Dumping bodies: Rivers their preferred site
River police on November 19 recovered from the Balu river the body of an unidentified man tied to a sack full of stones in the capital's Khilgaon.
They filed a murder case with the Khilgaon Police Station soon after the recovery, but over a month has gone by and the police could not even start the probe as the body remains unidentified.
Asaduzzaman, sub-inspector of the Rajakhali river police outpost in the capital's Demra, told The Daily Star yesterday, "The body of the man, aged around 35, had been decomposing. Therefore, it could not be known if it had any injury marks. But it appears to be a murder. Why else would there be a body tied to a sack full of stones?"
The officer who is investigating the case said police could not get fingerprints from the body.
"We have preserved the DNA of the man and sent other details to the police stations so they could check their missing persons' entries," he said, adding, "We will match DNA if anyone comes looking for the man."
The probe can begin only after identification of the body, he said, adding that police still do not have the autopsy and viscera reports.
This is one of the many instances in which police struggle to identify bodies recovered from a river.
At least 92 bodies remain unidentified after police recovered them from different rivers across the country in the first 10 months of this year, according to a database of the river police headquarters.
Eighty-eight bodies recovered last year are still not identified.
Most of the bodies were found in the four rivers surrounding Dhaka.
Shafiqul Islam, additional inspector general of river police, told The Daily Star yesterday that police cannot identify decayed bodies. "Sometimes, we only find the bones … ," he said.
FINAL REPORT FOR NO IDENTIFICATION
After the recovery of a body, police first file an unnatural death case and that case turns into a murder case if evidence of murder is found during the probe or in the autopsy report.
River police filed 41 murder cases until October this year and 36 murder cases last year, according to data.
However, the probes often stall because the victims remain unidentified.
In September 2020, river police recovered two bodies in separate places and filed two unnatural death cases with Keraniganj Model Police Station.
It took 13 months for the autopsy reports to arrive. Such delays are not unusual when unidentified bodies are involved, sources said. The reports suggested that the victims were strangled.
"We tried a lot to identify them using DNA, fingerprints, and also sent pictures to different police stations but no one responded," said Shahjahan.
WHY THE RIVERS?
Omar Faruk, a professor of criminology and police science at Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University, told The Daily Star yesterday, "A section of murderers dump their victims' bodies in the river so that the evidence gets destroyed. Most of the bodies break down badly while some are never found."
Officers do not have the modern technologies needed for proper investigation into such cases, he said. "It ultimately leads to the submission of weak charge sheets and in some cases final reports."
It becomes difficult for courts to deliver proper verdicts, he observed.
Ahadujjaman, superintendent of police (crime and operations) of river police HQ, said it is hard to investigate a murder if the scene of the crime is not found.
The body drifts from one place to another and sometimes one district to another, he told The Daily Star yesterday.
Sohel Mahmud, associate professor of forensic science at Sir Salimullah Medical College, told this newspaper yesterday that generally, bodies do not float in the river until they start decomposing.
He said evidence gets damaged or lost in the water and the bodies sometimes bear marks that were not there when the person died.
"For instance, fish can bite or the body can be hit by vessels. These can misdirect a person conducting the autopsy," said Sohel.
He stressed the need for expert hands in conducting such autopsies.
"In the case of decomposing bodies, the only things that can be detected easily are if the person got shot or had broken bones," he said.
Police probes are more important than autopsy reports in such cases, he added.
The Daily Star contacted morgue assistants in three medical colleges in Dhaka.
At least 40 decaying bodies went to Sir Salimullah Medical College morgue in a year.
Morgue assistants said they were only able to identify about a third of the bodies recovered from different rivers.
During an inquest, SIM cards, ID cards, other documents, clothes, and ornaments can help to identify the bodies.
For example, identifying Buet student Fardin Noor Parash was difficult as his body had been in the water for three days and it had swollen up and started to decay.
Police had to use the SIM card of his phone found in his pocket to ID him.
It is a race against time for the people dealing with such bodies since they are not able to preserve the bodies in refrigerators. For this reason, they have to bury the bodies after two or three days, said morgue sources.