A Loudoun County man hacked up his wife, stuffed most of her body in a suitcase and tossed it in an apartment complex dumpster about five miles from their new Ashburn home, sheriff's officials said yesterday.
After a frantic manhunt, Praveen Mandanapu, 32, who works for a computer company in Herndon, was arrested early yesterday in Winchester and charged with murder in the slaying of his wife, Divya Mandanapu, 28, Loudoun Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said.
Investigators are trying to determine why and how Divya Mandanapu was killed, Simpson said. Deputies are still searching for missing parts of her arms and legs.
Announcement of an arrest ended a mystery that began about 11 a.m. Monday when a maintenance worker at a South Riding apartment complex made the grisly discovery in the dumpster.
Loudoun detectives worked round-the-clock to identify the woman in the suitcase. They knew only that she was Middle Eastern or Indian and had shoulder-length black hair. An artist worked on a sketch for posters, and a cultural anthropologist was called in to help. About noon Wednesday, detectives got their first break: Employees at a Leesburg bank reported their co-worker missing.
Divya Mandanapu hadn't shown up for work all week, and she matched the description of the body, Simpson said. Investigators headed to the couple's home and found no one there. After bank workers shared photos of Divya Mandanapu with detectives, they were sure the body they had found was Divya's.
"It all began to unfold very quickly from there," Simpson said.
What Loudoun detectives didn't know was that, about 30 miles away in Clarke County, a rescue crew had been called about 1 p.m. to help a man found slumped over the steering wheel of his 1997 green Honda in the median of eastbound Route 7. Clarke Deputy Travis Sumption stopped to help, and the man was taken to a local hospital.
Meanwhile, as night fell, Loudoun detectives got a search warrant and entered the Mandanapu home. Not long afterward, they obtained an arrest warrant charging Praveen Mandanapu with murder and distributed his photo to news organizations.
"A manhunt quickly ensued as there were concerns the suspect might flee the country," Simpson said.
Sumption happened to be watching television that night and recognized the suspect as the man he helped earlier. He called Loudoun dispatchers, and detectives hurried to Winchester and waited for Mandanapu to be treated, Simpson said.
Praveen Mandanapu might have been attempting to kill himself or staging a suicide attempt, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation
Simpson would not comment on Praveen Mandanapu's medical condition but said he had been released from the hospital and was being interviewed by detectives.
A law enforcement source said the couple had at least one earlier domestic altercation in which deputies were called to the house. According to court records, a Loudoun judge issued an emergency protective order against Divya Mandanapu in October 2003 after finding there was evidence that she had abused her husband. Court documents do not explain the circumstances that prompted the order.
The slaying shocked neighbors of the young couple, who had moved into a tidy new Loudoun subdivision about a year ago. Simpson said the couple apparently came to the United States from India about five years ago. He said Divya Mandanapu's family remains in India, and her husband has few relatives in this country.
In the Mandanapu's Ashburn neighborhood yesterday, the couple's duplex was wrapped in yellow crime scene tape as investigators collected evidence from the house.
The grass out front was high compared with other manicured lawns in the neighborhood. Yellow and orange marigolds sprouted near the front door.
Peggy Beheler, who lives next door, said the couple moved in about a year ago, only a few weeks after she and her husband, Jerry, came to Buckley Terrace.
Beheler said the couple were friendly but quiet and didn't interact much with neighbors. The Behelers said they never noticed anything amiss.
"They just kept to themselves but were nice enough to wave," Peggy Beheler said. "He would say hello. She hardly every spoke, like she was in the background."
Simpson said authorities do not know whether Divya Mandanapu was killed before she was cut up. But he said the brutality of the crime upset even seasoned investigators.
"Anyone in law enforcement sees things over their careers that are disturbing; certainly, this is one of them," Simpson said.
Staff writer Jason Ukman and staff researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.