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Mothers of dismembered children demand answers

Story Highlights

• Mothers say police ignored missing person reports for years
• Two charged in killings, 17 skeletal remains found so far
• Investigations launched into accusations of police negligence
• 3 senior police officers suspended, 6 others fired
By Seth Doane
CNN
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NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Sonia Bibi was devastated when she learned that her missing 9-year-old son was among 17 skeletal remains found in buried bags around a home in Noida, in suburban New Delhi -- a finding that shocked residents and raised heated accusations of police negligence.

Bibi said when she first told police two years ago that her son, Raja, was missing, they told her she "shouldn't have had so many children."

"Is your son in my pocket? I don't know where your son is," she quoted police as saying.

Bibi is like dozens of people in the slum village of Nithari who have claimed their children or spouses disappeared, but received little or no help from police.

Residents say as many as 38 people, many of them children, are missing and many are now believed to be dead -- murdered and preyed upon by a serial killer or killers. (Watch a community's outrage over the killings Video)

Of the 17 remains found so far, initial autopsy reports from the Noida government hospital indicate the victims were killed as recently as three months ago and as far back as three years ago. The house where the remains were found is in an affluent area adjacent to Nithari.

Causing the most outrage is the belief that police were ignoring complaints as children were being slaughtered. Residents say they reported the missing people to authorities, who then did very little, and charge that police do not care about them because they are poor.

The chief investigator in the case, however, says police response was swift.

"The moment we had a chance to know about the crime, our officers had visited the place, and even I visited, and some evidence was collected," Noida Police Chief R. K. S. Rathore said.

Several police and government inquiries are looking into what went wrong and whether the residents' claims are valid. One government official who commissioned an investigation told CNN, "It does appear that police were indifferent to complaints."

So far, at least three senior Indian police officers have been suspended, and at least six others were sacked for alleged negligence.

Moninder Singh Pandher, the owner of the house where the remains were found, and his servant, Surender Kohli, have been arrested. They are accused of kidnapping and raping the victims before dismembering them and dumping their remains in storm drains.

According to The Associated Press, police say Kohli confessed to killing 10 children and five women when shown photographs.

Police Chief Rathore has said Pandher used prostitutes, AP reported. When no prostitute was available, the chief said, Pandher had Kohli lure children to his house with the promise of sweets, according to AP reports. (Watch police uncover skeletal remains Video)

Victims' families receive compensation

Bibi and other families of victims were given government checks for 200,000 rupees, or roughly $4,300, for their loss. "They've given me this check just to be quiet -- to close this case forever," she said. "What am I going to do with this check?"

"I never even imagined that there was a brutal killer living just next door. Had I known -- I would have never left my son alone," she said.

Bibi's story is not uncommon in Nithari, a dusty slum that is inundated with flies and where cows stand idly by in the dirt road.

Vandana Sarkar said her 20-year-old daughter, Pinky, was among the victims. She said she identified the remains of her daughter by recognizing her bracelets and clothing.

Sarkar buried her head in a pillow and wept as she talked about her daughter. Next to her sat her grandson, a toddler, Pinky's son.

"How will I raise this child?" she said.

She said police initially didn't take reports of her missing daughter seriously.

"The police never believed in what ever I said because I am poor. Instead they humiliated me by saying that my daughter had a loose character," she said. "Each time I went to inquire about her, they literally shooed me away."

Mother: Police told me to 'keep searching'

Another woman named Santera -- whose 20-year-old daughter Madhu is believed to have been murdered -- recalled telling police about her daughter's disappearance.

"I thought the police will find my daughter and that they were trying their best. But now, I know that they didn't do much," she said. "All they did was ... ask me to keep searching for her."

As she spoke, another woman named Beena approached holding a passport-sized picture of her brother-in-law, who is missing. She said the police asked her for money in exchange for writing a missing persons report.

"I went to the police, but the police asked me to bribe them," she said.

At least one former police chief believes the residents have a legitimate complaint -- that police respond quicker when the wealthy are involved.

"I would say that the investigation has not been handled professionally," said Prakash Singh, the former director general of police for Uttar Pradesh, the Indian state of which Nithari is a minuscule part.

He added, "I suppose it is true of most of the countries of the world and maybe most of the parts of the world -- that the rich and the powerful get attention first and foremost. And when their cases are brought before the attention of police, it gets more -- it gets prompt attention."


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