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Last Updated: Monday, 16 May, 2005, 10:14 GMT 11:14 UK
US police puzzled by water tank killing
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Three months after her body was found in a giant tank at a waterworks in the United States, police are still trying to work out which one of her colleagues killed Geetha Angara. The case has turned into a bizarre whodunnit amid speculation that her promotion to senior chemist could have been a motive.

Dr Geetha Angara
Dr Angara was regarded as an "exemplary" employee

When Geetha Angara failed to return home to her family after a shift at the New Jersey waterworks they naturally became concerned.

Calls were made to the plant and security men discovered her car still in the parking lot.

Dr Angara, 43, had worked as a chemist at the Passaic Valley Water Commission, for 12 years.

Her job involved monitoring and calibrating 135 electronic devices and she was responsible for 83 million tons of drinking water supplied daily for the people of the nearby communities of Paterson, Clifton and Passaic.

In 2004, she was promoted to senior chemist.

Police were called in after Dr Angara disappeared on 8 February and a thorough search was made of the complex in Totowa.

A combination of the depth of the water, the cold and the dark would have put her in a perilous situation
John Latoracca
Assistant chief prosecutor

With her body still unaccounted for, the Passaic Valley Water Commission - a non-profit making public utility - was briefly forced to advise customers to boil their water before using it.

But the following day detectives found Dr Angara's body after draining a water tank which was 35-feet deep.

An autopsy gave the cause of death as drowning and police quickly ruled out an accident. Detectives are unsure if she had been incapacitated before being thrown in, although they said it seemed "more likely".

Passaic County Assistant Chief Prosecutor John Latoracca said the tank was dark, the water was very cold, and there was no ladder or means of climbing up the sides.

Grate removed

He said the water was about 30 feet deep, leaving a five feet gap between the water and the opening.

A heavy aluminium grate had been removed from the top of the tank, which led police to conclude it was no accident.

Mr Latoracca told the BBC News website: "A combination of the depth of the water, the cold and the dark would have put her in a perilous situation."

Eighty-five people work at the Totowa complex but only 50 were at work on the night of the killing.

Police have interviewed all of these and asked for DNA tests from all the possible suspects.

Map of New Jersey
The plant in Totowa serves much of northern New Jersey

Mr Latoracca said: "The investigation is continuing. We have not made any arrests yet and are still trying to ascertain the identity of the person responsible."

He said the killer would only have had a small window of opportunity and added: "We have a pretty tight time-frame that we are working with.

"We are convinced it was somebody working at the Passaic Valley plant and not an outsider. The motive has always been something difficult to find in this case.

"Until we have ascertained what happened it is difficult to infer what the motive could have been.

"Things are theoretically possible but there's nothing concrete. There is a suggestion that some may have felt slighted that they were passed over [for promotion] but it is not enough of a motive to kill someone."

Mr Latoracca said: "By all accounts she was a terrific person, a very dedicated employee, a very intelligent woman and a dedicated wife and mother."

Prosecutor meeting members of the Angara family
Prosecutor James Avigliano keeps Dr Angara's family up to date on the investigation
Indian-born Dr Angara, who lived in nearby Holmdel, left behind a husband, Jaya, and three children, aged nine, 13 and 19.

Ironically the Totowa plant was used as a location for an episode of the popular TV drama Law & Order, in which a body was found floating in a water tank.

But there is no suggestion the killer copied the plot of the programme, which was aired in January 2004.

Ernie Landante, a spokesman for her employers, said: "Dr Angara was an exemplary employee. She is certainly missed by her family and, without question, she is missed by the Passaic Valley Water Commission.

He told the BBC News website: "The plant is a state-of-the-art facility and her expertise was a major part of operating the facility. She had a PhD and several masters degrees and was promoted about a year ago."

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