Seven years after the infamous murder of the Delhi teenager Aarushi Talwar and the ensuing media sensation, an equally complex case of murder and intrigue has gripped India.
24-hour news channels are providing wall-to-wall coverage of the case – dubbed the ‘Sheena Bora Murder’ – with discussion panels involving dozens of “experts” delivering their perspective.
It’s all been made that much more sensational given that it involves two high-flying media executives.
One of them – Indrani Mukherjea – was arrested on Wednesday on suspicion of murdering her daughter for allegedly having an affair with the executive’s stepson.
Mukerjea is accused of strangling Sheena Bora, dumping her body in a forest in western Maharashtra state and setting it alight in 2012.
Police officials say a third suspect, Sanjeev Khanna, reported to be a former husband of Mukerjea, had been arrested in Kolkata on suspicion of involvement in the murder.
The 22-year-old Bora was killed in April 2012 and her burnt body was discovered the following month in woods near the town of Pen in rural Maharashtra.
She had been strangled before being set alight.
Mukerjea is the co-founder of the Mumbai-based TV production company INX Media and is currently married to Peter Mukerjea, a former CEO of Star India who is believed to be her third husband.
Indian media widely reported Khanna to be Indrani Mukerjea’s second husband, while the victim was her daughter from her first marriage.
Police believe the motive for the killing was Indrani Mukerjea’s dislike of her daughter’s apparent relationship with Rahul Mukerjea, Peter Mukerjea’s son from a previous marriage.
One police official went so far as to say that it was a case of an “honour killing”, a phenomenon that is still widespread.
However, such killings are often confined to the less developed, rural parts of India.
What’s set the Indian public abuzz is the fact that this particular killing occurred within the confines of India’s “elite”.
That “celebrity” factor has led to almost obsessive media coverage of the case.
High-flyers: Peter Mukerjea with Indrani Mukerjea
Some media analysts have already warned that that media obsession could lead to the same sort of sensationalism and hearsay that surrounded the case of Aarushi Talwar, the 14-year-old Delhi girl who was found murdered alongside a domestic servant in May 2015.
The sensational media coverage of the murders, which included salacious allegations against Aarushi and the family’s manservant, was criticized by many as a trial by media.
Aarushi’s parents were later convicted of the murders in what many legal experts claim was a flawed trial.
In the case of Sheena Bora, police arrested Mukerjea following a confession by her driver who has reportedly given contradictory accounts of what actually happened in 2012.
One police official told the Indian Express that he had confessed to murdering Ms Bora on Mukerjea’s orders whilst another official claimed that the driver had helped get rid of the body after Ms Bora had been murdered.
Matters have been further complicated by the fact that police have been unable to obtain DNA and other evidence from Ms Bora’s remains.
“The case being more than two years old, where there isn’t any DNA sample of the deceased or appropriate remains of the body, police are only relying on co-accused’s statement,” one police officer told the Times of India.
Adding to it all was a missing persons report filed at the time of Sheena’s disappearance. At the time police reportedly found a partially burnt body but disposed of it without collecting any DNA evidence.
The first newspaper reports claimed that Sheena was Mukerjea’s sister but it later transpired that she was in fact Mukerjea’s daughter.
The Kolkata Telegraph reported that Sheena and her brother were brought up by their maternal grandparents in the town of Guwahati in the northeast India.
The children eventually moved to Mumbai and Sheena graduated from the prestigious St. Xavier’s College. After Indrani married Peter Sheena moved in with the family. It was then that Sheena became close to Peter’s son from an earlier marriage although it’s unclear at this point whether the closeness between Sheena and Peter’s son was the reason for Sheena’s eventual death.
Adding to the intrigue was Mikhail Bora, Indrani Mukerjea’s son who spoke to a number of media outlets and confirmed that Sheena and her mother had had a troubled relationship.
However he has refused to provide specifics but told CNN IBN: “I want her to reveal everything herself, after 31 September (when Mukerjea will appear in court) when I come to know that she has admitted everything. If she lies, I will give every evidence (sic). I have all the evidence and photos. I will provide it to the media.”
Mikhail Bora also claimed that her sister had “disappeared” in 2012 but that his mother had always insisted that she had travelled to the United States for work.
He said that he had stopped asking questions about Sheena since he was dependent on funds from Mukerjea to take care of his ailing grandparents.
Peter Mukerjea meanwhile has said that he was unaware of all the intrigues happening behind the scenes and says he is in a state of shock.
He said that Sheena and Mikhail had been introduced to him by Indrani as her “siblings”.
“When she disappeared in 2012, I was told that she was studying in the US. I asked Indrani and she showed me pictures of Sheena at a Diwali function there,” Mr Mukherjea said.
The celebrated investigative journalism magazine Tehelka suggested that the killing may have been over “money”.
According to one Tehelka report, the Mukerjeas had “siphoned a lot of money from INX Media” which had in-turn been transferred to the bank accounts of numerous relatives. One of those relatives was Sheena Bora who, Tehelka claimed, had refused to return the money to the Mukerjeas.
Tehelka reported that among INX Media’s investors was the Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek.
During a routine audit by Temasek of INX Media’s accounts it was discovered that Indrani Mukerjea had diverted company funds into various bank accounts, including one held by Peter Mukerjea’s publisher brother Gautam.
Whatever the circumstances or facts, with Indrani Mukerjea set to be produced before a Mumbai court next month, the killing of Sheena Bora is set to continue to feed into an India’s voyeuristic fascination with the shenanigans of its wealthy elites.