Three bodies found under the tetrapods along the city's famed Queen Necklace had not only foxed the police but also alarmed local residents in the past month.
But on Thursday, there was a collective heave of relief as the cops announced the arrest of the killer, 20-year-old Munna Sheikh from Lucknow. The serial killer would rob his victims after murdering them.
According to the police, the first murder came to light on February 18 after residents complained of a stench near the sea-face at Churchgate. The police found a decomposed body in a crevice below one of the tetrapods, which was later identified as that of 21-year-old Asid, a jobless youth from Lucknow.
On February 26, another body was found at the same spot - this one was partially burnt and covered with garbage. The victim was 20-year-old Rupesh Wankhede, a Navi Mumbai resident who had run away from home after a quarrel with his parents. As the clueless cops hunted for the killer, a third body was found at the same spot on March 7. All three had been mutilated in order to make their identification difficult.
The police then set up a team and patrolled the region constantly for a week. During this time, they came across hundreds of homeless people, who had come to Mumbai from all across the country to look for jobs. But there was still no sign of the killer.
Finally on Tuesday, a patrolling cop noticed a 20-year-old boy slinking across the tetrapods, trying to reach the crevice beneath it, where the dead bodies had been found only days earlier. The cop followed him and found the youngster scanning the region below the tetrapods for his belongings. The boy was questioned and taken to the local police station where he broke down and confessed to the killings. He gave his name as Munna Sheikh.
Police later discovered that Sheikh had returned to the scene of his crime to collect his bloodsoaked shirt and a knife that he had left behind after the murders.
"Sheikh was a jobless youth who had come down to Mumbai only two months ago and camped along the Marine Drive seaface with his childhood friend Asid," said deputy commissioner Pratap Dighavkar. "He would constantly be short of money and borrow from Asid. However, Asid's constant nagging angered Sheikh. On February 18, he went to the seaface along with Asid where the duo got drunk and finally Sheikh stabbed him before dumping his body in the crevice below the tetrapods and fleeing with his money."
Incidentally, Sheikh was assisted in the murder by a friend, Navi Mumbai resident Rupesh Waghmare whom Sheikh had met near a food joint at Haji Ali. Waghmare was also in need of money and constantly blackmailed Sheikh about Asid's murder. It was then that Sheikh decided to get rid of him at the same spot where he bumped off Asid. To his misfortune, Waghmare's murder was witnessed by another man, still unidentified by the cops, and he in turn had to be killed to hush up the matter.
Sheikh has been remanded to police custody till March 22 by the Esplanade Court.