Half-sisters Renuka Shinde and Seema Mohan Gavit, along with their mother Anjanabai and Renuka’s husband Kiran, were arrested in Nashik in 1996 for kidnapping a girl – an arrest that led to startling revelations of spine-chilling crimes that still haunt people in western Maharashtra.
Police Inspector Mandaleshwar Madhavrao Kale, who was investigating the kidnapping case of a nine-year old in Nashik in October 1996, had said that he had no idea the probe would reveal that the trio had, in a span of six years, kidnapped at least 13 children and murdered nine of them.
The nine-year-old girl, who was kidnapped, was the daughter of Mohan Gavit, one of Anjanabai’s two husbands, from another marriage. During a search of the house of the accused in Nashik, the police found several discarded clothes of small children and photographs of birthday celebrations of Renuka’s children that showed the presence of several other kids who were not locals. Suspecting something amiss, the police began an investigation to trace the children.
The police found out that the three women had a pick-pocketing gang. They also learnt that the nine-year-old child was dumped in a sugarcane field near Pune and the trio returned after a few months without knowing that Mohan’s wife had lodged a kidnapping complaint against them.
After an initial probe, the case was taken over by the state Criminal Investigation Department (CID). Suhas Nadgauda, who is currently a senior police officer in Pune Police, was part of the investigating team in the case. According to Nadgauda, it was an extensive investigation spread over multiple locations in western Maharashtra and nearly 156 prosecution witnesses were examined during the trial. Most of the children kidnapped and murdered by the trio were from poor families, he said.
The police believed that the trio were involved in more than 40 cases of kidnapping and murder. However, due to the absence of electronic clues, the police could only get sufficient evidence in some cases.
The probe revealed that Anjanabai had started indulging in petty street thefts by using her daughters as bait or distraction. The trio were habitual thieves and police had caught them on several occasions. However, they used to allegedly bribe the officials and escape.
In 1990, Renuka, along with her child went to a temple which had a large gathering and tried to snatch a purse from a man but he caught her. Renuka made a hue and cry and questioned how he could catch her. People around her let her off, seeing the mother and the toddler. Renuka narrated the incident to her sister and told them how she managed to escape as she had her minor son with her. Thereafter, they would have a child with them at the time of committing the crime to easily escape from the crowd, police said.
They conspired to kidnap small children below five years of age, use them while committing thefts and then murder them when they no longer remained useful, the investigation revealed. The accused thought this would be the only way to evade arrests.
The probe revealed that their first such victim was a one-year-old boy who was picked up by Renuka from a female beggar in July, 1990. They brought him to Pune and named him Santosh. In April 1991, they took him to Kolhapur where Seema was caught while trying to steal a devotee’s purse at Mahalaxmi temple. Anjanabai intervened and threw Santosh on the ground, following which he sustained injuries. That distracted the crowd and Seema could escape. After committing two-three more such thefts, they killed Santosh as he would keep crying due to his injuries and it would lead to them being caught by the police. They disposed of the dead body near the State Transport bus stand at Kolhapur, the probe revealed.
The police found that the trio, with the help of Kiran, who later turned approver in the case, had kidnapped at least 13 children and killed 9 of them and attempted to kidnap one more child. These incidents took place between June 1990 and October 1996 in Pune, Thane, Kalyan, Kolhapur and Nashik. They kept roaming around Western Maharashtra, including areas near Mumbai, by attending fairs, festivals and processions at landmark temples, train stations, bus stands and gardens and made a living out of stealing valuables from the crowded areas.
Anjanabai, Renuka and Seema were arrested, along with Kiran, in November 1996. Anjanabai, who was nearly 50, died in prison due to illness prior to the commencement of trial. The sessions court in Kolhapur sentenced the two half-sisters to death in 2001 for kidnapping and murdering six children and the Bombay High Court upheld the sentence for five murders in 2004. The Supreme Court in 2006 upheld the death sentence and the President of India rejected their mercy plea in 2014.
Over 25 years after their arrests, the Bombay High Court earlier this year commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment and pulled up the state machinery for “laxity and indifference” in deciding their mercy plea.