Kasaragod: In September last year, Neethu Krishnan (32) gave up on her live-in partner Anto Sebastian (38) when Kottiyam police arrested him for stealing a child's anklets. He allegedly stole the anklets from the house he was painting.
He spent 24 days in judicial custody for the theft. After he got out, Anto spent more than a month coaxing Neethu to take him back. She had reluctantly agreed.
The next time Neethu threatened to walk out on him, Anto threw his arm around her neck, pulled her towards him, and allegedly used just two fingers to compress her airway. "She put up a struggle but he ended her life in cold blood," said inspector Premsadan K, station house officer of Kasaragod's Cyber Crime Police Station.
Strangulation is often seen in cases of domestic violence and abusive relationships. But he lived with Neethu's body for three days, wearing a calm appearance before his co-workers till he disappeared from the secluded 'nalukettu' house on January 30, said Premsadan, who helped arrest Anto from a lodge in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday.
Abusive partner with a history
After winning back Neethu sometime in November, Anto, a native of Vythiri in Wayanad, asked for a job in a rubber tappers' WhatsApp group. He got a call from Yelkana, a remote village on the border of Karnataka, in Enmakaje grama panchayat of Kasaragod.
Lijo and Shaji are managing a 15-acre rubber plantation at Yelkana and wanted a few more hands.
On Christmas Day, Anto Sebastian and Neethu Krishna landed at Yelkana, 525 km from Kottiyam in Kollam district. Lijo and Shaji offered the couple the 'nalukettu' house in the middle of the 15-acre estate, and they chose to live in the shed close by.
But the couple used to frequently fight, said Badiadka station house officer-sub-inspector Vinod Kumar K P, who is heading the murder investigation.
Neethu was Anto's third partner. His first wife was from Thiruvananthapuram and they have two children. His first wife divorced him.
He then entered into a relationship with a married woman with three children in Kozhikode. They moved in together; the woman brought her children along.
Her husband filed a case of kidnapping against Anto and police charged him with Section 363 of the IPC (kidnapping) and Section 75 of the Juvenile Justice Act for assaulting, abandoning, abusing, or willfully neglecting the children. But when Anto allegedly became abusive, the woman returned to her husband, said inspector Premsadan.
That's when Anto moved to Kottiyam in Kollam district and started working as a painter.
He met Neethu, who was living with her father Radhakrishnan, after divorcing her husband.
On the night of January 26, Neethu and Anto had a big fight and she threatened to leave him. "She was not able to live with him," said the inspector.
Neethu was unrelenting on the morning of January 27. That's when he killed her. She was sitting on a chair against a wall. "He just pulled her towards him and strangled her with his fingers," he said. He then used a cloth and garroted her.
When he saw Lijo and Shaji walking towards the house, he gagged her with the rest of the cloth and dumped the body in the puja room, and closed its doors, said the officer.
He told Lijo and Shaji that Neethu was angry with him and returned to Kottiyam.
But when they insisted that he should check on her, Anto told them that she called to say that she was on a train and had reached Kozhikode.
Later, Anto took Neethu's bracelet from her wrist and wrapped the body in a white cloth. He pawned it for Rs 22,000 at a jewellery shop at Perla in Enmakaje panchayat. "He returned to the house with five bottles of liquor," said the officer.
In the meantime, he told Lijo and Shaji that he would be leaving the job on the first of February.
But he locked the house and left on January 30. By February 1, the stench from the body had filled the air around the house.
Shaji and Lijo climbed on top of the house, removed the tiles, and saw the body.
Anto's two-day lead & the police chase
Anto had a two-day lead but he did not go far. He checked himself into a lodge near the KSRTC bus stand in Kozhikode and watched 'Malikappuram', a movie on an eight-year-old girl's desire to go to Sabarimala temple.
Anto had two phones, one an Android-based smartphone, and another a feature phone. "He turned the phone on only to check social media and news," said Premsadan.
By the evening of February 1, he came to know from online websites that Neethu's body was found.
He bought another feature phone and SIM using his Aadhaar and boarded a train for Kochi. But he was leaving enough digital footprints for Kasaragod's Cyber police to pursue him. Premsadan and Vinod Kumar's team reached the lodge in Kochi at 8.30 am on Thursday, February 2. "But we missed him by 10 minutes," said Premsadan.
In the evening, signals from Anto's Android phone pinged off a tower in Thampanoor, the transport hub of Thiruvananthapuram city. He made two calls using his new phone seeking a job and found one at Panvel in Navi Mumbai. "It is easy for Anto to find a job. He knows how to tap rubber, he can paint, and is also a welder," said Premsadan.
Anto booked a train to Mumbai on a train leaving at 4.25 am on Saturday. "He was not too bothered about being caught by the police," said the officer.
But the police knocked on his door in the early hours of Friday.