Arson, Murder, and Beating in California

The Dhanaks’ home. Mark Boster for the LA Times

Yesterday morning, two severely burned bodies were found on a California bike trail near Concordia University.

One was identified as being Karishma Dhanak, a 20-year-old college student from Anaheim Hills. The other body, which investigators have described as being burned beyond recognition, might belong to Dhanak’s father Jayprakash (“Jay”), a 56-year-old engineer and manager for a direct-mail company.

“We don’t know a motive, we don’t know if it relates to their personal or professional life, and we don’t know if it was random or if the suspects knew them,” Anaheim police Sgt. Rick Martinez told reporters this afternoon.

What officials do know is that Mr. Dhanak was convicted of mail fraud in 2002–a federal crime for which he served two years in prison. “But it was not a crime of violence. Jay was a quiet guy, not a gangster type or a rough guy,” his attorney, Rafael Bernardino, has said.

Jay Dhanak was ordered to pay the government $2.5 million. According to the Orange County Register, the family also had a half-a-million dollar mortgage on their house and had paid high sums to send Karishma and her sister (Shayona, now a freshman at UC Irvine) to Fairmont Private School in Anaheim:

It was not immediately clear how the Dhanaks paid those bills…Dhanak’s name appears on recent court and state documents in relation to two Los Angeles entities – North American Gaming and Cygnus Enterprises LLC, but lawyers and friends were unclear if these were the family’s main source of income.

Mr. Dhanak’s wife, Leela, 53, was found “bludgeoned and unconscious” near the family’s suburban home, near the Riverside-Orange County border. The home was set on fire. Mrs. Dhanak remains in critical care at a nearby hospital.

The family has been described as religious, quiet, and kind. “We are very shocked,” said Govind Vaghashia, a spokesperson for the local BAPS mandir where the Dhanak family worshiped each Sunday. “They never talked about any problems, nothing.”

Karishma Dhanak was an honors student at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California.

May 23, 2007
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