• Socialite mother is murder suspect; said daughter was sister
  • Husband says he was clueless; story is frontpage news in India

Sheena Bora disappeared three years ago.

At first, television reports said the young woman was killed by her older sister, a former media boss and Mumbai socialite. The next day, the Indian media said she wasn’t really the sister, but the victim’s own mother.

Peter Mukerjea, the husband of the prime accused, who used to be the chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s empire in India, told reporters he spent his 13 years of married life believing his wife’s two children from a prior relationship were in fact her siblings.

“I was blindsided by my love for my wife,’’ Mukerjea said in an interview with the Times Now television channel. “I shouldn’t have believed her as much as I did.’’

This unfolding murder mystery has kept urban India riveted after the Mumbai police on Tuesday arrested Indrani Mukerjea on charges of murdering Bora in 2012. The deceased was known to family and friends as Indrani Mukerjea’s sister. A little later, Indrani Mukerjea told the police that the girl was in fact her daughter, news outlets reported. The police have yet to present any DNA or other physical evidence tying her to the crime.

“It’s impossible to believe she’s a murderer,’’ Peter Mukerjea told the channel.

News Corp. Executive

Peter and Indrani Mukerjea married in 2002 when he was head of News Corp.’s Star network, India’s biggest cable television network, and she was an independent human resources consultant.

A regular in Mumbai celebrity circuits, Indrani Mukerjea was known for her meteoric rise from her humble origins in India’s northeast to the top strata of the nation’s media circle. Under her husband, Star produced 38 of the nation’s 50 top shows, including a local version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” featuring Bollywood’s biggest star Amitabh Bachchan as the quizmaster. That show continued for eight seasons, revolutionized TV programming, and cemented Star’s role as India’s most powerful entertainment network.

After Peter left Star in 2007, the couple founded INX Media, which ran a bouquet of news, music and entertainment channels. At the time of its inception, INX raised $170 million rupees from several private equity funds and investors including Singapore’s state-owned investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte, the Mint newspaper reported.

Top Woman Achiever

The following year, the Wall Street Journal called Indrani Mukerjea “India’s first female media mogul’’ and put her on its global list of 50 top women achievers.

Two years later, the two abruptly left the company. The company had accumulated losses of 8 billion rupees ($121 million) and most of the investors were seeking an exit, the Business Today said. Jeffrey Fang, a spokesman for Temasek, declined to comment for this story. When asked whether there could be a financial motive for the murder, Peter Mukerjea told a TV channel that he didn’t know. He didn’t respond to efforts to reach him for comment for this story.

Gunjan Mangla, the lawyer representing Indrani Mukerjea, didn’t immediately reply to an e-mail seeking comment and a phone call to her office.

Authorities have also arrested Sanjeev Khanna, ex-husband of Indrani Mukerjea, saying he was present during the murder, local newspapers reported. “The investigation is going on at a brisk pace,” the city’s Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria told reporters late Thursday night. “We have a fair idea of the motive,” he said, without elaborating.

Body in Briefcase

Bora’s body was stuffed in a briefcase and burned in a forest about 100 kilometers south of Mumbai, newspapers reported. The partially charred remains were found by local authorities at the time, but no one came forward to identify the victim. Tissue and bone samples were collected from site and sent to a forensic lab, but those samples are untraceable now, local papers reported, citing police officials. Authorities at the time didn’t link the body with a missing person report that was filed in May 2012.

The report was filed by Peter Mukerjea’s son, who was dating Bora at the time, the papers said. His wife did not approve of the relationship and even discussing the topic was “taboo in our household,’’ Peter Mukerjea said in the television interview. He said the couple had confided in him that his wife was Sheena Bora’s mother, but he refused to believe it.

‘Utter Rubbish’

“I confronted Indrani about it, and Indrani said that is utter rubbish,’’ Peter said in the television interview. “There was no question of not believing my wife. This was the woman I had married and decided to spend my life with.’’

The connection between the body and the missing person was made this month after a tipoff from local residents who saw a man repeatedly visit the site where the body was found, local media said. The man, identified as a chauffeur of the Mukerjeas, told police the victim was Bora, and said that Indrani Mukerjea had murdered the woman and ordered him to dispose of the body. He’s been charged with the same crime. It wasn’t possible to reach the chauffeur and the ex-husband of Indrani Mukerjea for comment.

The drama, with its many twists and turns, could still throw a big surprise.
It won’t be long before Bora’s story inspires a Bollywood movie on the lines of the 2014 Hollywood thriller ‘Gone Girl,’ in which Amy Dunne, the character played by Rosamund Pike, plots her disappearance to avenge her husband’s infidelity.

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