It was Friday, August 29, 1952. The Indo-Ceylon Express was nearing Manamadurai when a revolting odour awoke many passengers of a third class compartment in the wee hours of the day. Soon, the passengers noticed blood oozing out of an old iron trunk below a seat.
The police who arrived on the scene saw something that they had never ever witnessed before. In the trunk was a headless torso along with severed arms and legs. They were individually packed in the old container.
An exasperating search began for the missing head, which took the men in khaki to many towns and cities.
The probe revealed that a middle- aged man, C Alavandar, who was running a pen shop in China Bazaar area, (now Parrys corner) had gone missing since noon on August 28.
The police found a perfect match between the description and pictures of Alavandar and the severed body parts. They buttonholed all acquaintances of Alavandar and grilling those who had met him in the recent past. In the process, they learnt that two of his acquaintances, Devaki and spouse P Prabhakara Menon, had hurriedly left the town shortly after Alavandar was reported missing.
After tracing the couple in Bombay, the police soon established that they indeed murdered Alavandar.
The search for the head too ended with Menon showing the location of the severed body part in Bowerkuppam, Royapuram beach. All this was done in a fortnight. (Shame on you, Chennai Police. While you continue to be clueless about the head of jewellery merchant Sureshkumar who was killed a few months ago, your predecessors found the head of Alavandar in two weeks flat). No wonder, the ‘head’ played a critical role in securing conviction in the Alavandar case.
“The cervical vertebra of the head and the trunk fitted to a nicety as spoken to by medical experts, which showed that the head and the trunk must have belonged to one and the same individual i.e., Alavandar,” the judgment said.
According to the prosecution, Alavandar was a Don Juan, who seduced women with his ‘special romantic’ skills. A dealer in pens, he used to gift showy fountain pens to young girls to build friendships that mostly ended up with them agreeing to sleep with him. Pens were a prized possession in the good old days.
In 1951, his lusty eyes fell on Devaki, who was then engaged in Hindi ‘prachar’ work, when she came to buy a fountain pen. She was young and single. By October that year, he took her to a hotel in George Town and slept with her.
But Devaki did not want to continue the relationship and soon married Menon. Months rolled by.
When Alavandar learnt about the marriage, he ‘congratulated’ Menon on his choice of partner.
Menon became suspicious. He told his wife he had had ‘affairs’ before marriage and wanted her to frankly admit if she had any relationship with the man who sold pens. Devaki confessed to her past relationship with Alavandar and said the womanizer was stalking her again. Menon vowed to finish off Alavandar and asked his wife to bring him home one day. Accordingly, Devaki invited Alavandar to her 62, Cemetry Road residence saying Menon would be away.
O n August 28, 1952, when Alavandar entered Devaki’s house at noon, Menon stabbed him to death and cut the body parts into several pieces. The head was buried in Royapuram beach, the torso, arms and legs were neatly packed into a trunk and put into a train compartment that was about to start from the Egmore Railway Station.
Defence lawyer B T Sundararajan argued that the crime was not pre-mediated as suggested by the prosecution. “It was done out of grave provocation and in self-defence. It is homicide and not murder.”
On August 13, 1953, Justice A S P Ayyar sentenced Menon to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and awarded Devaki a three-year term in prison. The request of Menon to shift him out of the Penitentiary to some other jail was turned down.
That the case had captured public imagination was clear from the fact that the courtroom was flooded with people keen on every shred of information.
For example, on March 13, 1953, Express recorded that the crowd at the courtroom became unmanageable, delaying the proceedings. The next day was no different. “The verandah leading to the court hall were crowded and it became a difficult task to enter the court hall. The police bandobust was meager and reserve police pushed back the pressmen,” Express reported.