Police in Kerala Saturday arrested a 47-year-old woman for allegedly murdering her husband, parents in law, and three other members of the extended family by giving them cyanide in food over a period of 14 years. Two alleged accomplices of the woman have also been arrested.
The woman, Jolly Joseph, who belongs to Koodathai village in Kozhikode district of North Kerala, has confessed to all six murders, Kozhikode Rural superintendent of police K G Simon told reporters. However, her arrest has been recorded in the murder of her husband, Roy Thomas, 40, in which police had got scientific evidence from the autopsy in 2011, Simon said.
The report of the post mortem examination had revealed the presence of cyanide in Thomas’s body. “We have found that five others in the family had died under the same circumstances. In all of these situations, we noticed the presence of the woman, Jolly. She has confessed to the killings,” the SP, who oversaw the investigation, said.
Although the mysterious deaths took place between 2002 and 2016, police began investigating only two months ago, following a complaint from another son of the deceased elderly couple. This son, Roji, who lives in the United States, had been suspicious about the death of his brother, Roy, in 2011.
The first death that took place in the Ponnammattam family at Koodathai village was of Annamma Thomas, 57, a retired teacher, in 2002. She collapsed after consuming soup, and died before being admitted to hospital. Six years later, in 2008, Annamma’s husband Tom Thomas, 66, also collapsed after eating. Both these deaths were believed then to have been the result of cardiac arrests.
On the day he died, the late couple’s son Roy had started vomiting and frothing at the mouth soon after eating. He was declared dead in hospital. At that time, Roy’s uncle, M M Mathew, 68, brother of the late Annamma, insisted on an autopsy, which revealed the presence of cyanide in Roy’s body.
But the next to die in the family was Mathew himself.
One afternoon in 2014, Jolly, who was staying in a house close to Mathew’s, raised an alarm that Mathew had collapsed in his home. Mathew’s wife was away at the time. Local people rushed Mathew to hospital, but he could not be saved.
Barely three months later in the same year, Alphin, the one-year-old daughter of a nephew of Tom Thomas’s, fell into a coma after having breakfast, and died on the way to hospital. Alphin was the daughter of Shaju, the son of Tom Thomas’s brother Tom Jose.
The sixth death was of Sili, the wife of Shaju and mother of Alphin. In early 2016, Sili collapsed and died in the presence of Jolly.
A year later, in 2017, Jolly, who had been widowed after the death of Roy in 2011, married Shaju, who is a school teacher.
The SP said police first reopened the case of Roy’s death, in which a post mortem report indicating the presence of cyanide was available. “We had noticed that no probe had been conducted at that time (in 2011) to establish how the cyanide got into the body.”
Jolly, who used to tell everyone that she was a lecturer at NIT-Calicut, had spread that story that her husband had died after a cardiac arrest, the officer said. Every murder had a motive for Jolly, he said.
Jolly’s mother-in-law Annamma controlled the purse strings of the family, and Jolly wanted her out of the way so she could take over control of the family’s financial matters. Annamma’s husband and Jolly’s father-in-law Tom had given a share of the family property to Roy and Jolly, but Jolly wanted more.
With Roy, Jolly had marital issues, the SP said. And she killed Mathew because he had insisted on the autopsy. Alphine and Sili were killed because Jolly wanted to marry Shaju.
Police have not named Shaju as an accomplice, however. The two arrested accomplices are Jolly’s close friend M F Mathew, 44, who worked for a jeweller, and goldsmith Preji Kumar, 44, who had supplied the cyanide. On Friday, police had dug up the church cemeteries where the dead had been buried.
Police said Jolly, a commerce graduate who had been reportedly running a beauty parlour, had told them she had planned to also kill her late husband Roy’s sister, who lives in Ernakulam. Jolly had two sons with Roy.