Hello, my loyal true crime readers! I’m excited to present a guest post by Of Myth and Mercy: a new and exciting true crime podcast. Alice and Cassandra host this biweekly podcast that covers obscure cases, missing persons, and underreported crimes, like the unsolved Noida double murders explored below. They aim to shine a light on cases that haven’t received the attention that they deserve.
Enjoy the guest post ~ Christine
Guest Post: The Unsolved Noida Double Murders
written by Alice of the Of Myth and Mercy podcast
What makes the perfect unsolved crime? Does it lie in the forensics: how many pieces of tantalizing evidence lay scattered about the scene, stubbornly refusing neat categorization as to what happened? Is it in the human element: the tragic loss of a young life, the mysterious death of a hired hand? Or is it in the story that the media tells us, and we tell ourselves, about the crime regardless of actual evidence: a story of star-crossed lovers caught in flagrante delicto, the rage of a father caught in the revelation that his golden child was then and forever out of his control?
The events of the night of May 15th, 2008, in Noida, India, checks all these boxes and more. While there are many questions as to the events of that fateful night, only the results are truly known for certain: Aarushi Talwar, 13, was found murdered in her bed on the 16th, and a day later, the body of Hemraj Banjade, 45, was found partially decomposed on the home’s terrace. The years since then have resulted in two distinct CBI (the Indian equivalent of the FBI) investigations, multiple dubious interrogations using “truth serum,” the controversial conviction of the parents of the slain girl, and finally, the high stakes acquittal of these same parents in the Allahabad High Court.
Where to start in this intricate case? Let’s begin with the family. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar lived in an apartment in Sector 25 (Jalvayu Vihar) of Noida, Uttar Pradesh, India, along with their 13-year-old daughter, Aarushi. Both parents were dentists and practiced at their clinic in nearby Sector 27. Like most middle-class Indian families, they employed live-in domestic help to help with cooking, cleaning, and general housekeeping. Hemraj Banjade, originally from the Arghakhanchi district of Nepal, slept in an attached servants’ quarters that featured both a separate entryway from outside the apartment and, also, opened directly into the larger apartment itself. As far as family life was concerned, the only thing of note was that there was nothing especially noteworthy about their family; they were middle-class professionals with a teenage daughter about whom they seemed to care deeply. A normal family, a normal life.
This all changed on May 16th, when Aarushi’s body was found lying on her bed, throat slit and bearing all the signs of a massive wound to the head, covered in a flannel blanket, and Hemraj was nowhere to be found. The police were called, but as can be expected in an apartment building, by the time they arrived, the crime scene was full of concerned neighbors, passersby, and rubberneckers. Only Aarushi’s room was empty, but that didn’t change the fact that the crime scene was “completely trampled upon,” according to a local magazine. Hemraj was immediately blamed for the horrific crime, especially as the police suspected that the throat wound was caused by a kukri, or Nepalese knife. So convinced that Hemraj was the perpetrator, in fact, that Rajesh offered the police ₹25,000 to go to the servant’s village in Nepal and see if he had fled the country. An initial reading of the evidence, at least to the police, suggested that Hemraj had entered Aarushi’s room while drunk, tried to sexually assault her, and then killed her when she fought back.
This reading was almost immediately torpedoed when, the next day, Hemraj’s badly decomposed body was found stashed on the home’s terrace. Even with the state of the corpse, however, one thing was obvious: he had been brutally murdered in much the same way as Aarushi. Both Aarushi and Hemraj were estimated to have been killed at roughly the same time: between midnight and 1AM in the early morning of the 16th. However, even though it had only been a day since the murder, things were already going sideways with the police’s handling of the case. Either due to miscommunication or under the assumption that this would be an open and shut case, the police officers at the scene had given the go-ahead to the domestic staff to clean up the house, and thus eliminate any remaining, non-trampled evidence. Additionally, Aarushi’s body had already been cremated at 4PM on the 15th – stunningly quickly, to some observers, and before Hemraj’s body had even been discovered. Later, a report by the CBI estimated that almost 90% of the evidence at the crime scene was destroyed due to these early missteps.
From this point on, the police seemed to take the all-too-common approach to criminal justice: who can we make this stick to? After considering the Talwar’s previous servant, Vishnu Sharma, and various other domestic help that the Talwars employed, the police settled on the suspects that they would pursue aggressively: the Talwars themselves. It became all too easy to see the attack through the lens of an honor killing. Aarushi had been cremated with astonishing speed after her post-mortem investigation, but the examiner at the time had discovered no signs of sexual activity. However, this seemed to change, with the examiner changing his interpretation to one of possible sexual assault – and paving the way to one of the most popular theories of the case.
In this theory, Hemraj and Aarushi were lovers (although Aarushi was not yet 14 years old), and were discovered in the act by an enraged Rajesh. Blinded by rage, Rajesh killed first Hemraj and then his own daughter, hiding the body of his servant on the terrace to better scapegoat him. At first blush, this is a compelling story: love between two worlds, toxic masculinity, filicide, a conspiracy… It’s no wonder, then, that this is the theory that the media latched onto most eagerly – regardless of what the evidence said or didn’t say.
The Talwars, daughter Aarushi, and servant Hemraj
There were other theories too, of course: one popular theory suggested that Rajesh was having an extramarital affair which Hemraj knew about. It goes on to theorize that Hemraj was blackmailing Rajesh over this information, which led to his supposed murder by his erstwhile target. Aarushi, as the only witness to this shocking violence, had to be killed to ensure her silence. Of course, the theory is also suggested with one slight change: Aarushi, the precocious 13-year-old, was the one blackmailing her father over his affair, and after witnessing her murder at the hands of her father, Hemraj was the one who had to be silenced. Also popular is the ever-present stranger violence scenario. This theory hypothesizes that Hemraj died while protecting Aarushi from assault by outsiders, and Aarushi was either killed in the attack or silenced afterwards through violence.
Each one of these theories had the two things that every sensational, titillating news story needs: blood and sex. The media immediately latched onto the most scandalous of these theories: the parents did it. Each detail of those fateful two days was re-examined. Why did the parents cremate Aarushi’s body so quickly? Why did Rajesh immediately “know” that Hemraj was the perpetrator? How did no one in the house notice the smell of a decomposing body on the terrace, and how did the police fail to notice it when they were investigating Aarushi’s murder? Every action that Rajesh and Nupur took after the murder was read as a sign of guilt, notwithstanding the explanations that they gave to anyone who would listen.
The police were not immune to the public outcry, either. A young girl murdered, and they had no one in custody – an intolerable situation. They proceeded to aggressively pursue further investigation of the parents. The investigators gave Rajesh a Narco Analysis Test, which is essentially an extended interrogation performed after the subject is drugged with a variety of “truth serums.” The results of this type of test are about as reliable as a polygraph test, which they also had him take: in short, extremely unreliable. Regardless, they had a motive and they had two bodies; it was simply a matter of making the evidence, or lack thereof, fit the story.
When the murder trial finally began, it was chaos. During the trial, Dr. Andre Semikhodskii, a renowned DNA expert, was a witness for the defense, and he had nothing good to say about the preliminary investigation by the police. In his eyes, the police had clearly botched the investigation from the beginning, from not closing off the crime scene to not collecting forensic evidence and more. Additionally, the defense pointed out, while the prosecution’s theory was captivating, the physical evidence simply didn’t support it. As mentioned earlier, there was no physical evidence noted initially that suggested any sort of sexual activity between Aarushi and anyone else. He recalled having to lecture the prosecutor repeatedly to wear gloves, and witnessed key pieces of evidence touched with bare hands over and over. The DNA expert was confident most, if not all, of the evidence collected was contaminated due to shoddy investigative procedures.
He also believed the authorities and investigators had framed the defendants on top of the slapdash investigative work. The doctor said Indian forensics investigators had ignored international standards and guidelines ranging from labeling to storage of evidence, including key evidence presented in court. “A lot of procedures should have been followed and, in my point of view, they were not diligent,” said Semikhodskii. Perhaps most damningly, he noted that the defense was not provided multiple things that they specifically requested, despite assurances from the Indian Supreme Court that they had been. “The prosecution,” Semikhodskii stated, “never provided what we asked for.” Despite these assertions, or perhaps because of them, the prosecution won the day. Drs. Nupur and Rajesh Talwar were both found guilty of the murders of Aarushi and Hemraj and sentenced to life in prison.
The story, however, doesn’t end there. In a relatively recent and remarkable turn of events, nearly a decade after the brutal murders of their daughter and housekeeper, and after nearly five years in prison, the life sentences of Nupur and Rajesh Talwar were formally overturned by the Allahabad High Court on October of 2017. Dr. Andre Semikhodskii, the DNA expert who admonished the Indian authorities during the trial about their unacceptable processing of evidence, publicly expressed his happiness that the truth was out at last, and justice had finally prevailed. The Allahabad High Court came down on the judge from the Aarushi Talwar murder trial, pointing out his ignorance and willful disregard for evidence and circumstances presented during the case. They said he had tried to solve the case using his imagination, devaluing evidence and facts, and convicting Nupur and Rajesh Talwar after presumptuous, erroneous conclusions he derived with methods which should have been left to a math teacher or a film director, not a trial court judge.
The amount of interference, lack of proper etiquette, unacceptable protocol, and disregard for scientific standards from justice system officials, law enforcement, and the prosecution as reported by both the defense and from independent, objective sources all emphasize a clear and devastating conclusion about the double murder case: the investigation was so botched from the beginning that no matter what is tested or used, there is likely nothing viable left to locate, let alone prosecute, a suspect without any evidence presented at trial being completely impeachable by defensive council. The only possible way to actually prosecute a suspect would be found in circumstantial, and other non-physical evidence, undiscovered evidence or testimony, or a confession directly from the perpetrator(s). Even then, everything substantial which could be used to physically reinforce the charges, as of right now, is impeachable.
Dr. K. C. Sood, who represents the Association of Medical Clinics of Noida, is thankful the Talwars were given a chance to be judged based on the physical evidence and not a salacious story. He said in response to the overturned convictions: “Unless there is conclusive evidence one should not be punished. However, now it will remain a mystery. It has cast aspersions on CBI investigations.”
After years of trials and errors, one thing remains certain: there are no new suspects or leads in the murders of Aarushi Talwar or Hemraj Banjade. We are no closer today to solving the murders than we were a decade ago, and one could argue we have an even harder time: this case was bungled so spectacularly from start to finish that nothing about it, from collected evidence to interrogation methods, is above question. Ultimately, it’s all too simple to get engrossed in the speculation surrounding the killer’s motivation and avoid the essential truth of the case: two people are dead, and their killer(s) remain free. Aarushi will never grow up to have a career or family of her own, and Hemraj will never again go back to his home in Nepal.
While it’s certainly not impossible that there will be other breakthroughs in this case with the advent of more advanced forensic tools, it’s highly improbable. I hope that one day the Talwars and Hemraj’s family get the closure that they need, and that Aarushi and Hemraj get the justice that they deserve.