Over the last four months, neighbours of a family in Padannakkara in Kannur district of Kerala saw them die one by one. They all showed the same symptoms: vomiting, stomach-ache and breathing trouble. The first death was that of nine-year-old Aiswarya who was admitted to a hospital for 12 days, but passed away on January 31 this year. The second to go was her grandmother Kamala (65) who died on March 7 at the Thalassery Mission Hospital. A month later, on April 14, the family witnessed the third death in four months, that of 76-year-old VV Kunhikannan, Kamala’s husband.
By then, locals and neighbours, baffled by the mysterious deaths happening in close proximity, had decided to call the cops. All that remained of the small family living in a modest one-storey house was 28-year-old Soumya, mother to Aiswarya and daughter of Kamala and Kunhikannan.
On Tuesday, less than two weeks after the third death, the local police put an end to the suspense over the deaths by arresting Soumya. A top police officer involved in the investigation told IndianExpress.com that the 28-year-old woman had confessed, after 11 hours of questioning, to killing her daughter and aged parents by mixing a toxic chemical in their food. She killed them as she believed they were coming in the way of her ‘freedom’ and her choice of lifestyle. “She had affairs with some men. Her daughter and her parents knew about it. I think she wanted them out of the way,” he said.
Police sources say her confession stands substantiated by the chemical analysis reports of the bodies of Aishwarya, Kamala and Kunhikannan. Traces of the chemical Aluminium phosphide, used commonly as a rodenticide and an insecticide, were found in the viscera sample and examination of the internal organs. Aishwarya’s body was exhumed by the police especially to conduct the chemical test, four months after her death. The officer said Soumya had mixed the chemical in a plate of rice given to her daughter, in fish curry given to her mother and a bowl of ‘rasam’ (a tangy soup) to her father.
On Wednesday, Soumya was brought by the police to her home in Padannakkara, which falls in the native village of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. Amid a massive crowd of neighbours and locals, the police had to struggle to get Soumya inside her home for evidence collection. As Soumya was brought in, her face covered by a shawl, locals booed and howled.
“We thought they were natural deaths. We could never even think of her doing something like this. It’s shocking,” said a woman neighbour. “I have spoken to her mother a few times. She was a nice woman and used to work in a cashew factory. Her daughter (Aiswarya) was such a good child too. I used to see her going to school every day,” she added.
Soumya’s maternal uncle Ravi is in a state of shock at the turn of events. “We were so pained to hear of Aiswarya’s death. Never for a second did we think it could be suspicious. But when Kamala died, we began to take note,” he said. “We have always heard of such incidents happening in other states. But when it happens in our state and that too, in our own family, it’s disturbing,” he said. He added that Soumya had always spoken nicely to him even though he was cautious about her alleged liaisons with several men.
Soumya’s younger daughter had died in 2012 due to natural causes before she turned one. Her husband, Kishore, moved away from her after the death of the child.
Police sources said while their primary assessment indicates that Soumya acted alone in the murders, they are still looking for accomplices. Investigation in the coming days would focus on finding who advised or helped her, they added.
On Wednesday, she was sent in police custody by a judicial magistrate. A case has been charged against her under Section 302 of the IPC.
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