Cross-culture love affair sparked beside Taj Mahal ends in tragedy

Rickshaw driver dies in 'gas explosion' after American wife stabbed to death
  • @AndrewBuncombe

It began as a fairytale, cross-culture love affair that played out against the backdrop of the Taj Mahal itself. It ended in darkness and tragedy.

Police in the north Indian city of Agra have confirmed that an Indian rickshaw driver stabbed his American wife to death before killing himself after their relationship ran into problems.

Reports said Erin Willinger’s body was found by the side of the road with multiple stab wounds in a remote part of Agra last week. Hours later, police discovered the body of her husband, Bunty Sharma, who apparently killed himself by settling alight cooking gas and causing a massive explosion in his home.

The couple had met last year when Ms Willinger, 35, from Pennsylvania, travelled to Agra with friends. They fell in love and married in October on the rooftop of a hotel with views of the Taj Mahal, the 17 Century mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third and favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Ms Willinger had taken an Indian name, Kiran Sharma, and began working with a local NGO to promote tourism in the city. Mr Sharma, 32, continued to work as a rickshaw driver.

Police say they separated soon after because of differences. Local media reported that Mr Sharma accused Ms Willinger of smoking too much, talking to other men and “not staying at home”. They were living apart and consulting a counsellor.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, backdrop to a cross-culture tragedy

“Both of them tried to resolve their differences and even met with a marriage counsellor,” Agra police chief Shalabh Mathur told the Associated Press.

Last year Ms Willinger, a trained psychologist and yoga teacher, said she wanted to stay in Agra and work to counter environmental degradation in the city. She said she wanted to make it a place worthy of the Taj Mahal. Ms Wilingerwas also involved in a project to help lepers.

“This city needs a push. We need new community leaders who can command respect and inspire people,” she told the  Indo-Asian News Service.  “The city is dirty and no one wants to stay back here for a night. You have to teach people to be conscious of hygiene, health and the sensibilities of others. You have to build trust and reach out.”

Police said that Ms Willinger’s family had been informed.

In a statement, Peter Vroomaan, a spokesman for the US embassy, said: "We can confirm the death of US citizen Erin Willinger in Agra, India on February 20 2014. We offer our condolences to her family and loved ones on their loss. We are in contact with her family and are providing all appropriate consular assistance. Out of respect for the privacy of those affected, we have no further comment."