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TOSHA THAKKAR may have lived out her final moments inside the black suitcase in which her body was ultimately found – floating in a canal.

The 24-year-old accounting student was allegedly raped and murdered between 10.30am and 1pm last Wednesday in Croydon.

Her body, stuffed inside a large cloth suitcase, was pulled from a canal behind Meadowbank Park on Friday morning by pipeline maintenance workers. The Herald understands police believe Ms Thakkar, an Indian national from Gujarat, was strangled.

But she may not have been dead when her body was packed into the suitcase, and police are investigating whether she eventually suffocated inside it.

One of the two men with whom she shared a house, Daniel Stani-Reginald, 19, has been charged with sexually assaulting and killing her.

Police will allege Mr Stani-Reginald was a predator who waited until the third resident of the shared house in Edwin Street, Croydon, was away before attacking Ms Thakkar.

”She did not deserve this at all,” Detective Chief Inspector Pamela Young said. ”She did nothing whatsoever to contribute to what happened to her.”

When the case was mentioned briefly at Burwood Local Court yesterday, about 20 of Ms Thakkar’s distressed friends and family squeezed into the courtroom.

”She is a lovely human being, a wonderful person,” her first cousin, Niralee Popli, said. ”No human being deserves anything like this. We just hope her soul rests in peace.”

Her mother and sick father are in India and police said they hope to return Ms Thakkar’s body to her home country for a Hindu burial service.

India’s External Affairs Minister, S. M. Krishna, said the Indian government was aware of the student’s murder.

“A very, very unfortunate incident has been reported. We are getting a report from our ambassador,” he told reporters in Delhi yesterday.

“Meanwhile, we have learnt that a person has been taken into custody by Australian authorities. We are closely following and monitoring it and we will see justice is done.”

Ms Thakkar, from the city of Vadodara in Gujarat province in western India, had moved to Australia about two years ago and was in the last semester of a post-graduate accounting degree.

She was planning to return to India when she graduated.

Indian media reported that Ms Thakkar last spoke to her family, by phone, last Monday.

Mr Stani-Reginald, an Australian of Sri Lankan descent, chose not to appear in court yesterday and he did not apply for bail.

He is expected to face court again on May 9.

The Australian High Commission last night said it extended its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Ms Thakkar.

Australia’s high commissioner to India, Peter N. Varghese, sent a personal message of condolence to Mr Thakkar and has also spoken to the family, a statement said.

”The Australian police have acted quickly – they arrested a suspect on Friday, the same day as the discovery of the victim’s body,” it said.

”This brutal killing will shock Australians. The police are determined that the perpetrator will be brought to justice.

”There is no indication that this awful crime was racially motivated.”