The crime scene was too tampered with for prosecutors to put forth a complete case — even though plenty of evidence seemed to point at Aarushi Talwar's parents.
When 13-year-old Aarushi Talwar was found dead with her throat slit in her bedroom in Noida, India on May 16, 2008, authorities immediately turned to her parents for answers. And because suicide by throat-cutting is rare, police were certain they were dealing with a homicide.
But the ensuing investigation turned out to be anything but simple. In fact, it took so many sharp turns over such a long period of time that it became a sensational whodunnit of nearly unparalleled proportions.
At first, the primary suspect was 45-year-old Hemraj Banjade, who was hired help at Rajesh and Nupur Talwar’s home — that is, until he too was found dead just one day after Aarushi Talwar. His body was found partially decomposed on the terrace of the Talwar home.
With two murders now on their hands, the authorities began to bungle the investigation, including by not securing the crime scene after Aarushi Talwar’s death and for allowing the media and a curious public alike to venture into the home hours after the murder. Nevertheless, the investigation quickly found its target, those with the most access and potential motive for the two killings — Talwar’s parents themselves.
The Body Lying In A Pool Of Blood
Born on May 24, 1994 to two dentists, Aarushi Talwar was a student at the Delhi Public School and lived in Noida’s Sector 25 with her parents at the time of her death.
Doctors Rajesh and Nupur Talwar, meanwhile, practiced at a clinic in Sector 27 as well as at Fortis Hospital where the former headed the dental department. Anita and Praful Durrani, close friends with the Talwars, shared the Noida clinic with the couple. Rajesh and Anita took the morning shifts from 9 a.m. to noon while Praful and Nupur had the evenings from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
At 6:01 a.m. on the morning of May 16, the doorbell rang. Housemaid Bharti was usually let inside by Banjade, but he was strangely missing in action. She rang the bell three more times and was finally greeted by Nupur, who was on the balcony.
This was extremely unusual, as Aarushi Talwar’s parents were known to sleep in because they worked the evening shifts at the office. Banjade was the one who took care of letting servants or guests in.
The gate at the entrance was locked from the outside, so Nupur had to throw Bharti a set of keys. When the maid walked into the home, she noticed Rajesh was awake too.
Both parents were in their daughter’s room, crying. “Look what Hemraj has done,” they said.
It was then that Bharti saw Aarushi Talwar motionless in a puddle of blood, her throat slit by a kukri knife. She rushed to get the neighbors and some medical assistance. Of course, it was already far too late to help the girl.
When the police arrived at 7:15 a.m., a crowd of 15 people that the Talwars had called was already in the living room while five or six others were in the Talwars’ master bedroom. In terms of crime scene tampering, having dozens of people taint the integrity of DNA evidence and move things around was fairly egregious. Most of the 28 fingerprint samples police lifted from the crime scene were smudged and useless.
Oddly enough, Rajesh told the police not to open the locked terrace door and offered them Rs 25,000 ($365) to track Banjade down. The narrative that it was the live-in servant took root almost immediately. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) later mentioned how actively the Talwars were pushing this story.
Rajesh and Nupur furthermore claimed not to have heard a single sound while the murders took place. They said that their closed door and air conditioning unit blocked out the sounds of bludgeoning and laceration.
The Night Of The Aarushi Talwar Murder
The night Aarushi Talwar was murdered, her friend Anmol called the Talwars’ landline. It was around midnight and Anmol couldn’t get through to his friend’s cell phone. Aarushi Talwar typically stayed up after midnight talking to her friends and otherwise using her phone. On May 15, however, her phone was inactive after 9:10 p.m.
Anmol’s call to the house was left unanswered so he sent her a text message at around 12:30 a.m. The message was never received by her phone as it had already been shut off. It would later be found on a dirt track near Noida’s Sadarpur area by a maid. The memory had been wiped clean.
The CBI closure report found that the Talwars got home from work at 9:30 p.m. the night of their daughter’s death. They apparently had dinner with her and gave her a new digital camera as an early birthday present. After taking a few photos together, the family retired at 11 p.m., at which time they later said they saw their daughter reading a book.
The last photo of Aarushi had been snapped at 10 p.m.
It’s important to note that Aarushi’s bedroom door was routinely locked at bedtime. The keys were usually left on Nupur’s night table — but the mother later told police she couldn’t remember whether she locked her daughter’s door that night or not.
Rajesh, meanwhile, was on the internet to catch up on emails and the fluctuating state of his stock portfolio. He sent his last email at 11:57 p.m. after receiving a call on the landline. He then went to bed, as far as anyone knows, though the last internet usage was clocked in just after midnight.
Both Aarushi and Banjade are believed to have been killed between midnight and 1 a.m.
It was discovered that Aarushi’s internet router was turned off at 3:43 a.m., which suggested that whoever had walked into her bedroom to turn it off either didn’t notice a blood-soaked bed and dead girl lying in it or was responsible for her death.
The next day, keys to the apartment and terrace were reportedly found by Nupur on Banjade’s bed. The keys to Aarushi’s bedroom were in the living room. There was no other set of house keys even though the property’s gate was locked from the outside. Clearly, somebody else had a spare set. But who?
Discovering The Body Of Hemraj Banjade
When doctors came to visit the Talwar residence to check up on the distraught parents, they noticed bloodstains on the handle of the terrace door which was still locked. They also noticed smudged, bloody footmarks on the floor and bloodstains on the staircase.
Rajesh was asked for the terrace keys but didn’t produce them and instead went inside after he noticed the blood on the door handle. He remained inside for an entire day, with police unable to access the terrace.
Banjade’s body was discovered the following day, on May 17. The telephonic loop from the day before was coincidentally repeated twice between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. that morning he was discovered. Gautam called journalists he knew to arrive at the house before the terrace gate was opened.
On May 17, the police broke the terrace lock open as the keys were still missing and found Banjade’s decomposing body.
There was evidence that both dead bodies were moved around the apartment. The new narrative was that Banjade had been dragged to the terrace in a bedsheet. The terrace door was then locked, and the killers then re-entered the house and drank whiskey.
The liquor cabinet was fairly well hidden behind a wooden panel. A bottle of whiskey found on the kitchen table had bloodstains of both victims on it. The police, however, had failed to collect proper samples from it.
The crime scene also appeared to be “dressed up” and scrubbed of any evidence that would point toward the Talwars. The Talwars told their servants to clean up the floor and walls of her room with soap and water. Her bloody mattress was tossed out onto the terrace of a neighbor.
Meanwhile, phone records show that between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on May 16, Rajesh’s older brother Dinesh, his family friend Sushil Chaudhury, the retired deputy superintendent of police K.K. Gautam, and someone at an unidentified number all began to communicate while the autopsy report was being written.
Dinesh called Chaudhury who would then call Gautam. Gautam would call the unidentified number. This would then repeat but in reverse order six whole times.
The CBI later said these communications may have been attempts by the family to use their connection to Gautam to erase references to “rape” from the autopsy report. The theory goes that Rajesh may have caught his daughter having sex (perhaps consensual, perhaps not) with Benjade and killed them both in a fit of rage — and so he wanted any references to intercourse out of the report.
At this point, with Benjade discovered dead, the Talwars became prime suspects. They knew where the liquor cabinet was, they had keys to the house, and they were in the house when the murders took place. Rajesh was arrested by police on May 23.
One expert who first inspected the crime scene said that the killings were done by somebody “very close to Aarushi.” Evidence that she’d had sex — and that her vagina had been penetrated and subsequently cleaned by someone — was also present, but there was no semen found.
As the aforementioned phone calls may have suggested, the police suspected Rajesh Talwar found his live-in servant and young daughter engaged in sexual activity and murdered his daughter as an honor killing and Banjade for raping her. Another theory was that Rajesh himself had been engaged in extra-marital relations and was confronted by his daughter and blackmailed by Banjade.
These allegations weren’t taken lightly by the Talwar family. They claimed the police were trying to frame them as the killers to cover up how badly they’d handled the investigation before turning it over to the CBI.
The CBI actually exonerated the two parents at first. Their new suspects became the Talwars’ assistant, Krishna Thadarai, and two servants, Rajkumar and Vijay Mandal.
What seemed clear to the CBI from the outset was that this was an inside job. Whoever killed Aarushi and Banjade had access to the home as there were no signs of forced entry and the property’s gate was locked from the outside.
The CBI’s interrogation of the three new suspects led them to believe that Aarushi was killed after a failed sexual assault and Banjade fell victim to those responsible for the act. Because of the unethical interrogations conducted to arrive at that point, however, all three were released after no concrete evidence was found.
What confused everyone, though, was why the killer would leave Banjade rotting on the terrace, particularly if those responsible lived there.
One theory the CBI posited was that the body was hidden there in order to dispose of it after the investigation of Aarushi’s crime scene had been completed. With so much media attention and persons wading through the home, however, that was no longer an option.
Though there just wasn’t enough evidence because the crime scene had been so extraordinarily tampered with, the CBI also then began to suspect that Aarushi’s parents were involved.
In 2010, however, the CBI handed its investigation over to another team that recommended closing the case. Nonetheless, it named Rajesh as the only credible suspect — even while refusing to charge him, since the actual proof was nonexistent.
The Talwar family opposed this accusation to no avail. The bureau reopened the investigation in 2011 and designated Rajesh and Nupur as the primary suspects. When the CBI changed its status of the closure report to a charge sheet in February 2011, the Talwars petitioned this at the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court — but failed. They were now going to trial for their daughter’s death.
The Trials Of The Talwars
The trial began on May 11, 2013 and concluded with a guilty verdict for both defendants on Nov. 25, 2013. According to NDTV, the prosecution posited this explanation for the murder of Aarushi Talwar:
On the night of the murders, Rajesh heard a noise and assumed it had come from Banjade’s room. He didn’t find anyone in there and picked up the golf club from Banjade’s room before entering Aarushi’s. There he saw the pair engaged in sexual activity.
Rajesh clubbed the 45-year-old servant over the head. When he tried to hit him again, Banjade moved — leading the father to accidentally strike his own daughter instead. By the time Nupur was awakened by the noise and rushed into the room, both Banjade and Aarushi were near death.
“The injured Hemraj had fallen from the bed,” said special prosecutor AGL Kaul. “Both checked Aarushi’s pulse and found her near-dead which scared them and they decided to kill Hemraj so no one discovered the incident.”
The married couple realized they’d have to fabricate a scenario in order to get away with the double-murder of their daughter Aarushi Talwar and their servant. They wrapped Banjade’s body up and took him to the terrace to get rid of his corpse another time. They slit his throat and decided to do the same to their daughter. They also cleaned her vagina.
Rajesh and Nupur then cleaned the crime scene — bloodstains on the floor, any stained clothing, whatever they could see was tainted by the violent act was mopped up and disposed of. The couple then left the house, locked the gates from the outside, and entered the residence from Banjade’s room to fool the authorities.
That’s when the father sat himself down and drank some whiskey.
The Talwars Go To Prison
In November 2013, after years of trials and legal proceedings, Rajesh and Nupur Talwar were sentenced to life in prison. The decision was heavily critiqued for being founded on circumstantial and unconvincing evidence and the Talwars even took their appeal to the Allahabad High Court.
— India Today (@IndiaToday) October 12, 2017
According to India Today, the Allahabad High Court overturned the CBI’s court judgment in 2017 due to a lack of direct evidence. There were no eyewitnesses, said the judges. The CBI had also failed to provide a strong motive, in their opinion.
The judges also noted that the Supreme Court has previously established that if there’s no direct evidence, reasonable doubt should override suspicion.
It took four years, but the parents did manage to get acquitted on Oct. 12, 2017 and have remained free ever since.
The case remains legally unsolved and the family points fingers at the CBI, local police, and the media for ruining an investigation that should’ve resulted in their daughter’s murderer being identified.
The CBI was not content with this decision. Former CBI Director AP Singh, particularly, felt his bureau had been dealing with a highly manipulated environment and scarce opportunities for evidence.
“Only weakness we found [with our investigation] was that scene of [the] crime had been badly tampered [with] on the first day itself,” said Singh. “As a result, after that, we got nothing of value from the scene of the crime. That was the major lacuna in the entire investigation.”
It was Singh himself who famously stated in court that though they lacked enough evidence, the CBI believed the parents were involved. When he wanted to close the case, the court didn’t allow it and instead ordered the Talwars to stand trial on charges of murder.
More than a decade after the bodies of Aarushi Talwar and Hemraj Banjade were found in a double-murder that stunned Noida, India, HBO has produced an engrossing, in-depth look at the bizarre case and its various pitfalls.
Behind Closed Doors
Documentary filmmaker P.A. Carter, who tackled the Michelle Carter texting suicide case, has most recently tried her hand at unraveling the Aarushi Talwar investigation.
According to Indian Express, the documentary will feature reenactments, news coverage, and interview footage.
The trailer, recently released by HBO, provides a look at the multi-hour exploration of the macabre story that began in 2008 — and arguably has never ended.
The two-part documentary is set to air on HBO on July 16-17, 2019, and expound on a previous project by filmmaker Meghna Gulzar that covered the Talwar trial as well.
Perhaps the series can shed new light on the unsolved murders — and finally close a case that remains an open wound for many.
After reading the macabre story of the Aarushi Talwar double murder case, learn about the murder of Sylvia Likens by her caretaker and the whole neighborhood. Then, read about how 15-year-old Zachary Davis bludgeoned his mother to death.