New Delhi: One of the fondest childhood memories of 22-year-old Swedish national Felix Dahl, according to his mother Minna Pirhonen, was of summer vacations spent with his cousins near a sunny, sandy beach, with laughter filling the air.
In 2014, when he visited India for the first time, Goa reminded him of those simpler times, and so, on his second visit to India the same year, he was certain he would make Goa his home and never leave.
He did not.
Dahl’s body was found in Canacona in south Goa on 28 January, 2015, around 6.30 am.
According to police records and court documents, he was found lying on the ground, almost in a fetal position, wearing only a pair of jeans, with his hands clenched in fists, and with a Rs 50 note in the pocket of his jeans.
The mud below his head was soaked in blood.
Goa Police blamed Dahl’s death on an “accidental fall on the edge of the internal tar road”, while relying on witness statements which claimed that Dahl would do acrobatics such as static-jumps and cartwheels on the rocks at Agonda beach.
Refusing to accept this explanation, Dahl’s mother intervened, and is leading the quest to find her son’s “murderer” from Helsinki, Finland. It has been eight years since he died.
In July 2017, Pirhonen approached the Bombay High Court seeking transfer of the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Calling the Goa Police’s version of Dahl’s death the “most unlikely explanation”, the court transferred the probe to the CBI’s Goa Anti-Corruption Branch in July 2018.
While the CBI has since explored several angles in the case, the investigation is still on, with a trail of unanswered questions.
Did Dahl get involved with the wrong people in India? Who was Sun Awiskar alias Andre Nguyen? Who assaulted Dahl two days before his death?
And why did he tell people that he feared for his life?
‘Will I be alive tomorrow?’
On the morning of 28 January, 2015, housewife Filomena Pareira, 55, was woken up by her dog. He wanted to go out, like every other day. However, when she let him out of the house, he began barking towards the road.
That’s when Pareira discovered Dahl’s body on the road outside her house.
Dahl, a third-year economics student at Hanken School of Economics in Helsinki, had arrived in Goa four months ago in October 2014. This was his second visit and he was quick to make friends.
According to the petition filed by Pirhonen in the Bombay High Court, Dahl met one Sun Awiskar, a Canadian national whose real name was Andre Nguyen according to a 2018 police report seen by ThePrint, on his flight to Goa in October. The two then met a businessman from Jaipur, Zian de Janerio, who was actually Zian Mohammed, according to the police report.
Pirhonen has alleged that Dahl spent a lot of money while traveling with the duo. Her son and Awiskar visited Zian in Jaipur in November 2014. ThePrint has seen Pirhonen’s petition.
According to police records and court documents seen by ThePrint, on his last day alive — 27 January, 2015 — Dahl was seen with an Agonda resident, Lenslood Fernandes, who along with another of Dahl’s friends, US citizen Malaurie, identified Dahl’s body the next day.
Dahl’s friends and associates claimed that his behaviour had changed significantly in the days leading up to his death.
In the course of the investigation, soon after Dahl’s death, Goa Police took statements from several people who knew Dahl or had come in contact with him during his stay in the state.
Several of these witness statements, which have been seen by ThePrint, stated that Dahl had started sleeping on the beach and had kept his bag with all his possessions at a restaurant. He suddenly seemed to have had financial problems, and was also having his meals on credit from different restaurants.
Dahl’s friend Malaurie told the police that Dahl used to tell her that somebody wanted to kill him and that he was being followed. A Norwegian photographer, Knut Bry, stated that a day before Dahl died, he looked “confused and scared”, and asked Bry “whether he (Dahl) would be alive tomorrow”.
Bry also stated that Dahl had asked him whether he should go back to Sweden. When Bry told him that he should, Dahl asked whether Bry would help him return.
Despite all this information, the case was initially investigated as an unnatural death under Section 174 (police to inquire and report on suicide or death under suspicious circumstances) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
‘Used to do acrobatic stunts on beaches’
A murder FIR was lodged in the case only on 3 November, 2016 — almost two years after Dahl’s death — after the court of judicial magistrate first class at Canacona directed the police to register it (on 5 October, 2016).
The order came on an application filed by Pirhonen under Section 156 (magistrate may order investigation of a cognisable offence) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) in May 2016. ThePrint has seen both Pirhonen’s application and the court order.
During arguments in the case, the public prosecutor had contended that “whilst doing acrobatics (Dahl) must have fallen on the… stones”.
Rejecting this contention, the court observed: “The investigation reveals that Felix used to do acrobatics like static-jumping, cartwheels on the rocks in Agonda and was behaving strangely, but this does not make the fact believable that he fell on some stones near the road and sustained so many such bleeding injuries.”
Pirhonen has in her petitions pointed out several inconsistencies in the probe and has also raised questions over the involvement of Zian Mohammed, Sun Awiskar and Lenslood Fernandes in the case.
Pirhonen told ThePrint that during his time in Goa, Dahl was visited by his father, brother and girlfriend, and he told his father about having “invested” money in an apartment in Jaipur, by buying furniture and carpets to make it look western in order to increase its value when it is sold. He said he would receive 15 per cent of the profit once the apartment was sold.
However, according to the police closure report filed in April 2018 and seen by ThePrint, Zian claimed that Dahl had only installed a geyser, taps and other crockery items in the said apartment, and that was only because he was planning to stay there with his girlfriend for a few days.
The Goa Police never interrogated Awiskar because they could not trace him, added the report. It is not clear whether the CBI has been able to trace him. According to Pirhonen, he had left Goa and had returned to Canada by the time the police tried to contact him.
Speaking to ThePrint, Pirhonen pointed out that Dahl’s laptop had ended up with Fernandes after his death. The police closure report filed in April 2018 stated that Fernandes handed over the bag containing Dahl’s belongings, his laptop and the laptop’s charger to the police only on 4 February, 2015, a week after Dahl’s death.
According to Pirhonen, after Dahl’s death, the police had asked her what they should do with his belongings. When she enquired about the laptop, she was told that his bag didn’t have one. However, she had her suspicions and asked them to check with Fernandes.
According to Dahl’s autopsy report, cited in court documents and by police, the cause of his death was “head injury in the form of fractures of skull bones, damage to brain and intracranial haemorrhage”.
According to Pirhonen, a second autopsy in Finland revealed the presence of an overdose of an antihistamine called pheniramine in Dahl’s body. She has since alleged that Dahl might also have suffered from “pheniramine poisoning”, which causes psychosis.
Dissatisfied with the Goa Police investigation, Pirhonen approached the Bombay High Court in July 2017, demanding transfer of the probe to the CBI.
In her petition, she pointed out that Dahl had lost or misplaced his passport as well.
“He didn’t know where his passport was. I had the feeling that the passport had been taken away from him. He didn’t have money. I have a feeling that he was at the mercy of other people,” she told ThePrint.
‘Most unlikely explanation’
Before the Bombay High Court, Pirhonen presented an expert opinion from one Dr Edward N. Willey (a US-based doctor who had seen the autopsy report and other case-related documents), who suggested that “multiplicity of injuries and depressed skull fractures suggest a fatal assault, not a simple fall from a standing height to a roadside or even a hard surface”.
While Pirhonen’s petition was pending in the high court, the final closure report in the case — as an “undetected and unresolved crime” — was filed by the Goa Police in April 2018.
The report relied on statements of several witnesses to claim that Dahl “was not seen in normal state of mind during the days preceding his death”, and that “he was in habit of doing acrobatic stunts on beaches and also used to roam around alone in areas like Patnem, Pallolem which are about 10-11 km from Agonda (village) where he used to stay”.
It ruled out the theory of assault with a blunt object, citing that Dahl did not have a single line crack to the skull, but five lacerated wounds with irregular margins. It said that irregular margins are “most probably caused by crushed granite stones”. To tie up the claim, it then pointed out that crushed granite stones were present “under” Dahl’s head when his body was found.
The report concluded that no evidence had thus been found pointing to a murder.
The Bombay High Court, however, in its judgment passed in July 2018 raised serious doubts over the credibility of the police investigation, asserting that there was a “clear failure to examine the case in a fair and impartial manner”.
It said that the failure on the part of the authorities “could be the result of incompetence, indifference, prejudice, bias or an outside influence”. It noted that the local police chose to steer the investigation clear of the homicide angle, even though it was a “strong hypothesis”.
The court said the “most unlikely explanation was embraced as the only possible one” — that “Felix was cartwheeling on the road in the middle of the night, fell and hit his head on the border stones and suffered multiple skull fractures and bled to death”.
A two-judge bench of the court transferred the investigation to the CBI. It also rapped the Goa authorities for treating Pirhonen as an “intermeddler”.
It said that she cannot be treated as an “alien to the investigation”. It pointed out that “her communications show anguish and despair”, and that “her reactions out of extreme agony and frustration should be understood with sensitivity and sympathised” (sic).
Curious case of Dahl’s injuries
When Dahl’s body was found, half of his injuries were fresh, while the other half had a reddish medicine applied to them. The source of the other injuries on Dahl’s body is still uncertain, with multiple stories emerging from the statements of witnesses.
Fernandes claimed that Dahl had told him that a foreigner had tried to sexually harass him on 26 January, and when Dahl resisted, the foreigner assaulted him. The doctor who treated Dahl’s injuries the next day, on 27 January, was informed by Dahl that the injuries were a result of a fall. This doctor had then applied mercurochrome — a reddish topical antiseptic — on Dahl’s wounds, according to court and police records.
Other stories about the injuries involved claimed that Dahl had met with an accident in Patnem the previous day or that he was attacked by a dog.
According to the police closure report filed in April 2018, two waiters at a restaurant in Goa admitted to assaulting Dahl with bamboo sticks, claiming that it was in retaliation to Dahl trying to kill a dog. Other statements claimed that Dahl might have been chasing a dog that had snatched a woman’s purse.
Two policemen said they had found Dahl walking while injured near Cleopatra Junction in Palolem, and dropped him at Agonda.
However, it is still unclear as to what really happened two days before Dahl was found dead, and whether it was connected to his death.
Probe still on
Meanwhile, the investigation in the case is still on, according to sources privy to the case.
In June 2019, the Central Forensic Science Laboratory in Delhi reconstructed the crime scene at the spot where Dahl was found dead. In October 2020, the CBI questioned a jeweller from Rajasthan for about nine hours in relation to the case.
In September 2019, the CBI also filed an application before the court of judicial magistrate first class at Canacona, demanding permission to conduct polygraph and narco-analysis tests on six people, including Fernandes.
According to the court order, seen by ThePrint, the CBI’s application stated the agency had noticed several inconsistencies in comparing the statements given by these six persons to the Goa Police and later to the CBI.
The court, however, rejected the CBI’s plea in November 2019, while rapping the agency for filing the application in a “cavalier and casual manner”.
It said the CBI had not submitted any documentary evidence to support its claim of inconsistencies in the statements of these six people. Among other things, the order noted that the CBI had failed to state whether these six were seen as accused or witnesses in the case.
Dahl’s mother doesn’t intend on giving up on her son.
She has been dissatisfied with the probe conducted by the Goa CBI as well. In March last year, she wrote to CBI director Subodh Kumar Jaiswal, asking for his intervention in the investigation, and demanding that the probe be transferred to the CBI in Mumbai.
Talking to ThePrint, Pirhonen recalled the “biggest mistake of her life”.
Two days before Dahl’s death, she said, on 26 January, 2015, he had called her up from an unknown number. She said Dahl sounded “not happy”.
The call had come when she was just going to a classroom to teach, and she requested Dahl for a longer Skype call over the weekend.
“I really didn’t have time to pay attention to him that day and that is the biggest mistake of my life. I should have had time to talk to him at that exact moment,” Pirhonen said.
(Edited by Nida Fatima Siddiqui)