The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A man killed his wife to be with his Grindr boyfriend. But his iPhone Health app gave his plot away.

Mitesh Patel returns home with a pizza on the night police said he killed his wife. (Cleveland Police). (Cleveland Police)
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She had been strangled with a Tesco Bag for Life.

Mitesh Patel told police he had just gone out to buy a pizza the night of May 14 when he came home to find his wife, Jessica, lying motionless in the living room. The plastic reusable shopping bag, named for a local grocery store, was deformed and dotted with Jessica’s saliva. Duct tape was wrapped around her wrists and ankles and covered her mouth. And at first, Patel told the emergency operator, he didn’t know if she was alive or dead.

“Oh hiya," he began on the emergency call from their home in Middlesbrough, England, which was obtained by The Washington Post. “I think we’ve been burgled and my wife’s been attacked."

The house, he said, had been ransacked. Clothes were thrown all over the floor in the couple’s bedroom. The contents of every drawer and every shelf — papers, purses, makeup — appeared strewn haphazardly across the room.

But when police and paramedics arrived, the whole scene struck them as bizarre.

They found no evidence of forced entry. Patel’s home was equipped with a security camera, yet oddly, they found the hard drive tucked into a suitcase underneath the bed and learned later that the tape had been cut just minutes before they arrived. In Patel’s bedroom dresser, they found a single overturned photograph underneath the lining. It was of Patel and another man — who police would soon learn was at the center of everything.

The man in the photograph was an Australian doctor whom Patel met on Grindr, the dating app for gay men. His extramarital affairs with men he met on the app was perhaps his worst-kept secret. At the neighborhood pharmacy that he and Jessica owned, co-workers would often find him scrolling through potential hookups behind the counter when Jessica wasn’t there. Jessica would find out eventually herself, finding his “love you x” messages to the Australian doctor on his phone.

And police, too, would soon find all of them.

“Like you said, she’s a leaseholder," Patel told his boyfriend in one message, comparing his wife to a short-term renter in their relationship, according to live coverage of the trial in the local newspaper Teesside Live. "One day that lease will expire.”

On Wednesday, Patel was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 30 years for killing his wife so that he could run off to Australia and start a new life with his Grindr lover. Prosecutors say he planned to cash in on 2 million euros ($2.27 million) in life insurance policies taken out on his wife, and that he had been plotting her murder for more than five years. He had waited so long, prosecutors contended, because he was hoping in the meantime she would become pregnant and give birth to a baby — whom Patel planned to raise with his boyfriend.

“What are your thoughts if she goes earlier than you think?” Patel asked the boyfriend in text messages cited in court, referring to the hypothetical death of his wife. “Will you love it like your own?”

“I can love it,” the doctor responded, referring to the hypothetical baby, “as long as there isn’t anyone else involved.”

Jessica never got pregnant but could have. At the time of her death, she had been undergoing in vitro fertilization treatment. When Patel took the stand, prosecutors suggested that perhaps Patel had thought, “you have the eggs and the embryos, you don’t need Jess anymore."

"Did that cross your mind?” one prosecutor asked.

“No, it did not,” Patel said.

Patel and Jessica had known each other since childhood, prosecutors detailed during the trial. The two of them grew up in the same Hindu community in West Yorkshire and later reconnected as adults while they were studying at a university in Leicester. Patel was Jessica’s first boyfriend, prosecutors said, and in 2008, Patel asked her father for his permission to marry her. The father said no, then changed his mind and would later regret it.

The couple ran a popular neighborhood pharmacy once profiled in Teesside Live, as “giving more than just medication.” It was the “heart of the suburb,” the paper said.

But eventually, Patel’s Grindr use, as well as his long evening phone calls with the Australian boyfriend, became a deep source of tension in their marriage, prosecutors said. In one text-message exchange in July 2017, the couple grappled with whether to go through with Jessica’s IVF cycles if Patel was going to continue being dishonest about his Grindr relationships.

“Those texts and images tell me a different story to what you’re saying,” Jessica told him. “I did say you’ll be forgiven. I want to be a mother and always have felt that since I got married. To have my own little family was my dream. I think it would be right to cancel for now.”

“I think you’re mad,” Patel responded. “You can forgive me but I won’t forgive you for this.”

Patel’s search history on his computer, prosecutors said, showed what he had in mind when he told Jessica they would be “parting ways” should she decide not to go through with IVF.

Among his searches: “I need to kill my wife,” “plot to kill wife, why do I need co-conspirators,” “does life insurance pay if you are murdered,” and “Hindu funeral for a married woman.” On YouTube, he watched a video titled, “how long does it take for a person to die from strangulation?”

Patel’s DNA was found beneath his wife’s fingernails. His neck was red with scratches when police arrived on the night of the murder, and no one else’s DNA besides hers and her husband’s was found on or near her body. Her voice box had been crushed, her neck bruised just below the ears. Defense counsel suggested that perhaps an intruder was wearing latex gloves, leaving no trace of his attack.

But what Patel couldn’t explain was the 42 minutes unaccounted for in his alibi.

That’s where his iPhone Health app came in.

Patel claimed he last saw his wife alive before he went for a “long walk,” paid a visit to the pharmacy and picked up a pizza. At 7:44 p.m., just before Patel was captured on video leaving his house, Jessica’s Health app recorded 14 steps — the last movement it would measure. Once Patel left the home, her iPhone recorded no movement whatsoever.

Patel’s Health app, meanwhile, recorded him frantically running up and down the stairs during the time his wife’s app was motionless — during what prosecutors believe was Patel’s attempt to stage a burglary.

“In an effort to disguise his crime and seek to fool the murder investigation team into believing that Jess had been murdered whilst Mitesh was out walking," Senior Investigating Officer Detective Chief Inspector Matt Murphy-King of Cleveland Police said in a statement, “Mitesh went to the extreme of staging the murder scene making it appear as though Jess had been murdered during a burglary, something which the investigation categorically proved to be a lie — one of the many lies which Mitesh spun to conceal his guilt and devious lifestyle.”

Patel took the stand during the trial, admitting to his relationship with the Australian doctor and his use of Grindr, but telling the jury that everything was one horrible coincidence.

Asked to explain why he had watched a video instructing him how to fatally choke a person just before his wife died the same way, Patel said he knew it would look bad. He said he and his wife watched the video together.

“I have sat for the last six-and-a-half months in that prison cell,” he said, “and one of the many, many things I have thought is, how ironic is this?”

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