May 27, 2021
It was mid-February 2003. Journalist Onkar Verma sat in his New Zealand home, missing his family. He hadn’t seen his sister, Nancy Chohan, for the past nine years. Not a day went by without him talking to their mother, Charanjit Kaur, on the phone. Both his mother and his sister lived in Hounslow, West London, with Nancy’s husband, Amarjit Singh Chohan, and their two sons. Updates about 18-month-old Devinder’s latest shenanigans and photos of two-month-old baby Ravinder would regularly put a smile on Verma’s face. But his phone hadn’t rung in days.
No one was picking up his calls at the Chohan home, over 7,000 miles away. With each long, passing hour, Verma’s yearning was turning into anxiety. Something must’ve happened. It didn’t help that Nancy had called him earlier on Valentine’s Day, worried about the whereabouts of her husband. She had asked the staff at Amarjit’s company, Ciba Freight, why he hadn’t returned home on February 13, and they told her he had flown out to the Netherlands for work. Later that day, she received a recorded message from her husband: “Hello, Nancy. Don’t panic. I’m okay. I’ll be back tomorrow.” But the message was in English, and the couple always communicated in Punjabi, which Nancy found suspicious.Nancy worked for Ciba Freight as a company secretary, too, but may have taken a break to take care of baby Ravinder. Perhaps that’s why she wasn’t in the loop about the goings-on at the office. Perhaps Amarjit didn’t have the time to tell her the details of his trip. But all the explanations Nancy could think of seemed legless because Amarjit didn’t have his passport. The couple had applied for British citizenship; both their passports were in the U.K. Home Office.
The earlier call with his sister, coupled with radio silence from the Chohans that followed, alerted Verma to talk to the police. They found the Chohan home empty, but established the family could’ve gone anywhere without having to tell Verma, and refused to investigate further despite Verma’s repeated attempts urging them to. None of the Chohans’ friends and neighbors in London had reported anything suspicious. It was too early for the police to take action. Verma had no choice but to fly to London and take matters into his own hands. But when he got to the Chohan home on March 5, a nightmare awaited him, something more sinister than he could have ever imagined.