Danielle McLaughlin case: backpacker and volunteer in her last destination

Irish woman attacked and murdered in Goa by four men on her trip to India.

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Who was Danielle McLaughlin?

Danielle was 28 years old, born in Glasgow, UK, but raised in Buncrana. She studied and worked in Liverpool, did college there and worked in a local pub in the area.

She has always loved volunteer work, and at the time already knew many countries. After a season in Australia, Danielle returns to her hometown with plans to go on another backpacking trip to India.

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Travel to India

The girl had traveled to India a year before, but this time it was to a region called Goa, a place much loved by backpackers, quiet, good parties and described as a “place of peace.”

There are more than 100km of beach, and it also has a mountainous region with waterfalls.

Tourism in the region is very large, the warm and humid climate favors tourist travel all year round, even in winter. This makes the locals already accustomed to travelers, and have no difficulty becoming close.

Danielle arrived in Goa in late January 2017, accompanied by an Australian friend. They spent two weeks staying in a hut, where they shared accommodation. But the girl’s ambition was a little bigger, she had plans and rent a house and take a Yoga course, and from there follow life in the country.

Holi Festival, March 13, 2017

Holi or Color Festival is a festival held in India and some other places every year between February and March, which celebrates the arrival of spring. On this day, people throw paints of the most diverse colors at each other, with lots of drink, food and music. A well-known festival that attracts thousands of tourists every year.

This celebration starts during the afternoon and extends into the evening. Danielle was last seen at this event, at a resort near the beach where she was staying.

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On the morning of March 14 around 7:30 a.m., the day after the festival, a local farmer passing through a field finds Danielle McLaughlin’s body completely naked, her face disfigured, several bruises and with signs of mutilation.

The place where the body was found was near the beach, but with little movement of people.

The farmer quickly called the police. According to interviews with people who were on the scene, the police did not properly cordon off the area, thus allowing more than 20 people to get close to the body, and even take pictures and post them on the internet. The police, on the other hand, deny this. Rebutting that standard procedure was performed and at no time was there negligence.

Start of investigations

Most of the testimonies obtained reported that Danielle had been with locals during the previous day, mostly men, from this the police are able to list some suspects and call them in for testimony.

The 37-year-old taxi driver known as Camar was married and had a son. He reported to police that he had actually spent part of the afternoon with the girl, had a few drinks, and then had given her a ride home.

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The man lied to his wife; he said he was meeting some friends. He denies that he killed the girl, and even in a statement says that after leaving her at the end of the ride, he went home. And his wife was his alibi, claiming that he really did spend the night at home.

The photo was taken around 9:15 p.m., and Camar claims that as he left her, the girl met up with another man and left on the back of his motorcycle.

Police arrive at a second suspect, Vikat Bhagat

Vikat Bhagat, 24, is the second suspect listed by police. The wife of Camar, the taxi driver seen in the photo holding the girl’s hand, told police that the same morning the body was found, her husband received a message from Vikat that was not disclosed.

Security camera footage indicates that Vikat was the last person to see Danielle alive.

Body Autopsy

The examinations indicated that the cause of death was strangulation, several blows were struck with a beer bottle, there were signs of a struggle as the victim’s hands were bruised. She had been sexually abused and her face was intentionally disfigured to make recognition difficult. Coroners also indicate that there was extensive brain trauma.

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It is believed that the crime was committed in one place and soon after the body was taken to the field where it was found the next morning.

Who was Vikat Bhagat?

He worked as a tour guide, but did so illegally. He had a criminal record of petty crimes such as theft and robbery, and was rumored to be a member of a local gang.

Less than 24 hours after the crime Vikat Bhagat was already in custody. He had scratch marks all over his body, his clothes and motorcycle had blood stains on them, and hours later a backpack with Danielle’s blood-soaked belongings and clothes was found near his house.

One curiosity in this case catches the eye: Vikat had been friends with Danielle on Facebook for over a year, the two exchanged messages and met on the girl’s previous trip to India.

Vikat confesses to the crime

At first the man confesses to the crime, but tells police that he did not act alone, even citing the names of others involved. The police do not believe Vikat’s version and continue to claim that the man committed the crime alone.

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In May 2017, through a 30+ page letter sent to his sister, the suspect retracts everything he said claims he was coerced and abused by the police to plead guilty. The media had access to the document, but Vikat was discredited, there was no evidence about what he reported and it appeared that this was an attempt to hinder and discredit the investigation of the case.

According to Vikat, he and Danielle had a romantic relationship, and also spent part of that afternoon together, drinking, and that at a certain point they decided to go to a party to meet some of his friends. The place of the party was not far away, and passed the field where the body was found, where they stopped to drink and smoke marijuana. At that moment Vikat’s friends call him asking if they are on their way to the party, he confirms and at the same instant three men on bicycles appear.

The men were Vikat’s acquaintances and asked if Danielle could have sex with them as well. Danielle became very angry at the situation, the men were not concerned about this and advanced on her. While two men were holding her one raped her.

Vikat said he could not defend Danielle because he had just had shoulder surgery, but that he watched the entire episode of rape and violence.

The men are gone.

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The next day the rapists called Vikat, claimed that what they did was a mistake and that they were under the influence of drugs, emphasized that he should not report anything to the police.

Some details

The family’s lawyer, who was also a local does not believe the crime was committed by one man.

The body of Danielle McLaughlin was sent two weeks later to Buncrana, her local town.

Danielle’s mother suffered greatly at the time; the family had just buried the girl’s grandfather and father.

April 2018, start of the Trial

The suspect claimed innocence, said he did not commit the crime. The family is very much charging the governments for the delay in the process.

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One of the witnesses after giving a statement, received threatening phone calls, believed to have been made by the gang Vikat was part of.

The case is still open, without a ruling.

Final Thoughts

The police continue to believe that Vikat committed the crime alone, and deny any suspicion of tax corruption.

Danielle’s case was not the first where a tourist ended up being killed in Goa. There are several cases, in strange situations, where family and police differ on the events.

There is a Facebook page run by Danielle’s family, where they seek justice. In closing I leave here an account I found there.

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“As you all know Danielle lived life to the fullest, she went to various places to volunteer… She wanted to make an impact on this world, and so she did…. She volunteered at an orphanage, helped with her own hands to build a school in Nepal. She was not a saint, but she was kind to everyone, treated everyone the same, and went out of her own way to help anyone in need. She always saw the goodness in everyone, always respected the culture of all the countries she visited. That is why she collected many friends, people who could call her a friend.”

Text written by friends and family, on the eve of her 31st birthday.

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Juliane Cunha

Brazilian, 27 years old, working in the health field. I love writing and I also love criminal cases, nothing better than combining business with pleasure. Follow me on Instagram @julianesantt | @casocriminal_