Detective Ernest Dorvil of Bronx Homicide Squad has been investigating the case. (Go Nakamura for New York Daily News)
© Go Nakamura for New York Daily News
Barely 96 hours after Mahfuza Rahman mysteriously disappeared, her husband vanished too — turning up halfway around the world in his native Bangladesh, their 9-year-old daughter in tow.
Three years down the road, as the Bronx, NY nurse’s devastated family remains stuck in emotional limbo, little has changed: Spouse Mohammad Chowdury, though remarried, remains overseas with his daughter. Mahfuza Rahman never resurfaced. And her parents remain suspicious about their estranged son-in-law’s possible role in the still unsolved disappearance.
The NYPD agrees: Chowdhury, now 42, remains their sole person of interest in the cold case. They believe she was a victim of foul play that most likely occurred inside her Bronx home as their 10-year marriage imploded.
“After she went missing he called our family, my mother, and said, ‘Ma, it’s been 40 days,’ as if to say, ‘It’s time to move on,’” the missing woman’s brother Rezaur Rahma told the Daily News in a phone interview from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Mohammad Chowdhury, then husband of missing Bellevue Hospital nurse Mahfuza Rahman, are seen in an undated Facebook photo together. (Facebook)“>
“Why would he say that?” wondered Rahman. “It makes us think that he knows something — that he did something … We just want to know what happened. I’ve tried to ask him so many times, but he won’t say anything.”
Nursing associate Rahman, 30, left work at Bellevue Hospital the afternoon of Dec. 9, 2015, and took the subway uptown to Hunter College. The undergraduate student, pursuing her bachelor’s degree, then left for home and was never seen again.
The next morning, Chowdhury visited Home Depot to purchase a hatchet and packaging tape. He called Mahfuza’s boss with a bogus story to explain her absence. Four days after the disappearance, he and the couple’s only child Zuairia boarded a plane for their native Bangladesh. Father and daughter now live there with his second wife, and he refuses to discuss his first bride’s disappearance.
“We don’t feel good about it,” said Rezaur Rahman. “It’s obvious he never planned to go back to New York. He wanted to move on and start a new life there.”
According to the brother, Chowdhury keeps family members apart from Zuairia as much as possible — with the last contact coming about one year ago.
“We think her dad brainwashed her,” said the brother. “She probably knows what happened. But her dad must’ve told her if he went back to New York, the police would arrest him.”
If the missing woman’s family remains perplexed and pessimistic about getting any answers, a more optimistic view comes from NYPD homicide Detective Ernest Dorvil.
He remains motivated by the thought that some 8,000 miles away, a girl whisked away from her Bronx home must wonder every day about her lost mom.
“We’re going to make sure we get her justice so that one day, when she grows up and understands the whole circumstance, she can appreciate it,” Dorvil said.
“She’s enjoying the American way of living and now he took that away from her — and most importantly he took the mother. That’s something that every day I think about — and that’s the thing that drives me the most.”
Chowdhury, believed to be living in Comilla, about 65 miles from Dhaka, couldn’t be reached for comment.
But back in Dec. 2105, he told his wife’s Bellevue supervisors and hospital police that she flew back to Bangladesh because her parents were badly hurt in a car accident.
There was no accident nor any record that Rahman flew anywhere. But the dodge gave the husband the chance to bolt the country and keep authorities at bay.
The NYPD was not notified until March 4, 2016, when hospital police went to the Rahman home in Bedford Park and found mail piling up.
Once inside, cops found Rahman’s wallet, credit cards and passport and other property. The basement was flooded, possibly wiping away forensic evidence — though police don’t know if a pipe burst or if the flood was intentional.
And the concrete job outside the front entrance was relatively fresh.
Police dug it up but found no body. A search at an upstate garbage dump also proved futile. Chowdhury was long gone.
The NYPD is currently left with a circumstantial case and no probable cause to make an arrest. And even if police move to declare Rahman legally dead, the first step towards a no-body prosecution, Bangladesh has no extradition treaty with the U.S.
With the Bronx home now in foreclosure, Chowdhury has no reason and no apparent plans to return.
In an early phone chat with the NYPD, the hubby never admitted indicated that he wanted to come back to the Bronx but falsely claimed his in-laws were threatening to kill him.
And while he never admitted to harming his wife, Chowdhury provided a window into his failing marriage. There was tension over their difference in status: He was a busboy, she college educated and from a more upscale family.
Dorvil said Rahman’s embrace of an American lifestyle exacerbated their rift. The husband denounced his wife as a “whore” during a fight outside their home.
Bellevue colleague Tiani Morales remembered Rahman once arriving at work looking totally different — makeup on, her hair down and flowing.
“She said she just wanted to feel pretty,” said Morales, now a nursing student herself. “I told her she should do that more often and she said, ‘Oh, it’s hard for me to do that.’”
Police are hoping the anniversary of Rahman’s disappearance will jog someone’s memory. Anyone with information is asked to call the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-577-TIPS. All calls will be kept confidential.
“The smallest thing you think maybe does not even help the case could be what breaks the case,” Dorvil said.
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