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Cane field murder

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

DHARMEN Chandra was at the Nadi Magistrates Court when he received a message from a police detective in early September 1995.

He was a detective constable based at the Nadi Police Station's crime branch at that time and was commonly known as "Ninja" by his colleagues.

Feeling that something serious had happened, he went to Sergeant Divendra Chand's office just after being given the message by his colleague about 9.30am.

Mr Chandra was told by his sergeant, "Ninja get ready, you need to accompany me to Sabeto Police Station and assist me in the investigation of a murder case".

"I immediately ran to my police barrack, informed my housemaid to take care of my two children after school and not to leave until my wife returns home from work," he said.

"I grabbed some extra cash from my closet and ran back to Nadi Police Station where Sgt Divendra was waiting with two other detectives.

"We got into a police vehicle and headed off, arriving at Sabeto Police Station at 11am. We headed straight to the police bure."

The then Divisional Police Commander Western, Senior Superintendent of Police Govind Raju (now deceased), the then Divisional Crime Officer Western Superintendent of Police Selva Rajan Naicker and the then Detective Inspector Vijay Singh and Lautoka Hospital's pathologist Dr Dhanna Gounder were waiting for him and other detectives in the Sabeto Police Station bure.

"At about 11.15am, the late SSP Raju started the briefing and said a Fijian woman of Indian descent was found dead in the cane fields at Cemetery Rd in Votualevu the previous day," he said.

"He further told the team that he was not happy with the manner in which this case was handled because the two officers who went to the scene earlier made a big blunder by listening to what the public had to say and did not thoroughly examine the body and conveyed it to Lautoka Hospital for autopsy.

"One of these officers attended the autopsy and reportedly told the pathologist that the deceased had been gored by a cow in a cane field.

"When Dr Goundar examined the body, he found multiple knife wounds inflicted. He immediately called the DPC and DCO western to the autopsy room and briefed them of his observations.

"That's when it was established that the deceased was murdered and not gored by a cow."

Mr Chandra said Dr Goundar then briefed the police detectives and told them that the deceased had 28 knife wounds inflicted on her.

He said the victim's neck was only joined through the left side muscles and one of her shoulders was severely hacked.

Furthermore, he said, they were told that the remaining injuries were on the victim's back with a 28 centimetre by 12 centimetre muscle tissue removed.

"Dr Goundar told us one more important thing. He said that after closely examining the body and the manner in which the injuries were inflicted, the suspect would be a left-handed person," he said.

"That was a big break."

On September 14, 1995, The Fiji Times reported on the incident and that police were treating the case as murder.

Mr Chandra said Mr Chand was appointed investigating officer and he was tasked to assist him closely in the investigations.

He said immediately after the appointments were made, police search parties were organised and sent to the crime scene, where a gold earring was found.

"Now, there was a huge task ahead of us and we asked Sabeto police if they had some reliable informers in the area.

"The answer we got was ?no' so it meant that we had to cultivate our own informers and seek information into the case.

"The area was new as we were from Nadi Police Station, but it did not stop us from going out into the community to seek information."

Mr Chandra said they started by interviewing the murder victim's husband and other family members who lived in the same compound.

"By nightfall we were able to get things rolling," he said.

"A group of men, Fijians of Indian descent, came to the Sabeto police bure. We sat down and spoke to them, but everyone seemed tightlipped.

"They still did not seem comfortable because we were new to their area."

NEXT WEEK: Narrowing down the suspects.

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