The Noida serial murders (also Nithari serial murders, Nithari Kand) took place in the house of businessman Moninder Singh Pandher in Nithari, India in 2005 and 2006. At present his servant Surinder Koli has been convicted of five murders and was sentenced to death, the sentence however being reduced to life imprisonment upon appeal. 11 murders remain officially unsolved pending further legal proceedings. Surinder Koli's death sentence was commuted to life sentence by Supreme Court on 7 September 2014.
In December 2006, two Nithari residents claimed they knew the location of the remains of children who had gone missing in the previous two years: the municipal water tank behind house D5. Both had daughters who were missing, and they suspected Surinder Koli, the domestic help at D5, had something to do with the disappearances. The residents claimed they had been repeatedly ignored by local authorities, therefore they sought the help of former Resident Welfare Association (RWA) President S C Mishra. That morning, Mishra and the two residents searched the tank drain, and one of the residents claimed to have found a decomposed hand, after which they called the police.
Anxious parents of the missing children rushed to Nithari with photographs. Koli, under the alias Satish, later confessed to killing six children and a 20-year-old woman known as "Payal" after sexually assaulting them.
In September 2005, a NDTV journalist Onkar Singh Janoti started reporting on this issue. He did a series of stories on Missing Children. He interviewed many families. The families of missing children accused the police of negligence. Initially, some Police officers including Noida SP city denied any criminal angle. They accused the parents for giving wrong information about their children's age. The police claimed that missing cases are not related to kids. The police said that they all are adult who left home after fighting with their parents. The residents alleged that the police were corrupt and involved with the rich people. Demands were made for an independent probe into the matter. One of the residents asserted that the police were claiming credit for discovering the bodies when it was the residents who dug them up. The police denied having found fifteen bodies. They reiterated that they had discovered skulls, bones and other body parts, and said they were unable to give a figure for the number of victims. The victims' identities and number could only be established with DNA tests. The police then sealed the house and did not allow news media anywhere near the site.
The Central government tried to ascertain the facts behind the discovery of the skeletal remains and whether it had "inter-state ramifications". Law and order is a state's subject but the Home ministry asked for details about the magnitude of the crime.
It was later revealed by the media that Koli's employer, Moninder Singh Pandher, was picked up by the police on 26 December and Koli on 27 December in connection with the disappearance of "Payal". After Koli's confession, the police claimed to have started digging up the nearby land area and discovered the children's bodies.
Two policemen were suspended on 31 December in connection with the serial murders as angry residents charged the house of the alleged mastermind. The policemen were suspended for dereliction of duty in the wake of the allegations by the locals that the police had refused to take any action when they were informed about a number of children missing.
The situation at Nithari was aggravated as an irate mob of villagers fought pitched battles with the police, both pelting stones at each other, just outside the residence of the accused. The police also detained a maid named Maya whom they suspected had a hand in procuring women for the businessman. As more body parts were dug up, near the premises, hundreds of local residents descended on the spot and alleged that there was an organ trade angle to the grisly killings of young children. A doctor living close to the Pandher residence, Navin Choudhary, had been under police suspicion a few years prior in connection with an alleged kidney racket at his hospital. Searches were conducted throughout the properties owned by him, and the investigators could not derive any information to support the claim.
On 1 January 2007, the remand magistrate granted the police custody of the two until 10 January 2007, as the investigators said that further interrogation was required to complete the recovery of victims' remains. The court also granted permission for Narco Analysis. On the same evening, police conducted a raid on Pandher's Chandigarh residence. His wife and son were interrogated and questions were asked about Pandher's habits. Police sources disclosed that their relationship with him was "strained", which was later found untrue. His behaviour was "normal". A senior police inspector revealed that there would be a series of searches conducted at Pandher's Ludhiana farmhouse and nearby places. The recent child kidnapping cases in Chandigarh—Pandher's hometown were re-opened but nothing was found.
The next day, 15 of the 17 skeletons discovered in the village were identified. Ten of them were identified by Koli when he was confronted with the photographs of the missing children. Five others were identified by family members after being shown belongings recovered from the scene. The torsos of the bodies were missing and the investigating team was looking into possibilities of the motivation of the killings to be that of organ trade. The police said that there were at least 31 child victims.
Security was increased as police expected more disturbance, following two days of violence near Pandher's residence. In a press statement, Chief Justice of India Y. K. Sabharwal asserted that the investigation was at a preliminary level, and neither the courts nor the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were involved at that point
The Central Government, however, constituted a high-level inquiry committee to go into the police lapses, during the period of reporting and investigation. Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh Yadav said that he would await the report of the committee looking into the issue before making the decision whether there should be a CBI probe into the matter. The committee was headed by the Joint Secretary, Women and Child Development Ministry, Manjula Krishnan. Under the terms of the reference,
This committee would take stock of the efforts made by the Noida police in locating the children who went missing.
It would assess the level of cooperation and assistance provided by the local administration, to locate the missing children and unite them with their families.
It would go through the modus operandi and the motives of the accused.
The panel met the parents of the victims to record their statements even as the police determined that out of the 17 confirmed people killed, 10 were girls. Parents of eight of the sexually abused children were given compensation of Rs.12 lakhs. The DNA samples from the human remains were sent to a forensic laboratory in Hyderabad for the identification of the victims while forensic samples were sent to the laboratory in Agra for determining the age, cause of death and other details. It was determined that Payal was the only victim identified as adult in this case, with all other 11 victims below the age of 10. Seven of the eight families that had been provided compensation of Rs. 200,000 on 3 January 2007 returned their cheques in protest. However, the cheques were soon returned to them. They demanded houses and jobs in compensation as well.
After reeling under a lot of relentless pressure and public outcry, the Uttar Pradesh Government suspended two superintendents of police and dismissed six policemen for dereliction of duty. This action followed the report by the four-member committee. On 17 January 2007 the inquiry committee submitted its reports severely indicting the Uttar Pradesh police for "gross negligence" in handling the cases of missing persons. The committee said that the local administration was negligent and irresponsible while dealing with the missing persons reports and did not rule out organ trade as a possible motive behind the killings.
The two accused in the case were already in police custody while the skeletal remains of the young children were being unearthed from behind and in front of Pandher's residence. An FIR had been filed on 7 October 2006. Investigations revealed that Payal's cellphone was being used although the SIM card she owned remained inactive. Through digital surveillance, the investigators were able to track down a number of people and could finally reach the man who sold the phone. The rickshaw cart puller affirmed that the phone belonged to someone from the Pandher residence. After the affirmation of the facts by the witness, Moninder Singh was called for interrogation, which subsequently revealed nothing. His aide and servant, Surender Koli was picked up the next day and he confessed killing the woman and dumping her body behind the house. The police started digging and henceforth recovered the skeletal remains of the missing children instead of Payal.
Nand Lal, the father of the girl – Deepika alias Payal, alleged that the police had threatened and harassed him. He stated that it was because of the court intervention that the police officers registered the FIR.
Suspicions of organ trade and cannibalism
The police initially suspected an organ trade angle as to the motive behind the murders and raided the house of a doctor who lived in the neighbourhood of the primary accused. A team of officials, accompanied by a team of forensic experts, went to pick up possible evidence for tests. The police revealed that the doctor had been accused of a similar crime in 1998, although the court had absolved him the same year. There was a second raid a few days later. The police were, however, cautious with the news reports suggesting the accused committed cannibalism even before the polygraph tests had barely begun. They were "aghast" when they learned of media reports that one of the accused had confessed to the consumption of the victims' livers and other body parts. Such a possibility was, however, not ruled out by the investigating team, considering the amount of brutality the duo had allegedly committed on the victims.
Brain mapping and narco analysis
The accused duo were brought to the Directorate of Forensic Sciences, Gandhinagar city for undergoing a series of medical tests. Brain mapping and polygraph tests were conducted on 4 January 2007 and narco analysis five days later. The police director told the scribes that both the accused had been cooperative during the tests and examinations. A senior director of the institute announced the conclusion of the extensive tests and declared that a conclusion had been drawn. Surender Koli had confessed to the crimes and had given his employer a clean chit saying that he was unaware of Koli's doings. Surender Koli also revealed that all deaths had taken place through strangulation. He would then rape them before taking the bodies to his personal washroom and dismembering them. Pandher was declared to be a womaniser and depressed.