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Delhi 11 members of a family death mystery: 'They were educated, not superstitious', relatives dismiss salvation angle; Police investigating

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 02, Jul 2018, 15:27 pm IST | UPDATED: 02, Jul 2018, 16:23 pm IST

Delhi 11 members of a family death mystery: 'They were educated, not superstitious', relatives dismiss salvation angle; Police investigating New Delhi: A relative of the 11 members of a family who were found dead under mysterious circumstances at their home in north Delhi's Burari suspected foul play in the incident, saying that "they were educated people and not superstitious".

Ketan Nagpal, whose maternal grandmother was one of the deceased, alleged that they were killed and dismissed the police theory that it could be a case of "suicide pact".

He said it was a prosperous family.

"They were not facing any financial issues and had not taken even a single loan. Everything was fine. Why would they kill themselves?" he said.

Nagpal contended that even if they had to commit suicide, they would not have covered their faces and taped their mouth.

Another relative said they had spoken to the family last night. They sounded "normal" and did not show any signs of depression, he added.

"The family did not have enmity with anyone. But we suspect someone killed them," he alleged.

The relatives claimed that there was no "religious angle" linked to the deaths.

"They believed in God but who believes in such things (referring to handwritten notes talking about salvation). They were educated people and not superstitious," said one of the relatives.

Police found handwritten notes which indicated a "religious or spiritual angle" to the deaths. A police officer said a probe will be conducted to find "if the family indulged in occult practices" or they followed "any godman".

The deceased were identified as Narayan Devi (77), who was found dead on the floor, her daughter Pratibha (57), her two sons Bhavnesh (50) and Lalit Bhatia (45).

Bhavnesh's wife Savita (48) and their three children - Meenu (23), Nidhi (25) and Dhruv (15).

Lalit Bhatia's wife Tina (42) and their 15-year-old son Shivam were also among those found dead.

Pratibha's daughter Priyanka (33), who was engaged last month and would have married by the end of this year, was also found hanging.

 Only two who live outside Delhi are alive - Narayan Devi's oldest son Dinesh, who lives in Rajasthan's Kota, and another daughter Sujata, who lives with her family in Panipat.

Priyanka, who worked for an IT company in Noida, had reportedly discussed her wedding with cousins on Saturday night.

"She was talking about shopping for her wedding around 11 pm. She did not sound depressed or that she was about to kill herself. We were all looking forward to her wedding but now everything is over," said Ketan Nagpal, Priyanka's cousin.

From handwritten notes found in the home, the police suspect some religious connect to the deaths. The notes had "strong similarity with the manner in which the mouths, eyes etc of the deceased were tied and taped," said the police in a statement.

On Facebook, the family smiles at the camera in various group photos - some taken in front of India Gate in Delhi, some on holidays and a few with the family gathered around Narayan Devi.

Pravin Mittal, a neighbour who had known the family for 20 years and treated Priyanka Bhatia like a sibling, said the family was deeply religious and always prayed before going to bed.

"They were followers of Hanuman," said Mr Mittal.

But the family, he added, was well educated, enough not to be swayed by the occult.

Lalit Bhatia had apparently lost his voice in an accident. "Then his father appeared in a dream and advised him to pray a lot to get back to normal. That's when the family turned to religion in a big way. But I can't believe in the mass suicide theory. One of the notes may have been written by the child about moksha (salvation), but I don't think it has anything to do with the deaths," said Mr Mittal.

 The police are yet to establish the sequence of the deaths; whether it was a mass suicide or murder-suicide. A case of murder has been filed after handwritten notes revealed a possible spiritual connection to the deaths, say the police.

Here are the top 10 updates on Burari deaths:
  1.     All but one of the bodies were hanging from the ceiling; most of them were blindfolded, gagged and their hands tied behind the back. The bodies will be cremated in Delhi today.
  2.     The oldest member of the family, 77-year-old Narayan Devi, was found on the floor with signs of strangling. The others were hanging from a railing attached to the ceiling.
  3.     The others found dead were Narayan Devi's daughter Pratibha, 57, sons Bhavnesh, 50, and Lalit Bhatia, 45, and their families. Bhavnesh's wife Savita, 48, and their three children Meenu, 23, Neetu, 25, and 15-year-old Dhruv were found hanging. So were Lalit Bhatia's wife Tina, 42, and their 15-year-old son Shivam.
  4.     Pratibha's daughter Priyanka, 33, who got engaged last month, was also hanging. An IT company employee, she was said to be excited about her wedding later this year.
  5.     Narayan Devi had one more son and daughter who lived away and are said to be in shock. Her eldest son Dinesh Bhatia lives in Rajasthan's Kota and daughter Sujata lives in Panipat in Haryana.
  6.     "I can't believe that they committed suicide. Everyone was so happy. Someone has killed my family and the police have to find them," Sujata Bhatia was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
  7.     CCTV footage shows that a food was delivered at the Bhatia home on Saturday night, around 10:40 pm. No one was seen entering or leaving the house after that, until the neighbour who found the bodies on Sunday.
  8.     A police statement said some handwritten notes were found in the house "which point towards observance of some definite spiritual/mystical practices by the whole family".
  9.     The notes had "strong similarity with the manner in which the mouths, eyes etc of the deceased were tied and taped," said the police.
  10.     The police first suspected a connection to a gang war in which three were killed last month. On June 18, members of rival gangs opened fire on each other in the main Burari market, killing three people and wounding five. No link has been found to the family deaths.

Here is what we know about the case so far, and the questions that remain unanswered.

What we know so far

Postmortem report
Postmortem of 6 bodies have been completed so far. Police sources say autopsy report mentions 'ligature hanging' as the reason behind death. No signs of struggle were found, says the autopsy report.

June 17

Family gathers for Narayani's granddaughter's engagement

June 30

8pm: Bhavnesh shuts his plywood shop and returns home

10pm: Other son shuts his general store and goes home

11pm: Narayani's younger son, Lalit, calls his sister, Sujata, to ask about her well-being

July 1

7.15am: Neighbour Gurcharan Singh visits family after noticing both shops were shut (they opened early). Finds the bodies hanging, alerts police

7.30am onwards

Police receive PCR call

PCRs dispatch; inspectors M P Bhardwaj, Manoj Kumar and ACP K C Negi rush with teams

12pm: CM Arvind Kejriwal and MP Manoj Tiwari visit spot; meet locals 1pm: Bodies sent to mortuary for post-mortem after crime scene inspected by forensic experts and cops

Many answers we don't know

1. The elderly woman in the other room was strangled. If it was a "suicide pact", why was she murdered?

2. Did a family member kill them and commit suicide?

3. Why was the main door of the house open? Did the "killers" have a free passage?

4. If an outsider was involved, why did none of the neighbours hear the dog bark?

5. If it was a case of mass suicide, why didn't any of the family members leave a note?

6. Relatives say there were no issues in the family. If it was a suicide pact, what could be the reason?

7. Most of the deceased had chunnis around the neck with religious messages. Why?

8. Cops say robbery in the house seemed unlikely as cash found intact. Why did the killer, if an outsider, not take the money?

9. Why were the hands and legs of the deceased tied up if it was suicide?

10. The kids' bodies were found hanging too. Did the children agree to kill themselves without making any noise?

11. The children's feet were touching the ground. Were they killed and their bodies hanged?

12. Why were their faces covered?

13. Did the family ingest poison?
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