Crime File

THE RAFAY MURDERS-II WORKING THE TRAP

Atif Rafay’s entire family had been killed while he was out with his friend, Sebastian Burns. The two return, discover the bodies and report the crime. But they do not display the behaviour typical of the victims in such situations, which makes the investigators suspect them so strongly that they ignore all other leads and possibilities. A legally dubious investigative tool is employed to obtain confessions. HEMRAJ SINGH tells the tale of a conviction despite well-founded doubts.


One of the theories that could be pursued was that the Rafay family was killed by someone who did not like the liberal interpretation that Atif’s father placed on Islam, having delivered several lectures that took a liberal look at Islam in the western world. Tariq Rafay was an engineer and is said to have a theory according to which the “true east” was a degree or two removed from what was generally considered “east” in the world of Islamic faith for the purpose of offering prayer (Namaz).  

Tariq suggested that the Muslims move by a degree or two from their current positions to pray facing the right direction. According to Tariq’s calculations, most of the mosques in Canada were not facing Mecca, as they should. Although religion and prayers are a matter of faith and pure heart, and God would quite certainly not hold a calculation error of degree or so against the devotees, such an assertion by Tariq could still draw the ire of a fundamentalist practitioner of the Islamic faith.

An RCMP police officer reported to his superiors immediately after the Rafay murders that a source of his had contacted him to tell him that over a week ago a hit was ordered “on an East Indian family residing in Bellevue, Washington” by a certain group, and a sum of Twenty thousand Canadian dollars ($20,000) was offered to carry out the hit. The police officer also said that his source “indicated that this East Indian family originated from Vancouver, B.C.”. The source got in touch with the officer after he/she saw a news report on the television regarding Rafay murders and thought that he/she had relevant information regarding the crime.

Seattle Police also got in touch with Bellevue Police to inform that they had reason to believe that US-based terrorist organization by the name Al-Fuqra was involved in the Rafay murders.

Furthermore, the FBI, reportedly, informed the Bellevue Police that one of their informants had come up with some useful information regarding the murder of the Rafay family, and the informant was prepared to come forward to the Bellevue Police Department and provide them the information he had. The informant told that he personally knew an imam who had ordered the murder of the Rafay family. He further said that he also knew the two men who had actually killed the Rafay family. He further told the police that he was with one of the two men and had personally seen a baseball bat in the boot of this man’s car. The informant concluded that the baseball bat was the murder weapon because of the way the man acted.

Curiously, at that time the police did not know for sure how the Rafay family had been killed and what weapon was used, for it was only a few days after the murders that the informant had come forward with the information. It took a few months for the Bellevue Police to conclude on the basis of sound recreation and other forensic techniques that the Rafay family had actually been done to death by a baseball bat. The informant gave the police names of the people who he thought were responsible for the murders together with their residential and work addresses. Apparently, the police did not think it wise to pursue the lead because the list of names that the informant gave was long, but the list had to be substantially long if it were an entire organization behind the murders. However, the police seemed to have thought they had a strong case against Sebastian and Atif and for that reason they concentrated on the evidence that pointed towards them, even if it were slim, and dismissed all such evidence that took them away from the duo. The police seemed to have dismissed all the leads that did not point towards Atif and Sebastian.

There was a strand of hair collected from the room of Tariq Rafay’s room, which did not belong to any of the Rafays, including Atif, and was not Sebastian’s either. Furthermore, there were a few bloodstains in the garage, which did not match Atif’s or Sebastian’s blood or the blood of any member of the slain Rafay family. These two pieces of forensic evidence remained unexplained by the police. The hair and bloodstains may or may not have come from the killer or killers of the Rafay family, but the police did not seem to have made a serious effort to pursue the DNA lead perhaps because they were convinced that they had the killers already.

The time of the murder was established by the police. Two of the neighbours separately and independently told the police that they had heard loud thuds described as “hammering sounds” by one and as “construction project” by another. The time frame given by both the witnesses was between 8:50 p.m. and 9:35 p.m. and the duration of the activity was said to be around twenty minutes. However, at around the same time Atif and Sebastian were at the movie theatre, which was a fact duly confirmed by the police in the course of the investigation.

The police examined the bathroom at the Rafay residence and chemically analyzed it concluding that there was a lot of blood washed away in the bathroom and the blood belonged to Dr. Rafay, from which they concluded that the killer or killers had bathed after killing the Rafay family, which meant that the last person to use the bathroom was one of the killers. Twenty-two (22) strands of hair were found by the police in the bathroom, including on the floor of the bathroom, sides and waste water outlet, all belonging to Sebastian Burns leading to the conclusion that it was Sebastian who had showered after killing the Rafay family. They also found underwears belonging to Atif and Sebastian in the washing machine, washed. The underwears were sent for testing and there was nothing incriminating found on them. No other pieces of clothing belonging to Atif or Sebastian was found with any blood on it.

While it is possible that Sebastian took a bath after killing the Rafay family, it is also possible that Sebastian was the regular user of the bathroom in which the killer or killers washed their hands or the baseball bat used after killing the family, which could explain the presence of both Sebastian’s hair and the blood from Dr. Rafay without the conclusion that it was Sebastian who killed the Rafay family or actively participated in it. Therefore, the conclusion drawn in favour of Sebastian’s culpability in the Rafay murders based on the discovery of the blood of Dr. Rafay and Sebastian’s hair is not as strong as it might have appeared to the police, especially when Atif and Sebastian had a verified alibi because the existence of a credible alibi calls for a closer and more rigorous analysis of the evidence in hand. Therefore, the possibility that Sebastian and Atif were not the killers had to be given due weight.

The Bellevue Police was well aware that the evidence they had against Sebastian and Atif was utterly insufficient to charge the two with the gruesome murder of the Rafay family. However, it seems that the investigators were so convinced that the two were the killers that they focused on building the case against them by collecting evidence against them rather than pursuing other leads and considering other theories and possibilities that pointed away from Sebastian and Atif. So, with the help of the RCMP they decided to use an investigative technique that is illegal in the US to draw out a confession from Sebastian and Atif.

The circumstances in which Sebastian and Atif found themselves were such that it convinced them that they were going to be convicted in the Rafay murder case. The circumstances were partly managed by the officers conducting the sting so as to convince them that they could come out in the open and confess to their crimes to other criminals. It might help the real criminals to confess to the crimes they have committed because the environment created is conducive to such confessions, but in a hopeless situation where one has every reason to believe that one is going to be convicted, even an innocent person might want to be on the favourable side of a criminal organization and may confess to a crime he or she has not committed so that the organization does not treat him or her as an outsider to the world of crime. Such confessions are hardly reliable as proof of guilt, which is, in part, also the reason why the investigative technique has come under severe criticism in Canada itself while it continues to be altogether illegal in the US and most of the other countries.

Mr. Big technique requires an elaborate environment founded largely on lies and half-truths, and it must be impressed upon the target individual that he or she has no option but to confess and also that he or she has nothing to fear. So, there are many scenarios played out to maintain the make-believe, and in the last of such scenarios, Sebastian was shown a false memo prepared by RCMP indicating that the Bellevue police had in their possession the hair samples and DNA evidence, which they had got tested by the forensic laboratory resulting in the positive forensic conclusion that the hair collected from the bathroom belonged to Sebastian. So far the memo had stated the truth. The memo further said that on the force of the new evidence the Bellevue police was going to charge Atif and Sebastian with the murders of the Rafay family, which was completely untrue.

On reading the memo, Sebastian said that his hair in the bathroom could be from any period of time and not necessarily from the night of the murders. The undercover RCMP officers quizzed and pressed Sebastian about his showering after the murders, but Sebastian did not quite come around to say that he had killed the Rafay family and had washed the blood off his body in the bathroom after the murders. When he was asked about the blood stains in the garage, he categorically stated that he did not know anything about it. But the undercover agents pressed on to know more.
Sebastian Burns was being made to believe that the police had enough evidence to charge them and probably enough for them to have the two of them convicted. It wasn’t true, but it can work in two different ways depending upon whether one is guilty or not. The one who is guilty would feel cornered and exposed whereas an innocent person would feel victimized and helpless. In the Mr. Big scenario, both the guilty and the innocent would look upon the operatives of the fake criminal organization as their only saviours because the undercover operatives managing the scenario would have to make sure that their targets feel comfortable to confess to their crimes.

A guilty person would want to keep himself stay out of prison as long as possible, which a criminal organization can make happen, which is also the natural course because the person is already guilty of a crime and he or she can simply move on in the world of crime because there is no going back anyway after exposure. However, the same works for the innocent person also because now the fellow cannot go back to the normal life and has to take the available way out and in the Mr. Big scenario, the only way out is through the fake criminal organization that the person takes for real. But to go on, one needs to confess to one’s crime, which is the very purpose of the whole exercise. Once the confession comes through, it’s the end of the story for the individual because there was never a criminal organization to start with.

The undercover officers told Sebastian that they had people everywhere and whatever the police had against him could be made to disappear, but not until he told them what happened on the night of murders. It had been impressed upon Sebastian that the criminal organization was convinced that the two had killed the Rafay family, which is why they were eligible to be part of the organization, and all that Sebastian had to do was tell them how exactly did they go about the act of killing. Therefore, to Sebastian, the options were either to get convicted of the murders by a court of law or to confess before the members of the criminal organization, who could make the evidence go away and with it, also the possibility of conviction.

Even if the confession was false, it was their way out of an almost certain conviction. Besides, it was perfectly safe to make a private confession to the members of a criminal organization, who, they had been made to believe, had committed several such crimes as Sebastian and Atif were being accused of. In such circumstances, the confession thus obtained is not quite reliable.

…to be continued

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