Kishan Lal, who lived in Tughlaqabad area of Delhi, was stabbed to death on a cold February night in 1997 and the killer was untraceable.
Kishan Lal, who worked odd jobs, had left behind his wife Sunita, who was pregnant with their first child at the time.
Litigation started in the death case and the Patiala House Court declared suspect Ramu, a daily-wage earner, untraceable. He lived in the same neighbourhood as Lal.
His case file from the pre-digital era continued to bite dust for over two decades until a team of the Delhi Police’s North District which is trained to handle old cases laid its hands on it in August 2021.
A year later, Sunita got a call from the Delhi Police and was asked to reach Lucknow immediately.
The Delhi Police had caught hold of a 50-year-old man, whom they believed was her husband’s killer. They wanted her to confirm the identity of the suspect.
Sunita, who was accompanied by her son Sunny (24), confirmed to the police that the man was Ramu before she fainted.
“The woman had lost all hopes of getting justice and even closed doors on our police team that reached out to her last year when they started working on this old case. But it was understandable on her part since a lot of time had lapsed,” Deputy Commissioner of Police (North District) Sagar Singh Kalsi told PTI.
The officer heaped praise on the four-member team for cracking the quarter-century old case, noting that it had no eyewitnesses of the murder, no photographs of the accused or clue of his whereabouts.
The team had sub-inspector Yogender Singh, head-constables Puneet Malik and Omprakash Dagar under Inspector Surrender Singh with Assistant Commissioner of Police (Operations) Dharmender Kumar as their guide, Mr Kalsi said.
“It was pretty much a wild goose chase for the team where they were hoping to get one substantial clue for several months. During the period, the team went undercover on several occasions for investigation within Delhi and in Uttar Pradesh,” the DCP said.
The team posed as life insurance agents when it went to Uttam Nagar in Delhi, where they had traced a relative of Ramu on pretext of helping them with money for their releatives of the dead, Mr Kalsi said.
The team also managed to reach Khanpur village in district Farrukhabad of Uttar Pradesh under the same guise when it met relatives of Ramu, he said.
It was in Farrukhabad that the police chanced upon a mobile number belonging to Aakash, the son of Ramu. Further efforts led the police team to a Facebook account of Aakash through which he was traced in Lucknow’s Kapurthala area, the officer said.
The police met Aakash and enquired the whereabouts of his father Ramu, who now lived under the name of Ashok Yadav. He told the team that he has not met his father in a long time and only knows he now runs an e-rickshaw for a living in the Jankipuram area of Lucknow. “This happened recently and the case that was progressing slowly for almost a year suddenly caught pace. The police team, which was undercover, suspected that the information that someone has been inquiring about him might reach Ramu and he may again go into hiding,” DCP Kalsi said.
Hot on the killer’s pursuit, the police team opted for the guise of agents of an e-rickshaw company and contacted several drivers in the Jankipuram area.They interacted with them on the pretext of providing them subsidies on new e-rickshaw under a central government initiative.
“During one such interaction, an e-rickshaw driver led them to Ashok Yadav (Ramu), who was staying near a railway station on September 14. He was apprehended for questioning; he first denied being Ramu or having ever lived in Delhi,” the officer said.
The police team had contacted the relatives of Ramu in Farrukhabad to ascertain his identity and also called Sunita from Delhi to confirm if the man indeed was her husband’s killer.
Finally when his identity was confirmed, Ramu (50) also confessed that he had hatched Lal’s killing for money from a “committee” (a chit-fund type system among a small group of people) in February 1997.
He had arranged for a party on February 4, where he got Kishan Lal sloshed before stabbing him with a knife and fleeing away with the money, hiding at different locations before settling down in Lucknow, according to officials.
While in hiding, Ramu got identification cards, including Aadhar, made under his new but false identity as Ashok Yadav, Kalsi said.
Now the legal proceedings in the 25-year-old case of murder are further being carried out at the Timarpur police station here, the officer added.