KOZHIKODE: Koodathayi, a nondescript village located 30 km off Kozhikode city on the Thamarasserry side, started hogging the front pages of newspapers from October 5 for all the wrong reasons.
In what is being called the most chilling crime Kerala has ever witnessed, a 47-year old woman allegedly eliminated six close family members including a 2-year-old girl.
Serial killings, illicit relationships, fake will...the case has all the essential ingredients of a spicy masala thriller and there is still a lot to be unravelled if the hints provided by the special police branch are true.
Jolly Joseph alias Jollyamma
Cut to 1997 at Kattappana in Idukki district. Jolly Joseph, a pretty 25-year-old B.Com graduate, met Roy Thomas of Koodathyi at the house of his relative Mathew Manchadikal.
Roy, who was working in Hyderabad, was the son of Mathew's brother-in-law, Tom Thomas. Love blossomed between the two and they were married in 1998, making Jolly the daughter-in-law of the highly respected family from Ponnamattam.
The family included Tom Joseph, a former teacher who retired as an officer from the state education department, wife Annamma Joseph, a retired teacher, elder son Roy Thomas, sister Renji Thomas and younger son Rojo Thomas.
The Ponnamattam family's decisions were considered to be the final word among locals as they were the first household in which everyone was well-educated.
The power of education and the stature of the teaching profession put the family members in a highly respectable position, leaving Jolly, who is also from a well-to-do family but from an agrarian background, isolated.
The available information from Jolly's college days reveals her inclination for lying and theft even back then. She was ousted from a college hostel in Pala for stealing. She reportedly told people that she studied in a reputed college in Pala though she had obtained her degree from a different college. Before the marriage, she had lied to her future in-laws that she was a postgraduate.
Beset by an inferiority complex after becoming part of the Ponnamattam family, Jolly struggled to find a way to attain power and status. Meanwhile, Roy never returned to his job in Hyderabad. He had no permanent job at all and borrowed money from his parents for various business ventures, all of which ended in losses.
First victim: Annamma Thomas
The outspoken Annamma Thomas was the de facto head of the Ponnamattam family, especially in financial matters. She held complete sway over each rupee spent and allocated amounts for family expenses. There was no room for extravagance which Jolly found terribly insulting.
Annamma also wondered why a postgraduate girl was sitting idle at home without looking for a job. Jolly decided to fake a job as a commerce teacher at the central government run-National Institute of Technology in Kozhikode (NIT-C) and forged an identity card too.
But the highly ambitious Jolly's wings had been clipped under Annamma. Realizing that in order to have financial control and a position of power, Annamma should be eliminated, Jolly attempted to poison her food twice. The second attempt met with success and Annamma died after eating the poison-laced mutton soup given by her daughter-in-law on August 8, 2002.
Also Read - Soft-spoken, beautiful, accused of theft: Batchmates recount the Jolly they knew!
Second victim: Tom Thomas
Jolly's plan worked and soon members of the family became dependent on her after the death of Annamma. Her ability to handle issues with efficiency and the vast circle of friends she had inside and outside the family won her Tom's trust.
Upon Tom's insistence, Jolly learned driving and bought a Honda City. She drove off to NIT-C in the morning and returned in the evening. Meanwhile, Roy had become addicted to liquor.
Tom trusted Jolly so much that he sold his 2.5 acres of land and put Rs 18 lakh in her account instead of Roy's. Roy ran an engine oil business and a readymade garment business with this money but suffered huge losses.
Meanwhile, the 66-year-old Tom Thomas had told Roy and Jolly that they would have no share in his 38-cent piece of land at Ponnamattam and another 50 cents in the back portion of the house. This invited the ire of Jolly and she eliminated him on August 26, 2008, by giving cyanide-laced tapioca gruel.
Third victim: Roy Thomas
The district crime branch has cited four reasons that made Jolly kill her husband Roy Thomas -his alcoholism, opposition to Jolly's illicit relationships, superstitious behaviour and her desire to be the wife of a financially settled man.
While Roy was immersed in drinking and hardly took any responsibility for his wife and two sons, Jolly searched for another man to settle down with.
Shaju Sakariya, a high school teacher, who was a bookworm and financially well-off, was perfect husband material. Shaju was the son of Sakariya, who is the brother of Tom Thomas. Jolly might have thought that an introvert like Shaju would not poke his nose into her matters and hence she could lead a free life.
Roy Thomas was given cyanide in a drink and was found dead in the washroom of the Ponnamattam house on September 30, 2011.
But, unlike the other three murders, demands were raised to conduct a postmortem of the body. It was mainly sought by Annamma's brother Mathew Manchadikal, because of whom Jolly became the daughter-in-law of the Ponnamattam family.
The autopsy done at Kozhikode Medical College found the presence of cyanide in the body. But Jolly blocked a police probe crying aloud that Roy had committed suicide as he had huge debts and a police inquiry would defame her children.
"You can go back home after complaining. It is up to me to raise two boys who have lost their father. A police case would be a shame on them," she cried and family members succumbed to her wishes.
Soon after the death of Roy, Jolly produced a written paper before the family members claiming that it was the 'will' of Tom Thomas according to which the Ponnamattam house including the 38 cents of land had been given to Roy and Jolly.
For the remaining 50 cents, the three children had an equal share, including Roy. The 'will' had no date nor the signatures of witnesses.
This aroused suspicion in younger brother Rojo, who works in the US, and sister Renji, who is an English teacher in Colombo.
Then, another 'will' was produced by Jolly, this time with a date and witness signatures.
But the two witnesses were complete strangers to all the family members. Close relatives whom Tom Thomas used to consult on such issues were also unaware of the 'will.' This also raised eyebrows.
Fourth victim: Mathew Manchadikal
The decision to eliminate Mathew Manchadikal, who resided near the Ponnamattam house, was taken after he insisted on an autopsy over Roy's death.
Worried that Mathew could stumble upon the truth, Jolly fixed the 68-year-old as her next target. He was found dead after consuming cyanide-laced liquor given by Jolly on February 24, 2014.
Doubts grow in Renji, Rojo
Siblings Renji Thomas and Rojo Thomas shared a strong suspicion over the 'will' and visited the Village Office and Registrar Office for the documents. The influence of Jolly in these government offices left them spellbound.
She was reverently called 'Jolly teacher'. Jolly also led the women's wing of the PTA of a well-known CBSE School in Thamarasserry for two terms, where her younger son studied.
The doubt over the 'will' resulted in Rojo filing a police complaint. This caused Jolly to come for mediation talks with regard to property sharing.
Meanwhile, Renji and Rojo found something mysterious over the 'debt trap' allegation of Jolly on Roy.
"If Roy was neck-deep in debt, people would have come to the family asking for their money," the siblings thought.
Believing that something was fishy, the brother and sister decided to see the postmortem report of Roy.
The report revealed that Roy had eaten food just before his death in the night. But Jolly had told all the family members that Roy had food in the afternoon.
Renji now realised that Jolly was not only involved in forging fake documents but also had something to hide in the death of Roy. From here, Renji and Rojo began their quest to find the truth.
The fifth victim: 2-year-old Alphine
Shaju Sakariya and Sily's two-year-old daughter was the next victim. Jolly's murderous trail now turned to Shaju's family with the aim of getting him as a husband. It is believed that poison was rubbed on the lips of the toddler which she consumed along with food. Alphine died on May 3, 2014.
Sixth victim: Sily
Sily was the only person standing between Jolly and Shaju and she too was meticulously removed on January 11, 2016.
The murder was carried out by administering a poison-laced drink. Sily collapsed on Jolly's lap in the waiting room of a private dental clinic in Thamarasserry. Sily's brother, Sijo Sebastian, was brought to the scene under the pretext of discussing a property issue. But what Jolly intended was to show everyone that Sijo was present at the spot when Sily died.
A remarriage, the next year
As Jolly planned, she and Shaju got remarried the next year. But she had informed neighbours about the remarriage much before. This reached the ears of Renji too. Renji felt that the remarriage was a calculated plan by Jolly.
Law catches up with Jolly
Rojo's complaint of a fake will with reference to the six mysterious deaths was filed in July before the Kozhikode Rural Police Chief.
KG Simon, the top cop, smelt a rat and entrusted Special Branch Sub Inspector Jeevan George with an initial query. Jeevan submitted a report that the case should be probed in detail as there were many mysteries regarding Jolly.
Police had by then confirmed that Jolly's 17-year designation as a teacher at NIT-C was fake. She was quizzed and many missing links were found. The district crime branch probe team also identified the apathy of the then Kodenchery police who did not inquire into the death of Roy, after the autopsy had confirmed the presence of cyanide.
On October 4, the crime branch opened the five graves, except that of Roy, collected skull, teeth and vertebra samples and sent them for a DNA test to trace the presence of cyanide in the bodies.
The very next day, District Crime Branch Deputy Superintendent R Haridas recorded the arrest of 47-year old Jolly and the other two accused, her relative MS Mathew (44) and the goldsmith Prajikumar (48).
Mathew had a long illicit relationship with Jolly and it was he who brought cyanide for her from Prajikumar, the goldsmith.
Complaints over other deaths
After the chilling story of how Jolly executed the crime broke, many others came to the fore expressing doubt over the death of their dear ones.
Rohit, son of Ramakrishnan of NIT-C, had filed a petition to probe his father's death. He says that Ramakrishnan had real-estate dealings through which he was linked to Majeed and Sulaikha, a couple who run a beauty parlour near NIT-C.
Jolly was a regular customer at the beauty parlour and had many financial dealings with people at NIT-C. Rohit also claims that his father had Rs 55 lakh in his possession, obtained from selling a property, but it went missing after he was found dead in a similar fashion to the others.
Likewise, the deaths of Vincent and Suneesh, sons of Tom Thomas' siblings, too are in focus now. One allegedly committed suicide and another died in a motorbike accident.
On Saturday came new revelations from the cops that Jolly during her interrogation had revealed that she was planning a third marriage.
"Her intention was to kill Shaju and remarry VA Johnson, her close friend. For the purpose, she had tried to poison Johnson's wife but that didn't materialise. Another benefit Jolly eyed was Shaju's job. If he, a teacher at an aided high school, died in harness, she would get his job was her thinking," police sources said.
Mystery shrouds NIT-C connection
Rather than merely claiming to be a teacher at NIT-C, Jolly was a frequent visitor to the campus. The canteen staff there revealed that she was a familiar face.
Many engineering students coming from Koodathayi and Mukkam had also seen Jolly on the campus.
She was a frequent visitor to the beauty parlour near NIT-C. It is learned that Jolly came into contact with the deceased Ramakrishnan during her NIT-C visit.
Police suspect her NIT-C connection helped her clinch real-estate deals and forge fake documents.
Also, she had networked well with local politicians and others at NIT-C and Kattangal. Police are probing whether Jolly had used the beauty parlour as a cover to carry out other illegal activities. More revelations are expected in the coming days.