The gruesome tale of sexual abuse and serial killing of dozens of children that has shocked India got even weirder with the discovery of more skeletal remains and revelations that the main culprit was a rich businessman from Punjab who preyed on his innocent victims for almost two years.
Police did not rule out the angle of human organ trading too as distraught parents of missing children thronged the road in front of a villa in Noida's Sector 31 from where the skulls were found. The parents, mostly daily wagers, say the police were callous in their attitude to the missing person complaints they had filed as they were poor.
The businessman owner of the house Mohinder Singh and his domestic help Surendra Kohli, alias Satish, were arrested Friday on charges of molesting and murdering children.
Police stumbled on the skeletons while investigating the murder of a girl who was missing from Nithari village, adjoining the area, for the past six months.
''We have recovered 16 skeletons till now, but the figure could rise as more skeletal remains are being found from the drain,'' said Rajesh Kumar Singh Rathore, senior superintendent of police (SSP) Noida.
The skeletons are suspected to be of 38 children, between 3-11 years of age and mostly girls, who had gone missing while playing near a water tank at Nithari village, a semi-rural village on the edges of this upscale suburban town, in the past 21 months. The first kidnapping was reported in March 2005.
''It is too early to reveal the details of the investigations. The two men would strangle the children, cut them into pieces and bury the bodies in a two-feet deep ditch behind the house,'' said the police official. ''We have recovered blades from the house that must have been used as cutters.''
''Both the men have admitted to their crime,'' added Rathore.
The duo would lure the children into the white-coloured two-storeyed house by offering them sweets.
''A small room on the first floor of the house was used for cutting the bodies before stacking them in bags and burying them behind the house,'' he added.
The 15th skull was recovered at around midnight Friday.
Police believe the two were psychopathic serial killers who would lure children into the house, sexually abuse and strangle them and later dump the bodies in a drain behind the house.
Amar Halder, a labourer, sobs holding aloft the photograph of his 11-year-old niece who went missing four months ago. ''We always suspected that someone from the village was involved in the disappearance of our child but police did not take action even after repeated complaints. I work in a factory and do not earn enough to bribe the police. The police only want money from us. Action should be taken against the policemen,'' he said.
The indifference of the police to complaints of 38 children going missing in the area is in sharp contrast to their alertness during the abduction in November of the three-year-old son of a top software firm from Noida's elite Sector 15A. The child was returned five days later after the father reportedly coughed up Rs. 5 million and the police held an elaborate press conference that was televised nationally.
Says Sunil Biswas, whose eight-year-old daughter went missing while plying near the house of Mohinder Singh: ''We came to Delhi in search of work for a better living, and ended losing our children like this. Police did not take action only because they were the children of poor families being kidnapped and murdered.''
When the parents realised that police were not doing enough to look for their children, they formed a team themselves to look for the children.
''We went to Mumbai, Jaipur, Bharatpur, Agra and Kolkta in search of our children as we suspected that they might have been forced into the flesh trade,'' added Biswas, who works as a rickshaw puller in Noida.
Anil Halder, a daily wage labourer whose 14-year-old daughter never returned home one day, describing the police apathy, says: ''When I went to report about my missing daughter at the police station, the officials told me not to bother them as my daughter had fled with someone. They did not investigate it properly. Had they carried out proper investigations, the lives of many children would have been saved.''
The village has a population of over 25,000 people, mostly migrants from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who have come in search of work in the Indian capital and other nearby cities.
According to reports, a doctor accused earlier of organ trade lives in a house adjacent to the Sector 31 bungalow of Mohinder Singh. The two houses are connected through a backyard passage, say some locals.
''While Surendra initially confessed to killing six minor girls and two boys, sustained interrogation of his employer Mohinder Singh led to disclosures of the rape and killing of grown up girls too,'' a police official said.
Police teams have been sent to Ludhiana to interrogate other members of Mohinder Singh's family including his wife. His farmhouse near Chandigarh has been raided in search of other missing girls and boys.