a cloth or wear a mask to avoid the stench. At times, he became frightened at what he had got himself into and even cried in desperation. But the fear of getting arrested kept him going, he said.
After chopping the body into 35 pieces, he stacked them in the refrigerator. Dozens of bottles of perfumes and deodorant and incense sticks helped keep the odour at bay.
Over the next 16 days, Poonawala followed a meticulous routine. When the clock struck 2am, he went to the fridge, retrieved a body part or two, stuffed them into a bag and left the house. He went to a new area every day and dumped the parts in drains and forested areas. Often, before dumping the body part, he cut them into smaller pieces so as not to alert ragpickers. He emptied the polythene bags at one place, taking care to ensure he threw the bags in another location.
Poonawala might well have thought he had evaded arrest. But the Delhi cops weren’t to be denied though it took them six months to nail him. It was a challenge for them to find the body parts after arresting the youth, but they got him to point out the places where he had disposed of the dismembered body parts.
The secrecy in which all this took place left residents of street No. 1 in Chhatarpur Pahadi, where Poonawala had rented house No. 93/1 for Rs 10,000 a month, by surprise. No one recalled seeing the man stressed. “He behaved like a normal person and there was a sense of calmness on his face,” recalled Kusum Lata, a neighbour. Poonawala had moved into the flat on May 15 and killed Walkar three days later.
The residents said that Poonawala usually emerged from his room to take delivery of food and to buy provisions and groceries. Inside the flat on Monday, clothes lay in disarray everywhere, while there was a heap of garbage near the main door, including used packets of surgical gloves. A resident who visited the house reported there was no stench in the room.
A family on the second floor of the same building said the only interaction they remembered with Poonawala was about the water tank. “Otherwise, we met little. He did not live in the one-room flat, which includes a bedroom, kitchen, and dining hall, for half a month,” a family member said.
Prem, 66, another neighbour, said she saw the youth going out late at night, but she assumed he was going for work. “I often saw him making calls to someone who opened the doors for him,” she said. Many residents of the area did not know his name, and Poonawala often quickly closed the door if he noticed anyone staring in his direction. By all accounts, very few people ever came to meet him.
Prem added that during the summers she heard some noise from the killer’s flat, possibly related to a fight. “Soon after the arguments, I heard music played at a high volume,” she claimed.
Some locals helped the cops take out the fridge in which the body parts of the murdered Walkar had been kept. They said that there was no smell. The locals claimed never to have seen any woman in the flat. “It was only on Monday that we learnt about the murder and saw the photograph of the woman who lived here,” a resident said.
The area where the murder and its sequel took place has a mixed population, most inhabitants there being tenants. One of them exclaimed, “I’d never experienced such a thing. It is scary that a man could behave so normally after cutting up a woman into 35 pieces.”