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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Case 3: In Search of a Young Man

            Some banks claim that they never sleep. Some cities have earned the distinction that they never sleep. But one institution that really stays awake, everywhere in this world, is a police station. A police station is always bustling with activity. Some people come to report lost and stolen articles, some people report bigger thefts, but some people report lost or stolen people.
In my 5 years of career, I had dealt with a few kidnapping cases. The basic motive was to ask for hefty ransom. The kidnapping is followed by a threatening call. Most of the times, it is actually a hollow threat but it scares the victim’s family. The victim’s relatives panic and pay the ransom. The kidnapper is sometimes kind to send the victim back unharmed. But sometimes, victim’s families aren’t so lucky.
The second motive was to kidnap a person and plough him in the flesh trade. Young kids and girls who have just achieved puberty are the victims. This category of kidnapping is extremely difficult to investigate as there is never any communication from the kidnapper.
Most of the cases can be classified as a variation of these two categories. However, little did I know that I was going to witness a third category of kidnapping. It was a typical January evening that day. Had I been working as an accountant, I would probably be packing to return home. However a case was keeping me in the police station. A young gentleman, followed by a lady entered my office. He seemed to be in his late thirties and came from an upper middle class family. The lady was clad in a yellow sari and looked of the same age as that of the man. Both seemed terribly upset.
“Sir, are you ACP Savyasachi?”
“Yes, I am. Tell me.”
“We had a matter which requires urgent attention. The head constable directed us to you”
“What is the matter?”
“My name is Hem Singh and this is my wife Suvarna. Sir, our child has been kidnapped?”
I looked over to Aditi who was seated at her desk nearby. She immediately understood my signal & joined me.
“Can you tell me in detail?”
“Sir, we stay in Mulund. Both of us work as managers in call centers. We were in our office this afternoon, when we received a call from our maid that our son had been kidnapped”
“How do you know that he has been kidnapped?”
“Sir, we received an anonymous letter from our son that he has been kidnapped.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes Sir, I could recognize the handwriting as that of my son”
“Can you show me the letter?”
Hem Singh put his hand in his pocket and removed a small piece of paper. I took the paper in my hand and unfolded it. It had a small note and I could make out that the handwriting belonged to a child. It read as follows

“Dad and Mom, These guys are very bad. They have kidnapped me. They want one lakh rupees. If you don’t give it to them, they will cause harm to me. If you will call the police, they will hurt me. Please do as they say.”
I folded the letter and handed over to Hem Singh. “I need to ask you a few questions”
“Yes Sir, go ahead”
“What is your kid’s name?”
“Do you have his photograph?”
“Yes”. Hem Singh handed me a recent photograph of his son which I passed on to Aditi.
“Can you describe Krishh’s normal day?”
“Sir, My son’s day begins at 5’o clock, in the morning. He gets ready and goes to the school. He comes back home at around 2 in the afternoon. He eats his lunch and takes rest in the afternoon. In the evening, he goes to the gymkhana. In the night, he spends time with us”
“What happened today?”
“He never came back from the school. Instead, we got this note”
“How did you get this note?”
“The maid found it stuck on our outer door.”
“Did anyone in the building see anything anything unusual”
“Did you check with his friends?”
“Yes, we could not trace him at any of his friends’ place. In fact his best friend, Rakesh had come over in the afternoon to meet him”
“Does he come every day?”
“Please file a report with the head constable. I will start working on this case. We will wait for further communication as to the day and time of the delivery of the money. Till then, I will speak to the security of your building”
“Thank you, Sir”
The man and the lady got up and left my office. I looked at Aditi
“What do you feel?” I asked her.
“It is a bit odd. The ransom threat is a letter by the child itself.”
“In my past 5 years, this is for the first time that the victim has sent the letter. It is also for the first time that the ransom demand has come in the form of letter and not a call”
 “One more thing sounds odd to me. The ransom amount is small. If the kidnapper is taking such a huge risk of kidnapping a child, he could have demanded much more than this. At least ten lacs rupees”
‘Yes, you are right. I am not sure why this gentleman’s child has been kidnapped. Both husband and wife work with call centers and must be earning about 12-15 lac rupees. The kidnappers could have kidnapped the son of a more wealthy businessman or industrialist and demanded a hefty ransom”
“It may be possible that this could be a handiwork of the children trafficking gangs.”
“Child trafficking gangs ploughed the children into either trafficking business or the begging business. They do not ask for ransom”
 “The gentleman said that he found that letter on the door. It means it was manually delivered. So the person who has delivered the letter has obviously entered the premises”
“Good thinking Aditi. We should speak to our friend, the security guard. Please have Tukaram check the background of both parents and the child”
Aditi walked over to head constable Tukaram. Watching her from a distance giving instructions to the head constable gave me an impression that she was working with utmost urgency. Tukaram nodded. He seemed to have understood what was to be done.
Few moments later, we were at the Grand Ville apartment near Mulund Station. It was the latest skyscraper in the Mulund East area. Built about five years ago, it was also very close to the railway station, which was proving to be a boon to the inhabitants. We approached the security guard.
“Are you the security guard here?”
“Yes Sir”
“What are your duty hours?”
“I serve from 7 in the morning till 7 in the evening”
“Do you know that Mr Hem Singh’s kid has been kidnapped?”
“Yes Sir”
“How do you know?”
“Sir, Krishh normally comes home by 2 in the afternoon. But today he did not return. So at first the maid came down. Later I saw his father and mother return from the office”
“Did you see anything suspicious? Did you see any stranger entering the building premises?”
“No sir”
“Are you sure”
“All the people who went up to this building either lived in this building or came to meet their relatives”
“How can you be sure that everyone who entered the building premises actually had any relatives in the building? What is the chance that the person wants to see Mr X for example but goes and meets some other person” Aditi asked the guard.
“Madam, I have been working as a security guard in this building for 5 years. I recognize their names and faces very well. If any other person comes around, I inquire as to his destination and then check with the flat owners before I let them go”
“Do you do it without exception?”
“Yes, I do it without exception only when I am not able to recognize the person. Some visitors are known to me. In this case, I merely request them to make an entry in the register.”
“Can I have a look at the register?” I asked him.
The security guard showed the register to me. I quickly scanned through the people who had entered the building during that day.
“Is Rakesh the only person who went up to Hem Singh’s flat today?”
“Yes Sir, he is Krishh’s classmate and good friend. He comes every afternoon to study with him. Both of them then go to the gymkhana together. Today he came as usual. He went up to their house. But he returned shortly. When I asked him, what the matter was, he told me that Krishh had not returned, so he was going back to his home”
“Thank you”
We left the building premises and boarded our vehicle.
“Can we rely on what the guard has said?” Aditi asked me.
“At this time, we do not have a choice.”
“If we rely on his testimony, it certainly would mean that it is an inside job”
“It could be. But before we come to any conclusion, I would like to follow his trail today.”
I started the vehicle and within a few minutes, we reached the VN Sule High School. We explained our purpose of visit to the principal. The principal was shocked to hear the news.
“How is Krishh as a student?” I asked her.
“Krishh is an extremely nice boy. He is intelligent and normally secures the first rank in his division. He is great at writing stories and staging plays. Crime and mystery are his forte”
“Is he notorious? I mean, in the past has he been involved in fights, disputes. Do any of the students in the school not like him? Are there any rival student groups who detest him?”
“No Sir, He is in good books of all teachers. He is also admired throughout the school”
At this time, an old man entered. He was wearing a khaki shirt and pants and had an iron rod in his hand. I realized that he was the security guard at the school. The school principal initiated the conversation.
“Paan Singh, this is Mumbai Police. Krishh has been kidnapped. They are trying to find him. They want to ask you a few questions”
“Paan Singh, when did you last see him?” I asked him.
“Sir, I saw him last at about 2 in the afternoon. He left the school as he always does”
“Did he go alone or did he go with someone else?”
“He went alone”
“Did he meet any one in the road?”
“Sir, only a small stretch of road is visible to me and he did not meet anyone on that stretch.”
“Thank you”
“We thanked the principal and came back to our vehicle. “So, Krishh left the school at about 2 and never returned home. It means that he must have been kidnapped on the road. Come on let’s go”
We got into our vehicle. We began to drive down the road. We decided to drive on Krishh’s normal route to home. His home was not very far from his school. It would be about 15 minutes on any normal day. As we took a right turn, we observed a shop. We stopped our vehicle and went up to the shop.
“Did you see this child today?” I asked the shop owner showing the child’s photo
“Oh, this is Krishh. What happened?”
“You know him”
“Of course sir, he studies at the nearby school. He walks to his home every day. On the way, he never forgets to take his chocolate”
“Did he take his chocolate today?”
“Yes sir”
“Thank you”
We went back to our vehicle. I said to Aditi. “He has passed down this road. He must have been kidnapped after this point”
We got back into our vehicle and went ahead on the road. We turned right at the junction and now were on the 90 Feet Road. This was the road on which Krishh’s home was located. We again came to a shop. We showed him the photo.
“Sir, this is Krishh. He stays down this road.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes sir, normally he passes down this road when he comes back from the school or the gymkhana”
“Today, did you see him?”
“No Sir”
I turned to Aditi. “It means that he has been kidnapped in this past stretch”
“Yes, Sir”
 “Let us go back to the police station and see if Tukaram has found anything”
We got back into our vehicles and we were at the Mulund police station. Tukaram was waiting for us.
“Tukaram, do you have any lead on the Krishh Singh kidnapping case?”
“Yes Sir”
“I began the reference check by checking on Hem Singh and his wife”
“Both have a clean record. Hem Singh works for Aventus BPO and his wife works with Burritos BPO. Both hold the managers posts in their respective organization. Hem Singh earns about 50,000 every month and Suvarna earns about 35,000 every month.”
“Does he have any debt?”
“Mr Hem Singh does not possess any mortgage, neither on his home nor his credit card.”
“Does Hem Singh have any disputes or any enemies?”
“I spoke to the companies that they work for, couple of their neighbors, their colleagues and several members of the Park Club, of which they are the members. All speak very highly about the husband and wife”
“But I do have news on the kid. One of our informers has been able to identify the kid. According to this informer, this kid is a gambler. He regularly gambles at the casino on the highway”
“Where does he get the money from?”
“Sir, he borrows from Kali, the local punter. He has borrowed more than one lac rupees till date. Kali has been after him for some time. He has threatened the child a lot of times.”
We issued summons to Kali and ordered him to show up at the Police Station. He showed up in the late evening.
“Namaskar Saheb”
“So Kali, you have become brave these days. We are hearing a lot about your achievements”
“Sir, I am not sure what you are referring to.”
“Do you remember this child?” I showed him Krishh’s photograph.
“Sir, this kid is a nuisance. He likes to gamble at a casino. He came to me and borrowed one lac rupees from me. Unfortunately he lost everything in the casino”
“Why did you lend to a child?”
“Sir, he told me that his parents were rich. They earn that kind of money every month in salaries. It will be easy for him to repay the money with even 20% interest”
 “So when the child lost the money and could not repay the amount, you kidnapped him”
“No sir, I did not kidnap him”
“Who else has the motive to kidnap him?”
“Sir, if I kidnap him, I will break the law. I have been in trouble with the police in the past. With a great difficulty, I have managed to secure a new lease of life. Why spoil my life for that child and for one lac rupees”
 “That is fine. Next time, I come to know that you have lent to a child, I will spoil your life once and for all”
“Yes Sir, I will remember that”
“You may go now”
Kali got up and left the police station immediately. I turned to Aditi again.
 “Let’s take everyone”
“Let us assume that Kali has done it. Kali has a strong motive to do it. The child owes him one lac rupees. Kali is a small time punter. This amount is very large for him. So he kidnaps the child”
“What I fail to understand is why Kali chose to send a letter in the child’s handwriting to his parents for ransom. I further do not understand how he managed to dodge the security guard.”
“He had a better option. Why take the pain of kidnapping the child at all. This man has a licensed gun.  He could have gone and asked the parents for money. All he had to do was to point the barrel on the parent’s face. Hem Singh would have panicked and surely paid him.” Aditi put in her thoughts.
“Let us go to his parents. Hem Singh and his wife apparently do not have a motive. Let us assume that they do and we don’t know. They self kidnap the child.  So as we speak, the child is with them. Now they need a ransom call. They ask their child to write a letter and hang it outside the door and the maid pretends to receive it.”
“There is an easier option. Why not ask a friend to call them. This gives them an alibi. The letter hung on the door has the potential to expose them”
“Moreover, what I don’t understand is that Hem Singh and his wife earn the amount of ransom every month. They really don’t need to kidnap their own child to get that money. Even if they do, they would never come to police.”
“But Sir, there really isn’t a third scenario”
I smiled at Aditi. “We haven’t really considered the real beneficiary. Krishh himself.”
“You mean Krishh has self kidnapped himself to get the ransom money”
“Remember what his principal told us today. He is good at writing and constructing plays. He has won competitions in the past. His level of knowledge should be immense. I can understand that because I have myself been a winner of those competitions”
“But why did Krishh do all this? Why not take his parents into confidence” Aditi asked me.
“He is possibly afraid of how his parents would react. He did brag to kali that his parents had money and that they can give it to him. But in reality, Krishh was never in position to approach his parents. He never envisaged such a scenario because he always counted on the fact that he will win”
“But how did he manage to plant the letter?”
“He didn’t plant the letter himself. His friend Rakesh planted the letter when he made his routine visit. That is the only way he could have delivered the letter”
“So when he left the school today, he just walked into a hiding”
“I am interested in knowing why Krishh chose the stretch between the two shops, which we visited, to disappear. This answer will lead us to his current location and hiding place”
I got up and motioned to Aditi to follow me. In half an hour’s time, we reached the residence of Mr Hem Singh.
After having a seat at their place, I started a conversation
“We are close to finding the whereabouts of your son”
“Where is my son, right now? How is he?” He asked me.
“I need to ask you a question”
“Sure sir, you may ask me any question”
“Once you start from your son’s school, you have two general stores. Every day, your son stops at both shops and buys chocolates at these shops. Today, he stopped as usual at the first shop but never reached the second one. Do you have any friends or relatives staying in this stretch? Are you aware of any friends of Krishh who stay in this stretch?”
“I do not have any relatives staying in that stretch. I am not aware of any of his friends who stay in that area. But I have a house in Gurujyot apartment which is about few minutes’ walk from the first shop”
“How many pair of keys of that house do you have?”
“One is always with my parents who stay in Thane. The second is with me”
“Can I see your pair of keys?”
“Sure Sir”
He went in his bedroom to get the keys. He was gone for about 10 minutes. He came back puzzled and without the keys.
‘I can’t find my keys. What is the matter, Sir?”
“Your son took the keys”
“Why do you think so?”
“Your son borrowed about one lac rupees from a local punter. He invested it into a gambling and lost everything. Now he has to pay it back. So he faked his own kidnapping. I am suspecting that he may be staying at your second house”
“This is disgusting”
“No, it isn’t. This is a peculiar age for kids. They are getting exposed to this world which they don’t know well. They have a tendency to get excited, get carried away and they make mistakes. It is the job of elders to advise them in a loving manner. It is a concern that he could not take you into confidence”
“95% of the parents will react the way you did. They will feel their kid has brought shame to them. They will shout on the kids or punish the kids. This will not solve the problem. It will rather aggravate it. Today this situation is under control. Tomorrow, it may not be.  Talk to him. Find out why he did that. Answer his questions. Solve his doubts”
“You are right sir”
“Come on, let’s go and get him”
We left the room followed by Hem Singh and his wife. We boarded our police vehicle. Hem Singh gave directions to us. Soon we were below the apartment building. Slowly but steadily we made our way up the staircase to the third floor on which Hem Singh’s flat was located. As expected, the door was locked from inside.
Hem Singh gently knocked on the door.
“Krishh beta, I know you are in there, please come out”
There was no answer.
“I know everything. The police have told us everything”
There was still no answer
“Beta, I love you, please come out. I will not scold you”
There was a moment’s silence. We could hear footsteps towards the door. Slowly there was a creaking sound from inside the house. The door was being unbolted. The door opened slowly and Krishh popped his head out. His mother and father bent down, hugged him and kissed him.
“Why did you gamble? If you needed the money, why didn’t you ask us?”
“I wanted to be rich. I am not comfortable seeing both of you as a middle class. All our relatives are rich. They have cars. They have jewellery. They have servants at home. They look down on us. In the past, they have humiliated us. I wanted to put an end to this stuff”
“I used to pass by Kali every day when I return. One day, I heard him say that he put in one lac rupees and after playing for few days, he won around crores rupees. I had then decided that I will play and win crores rupees”
Both Hem Singh and his wife stared at him for a minute and started sobbing. They hugged him hard and kept murmuring that they loved him a lot. Few minutes later, I bent down to face Krishh.
“I understand how you feel. As a child, I have seen my parents struggle to make ends meet. But I will tell you what my mother told me at that time. Being rich is a subjective concept. As you start getting richer, you will probably leave your relatives behind in terms of financial wealth. But you will come across number of people who are richer than you. What will you do then?”
“Your parents are still affluent. They are in top 2% of the population in this country. Look around the people in your classroom and see if their parents earn the same way your parents do. You should thank god for giving you the prosperity that you have”
“There is no shortcut to success. You have your shares of failures which you cannot dodge. If you try to take a shortcut you will pay for it”
I patted his back and got up to find Aditi staring at me.
“You will be a great father”
“Don’t talk like my mother does” I shot back as I walked out of the apartment.