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4-min read

How a Common Link and Too Many Motives Shrouded the Kerala Serial Murders for 17 Years

The six deaths happened between 2002 and 2016 under similar circumstances. Three persons have been arrested, including a 47-year-old housewife and the prime suspect, Jolly Joseph.

Chandrakanth Viswanath | News18

Updated:October 7, 2019, 8:59 PM IST
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How a Common Link and Too Many Motives Shrouded the Kerala Serial Murders for 17 Years
File photo of prime suspect Jolly Joseph; (right) Photo of victims.

Thiruvananthapuram: When members of a Crime Branch team were opening two vaults in cemeteries of two churches in Kozhikode district last week, not many were expecting an extraordinary crime story involving multiple deaths within a family over the last 17 years to unveil.

Six persons, all of them closely related and hailing from Koodathyai, 33km from the district headquarters, had died between 2002 and 2016 under similar circumstances. Four of the funerals were held at the cemetery of Lourd Matha Church in Koodathyi and the remaining two at St Mary’s Forane Church, Kodanchery, 10km away.

The police action, led by Deputy Superintendent of Police K Haridas, was conducted after a family member complained about a common link in the deaths: consumption of food.

Three persons have been arrested so far, including a 47-year-old unassuming housewife and the prime suspect Jolly Joseph. The trio, Jolly and MS Mathew and Prajikumar, has only been booked for the murder of Jolly’s husband Roy Thomas. Police said they were formally arrested after interrogating about 200 people in the area.

More arrests are likely in the serial murder case as the crime branch is investigating the involvement of more than 20 people who reportedly maintained close connections with Jolly. The suspects also include some family members who were reportedly aware that the deaths occurred due to deliberate poisoning.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Kozhikode Rural SP KG Simon compared Jolly’s case to that of Harold Shipman, a British general practitioner who was convicted of murdering 15 of his patients and suspected to have murdered as many as 250 people.

Timeline of Deaths

August 22, 2002: Annamma Thomas (57), wife of Tom Thomas Ponnamattam and a retired teacher. After having mutton soup at home, she fell unconscious and died on way to the hospital.

August 26, 2008: Tom Thomas Ponnamattam (66), a retired employee of the education department. He fell ill after having tapioca at and also died while being taken to the hospital.

September 30, 2011: Roy Thomas (40), eldest son of Tom and Annamma. He started vomiting after dinner and died on the way to the hospital. His postmortem was done as demanded by his uncle Mathew Manjadiyil. Though traces of cyanide were found in body, it was hushed up as a case of suicide.

February 2, 2014: MM Mathew Manjadiyil (68). Brother of Annamma Thomas and a former BSF personnel. Aged 68. Fell unconscious and died.

May 5, 2014: Alphine Shaju (two), daughter of Shaju Zacharia, who is the new of Tom Thomas and Roy’s cousin. Died after having bread and meat curry in a feast held during a holy communion.

January 11, 2016: Sili Shaju (44). Wife of Shaju Zacharia. She died while drinking water at a clinic where her husband was consulting a dentist.

The prime suspect

Jollyamma Joseph alias Jolly, the former wife of Roy Thomas and present wife of Shaju Zacharia. Police said she allegedly poisoned six of her family members for various reasons. Though police have not revealed much about the evidence gathered during investigation, they say that Jolly has confessed to the killings. A resident of Kattappana in Idukki and a close relative of MM Mathew’s wife, she married Roy 22 years ago.

Possible motives

- Presence of Jolly in all the scenes of death. She was the first to witness at least four, Tom, Roy and Mathew collapse. Sili had collapsed on Jolly’s lap.

- Though traces of cyanide were detected in Roy’s body, Jolly made it seem like a case heart attack. Later, she said Roy was going through financial troubles and might have killed himself. A case of suspicious death was registered after this. However local police, as well as most of the family members, downplayed the incident.

- A forged document to inherit the property of Tom Thomas. After Roy’s death, the properties of Tom Thomas were transferred in Jolly’s name through a bequest (will). However, Rojo Thomas and Renji Thomas, other children of Tom, raised doubts about the genuineness of the will which was later cancelled after a probe by the revenue department.

- Jolly had told everyone in the family as well as the community that she was a lecturer at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) Kozhikode, 15km away from her home. The Crime Branch found the commerce graduate was deceiving all them for the last 14 years.

- After the deaths of their respective spouses, Jolly and Shaju got married.

What Next?

A few political leaders and workers who were suspected of having used their influence to cover up the incident are also under police scanner. Two of the leaders, who were very close to Jolly, have been asked to appear before the Crime Branch team.

The Crime Branch squad has also inspected of their houses to gather evidence. The involvement of revenue officials in forging documents to grab the property of the murder victims is also being looked into.

Sources said the Crime Branch would require more incriminating evidence, including the forensic examination reports, to scientifically prove the involvement of Jolly in five of the deaths. As of now, only her role in her husband’s death has been proved.

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| Edited by: Sohini Goswami
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