For the last 14 years, since 2005, Mohammad Bava has seen his neighbour living in the pink bungalow next door, head to work in the morning several times.
She would normally wear light, crisp sarees or dress casually in salwars. But she never forgot festival days, and she would be dressed in her best traditional sarees, Bava recalls.
From her house in Kozhikode’s Koodathayi town, Jolly Amma Joseph would either drive her white sedan or ride her two-wheeler, all the way to the National Institute of Technology in Mukkom, the premier educational institution in which she claimed to be working.
With the arrest of the 47-year-old woman for the alleged murders of six family members, what has also unfolded is a long-drawn saga of deception.
For 14 years, Jolly managed to mask her real identity, and pretended to work as a lecturer in the Commerce Department at an institute in NIT Calicut in Mukkom.
Investigations have, however, revealed that Jolly had nothing to do with the university and is probably not even qualified to hold the position of lecturer.
“She was never a faculty or part-time employee at the institute,” Lt Col Pankajakshan K, the Registrar of NIT told TNM.
Dr T Radha Ramanan, Head of the Department of School of Management Studies at NIT, also said that she’d never taught in the institution.
“This is completely ruled out. Jolly Joseph has not worked here in any capacity, neither full-time nor part at any point in time. I am unsure why she used to visit the canteen or other areas of the college,” he told TNM.
What is baffling is that Jolly had convinced all of her family and friends, without exception, about her career in the academia.
“She went to the extent of printing a fake college ID card with a blue lanyard which she wore. The card read ‘Lecturer, NIT Calicut’,” Mohammad Bava stated.
When Jolly, a native of Kattappana in Idukki district, got married to Roy Thomas after a brief relationship in 1998, Jolly led her parents-in-law, Annamma and Tom Thomas, to believe that she was a Master of Commerce with a UGC NET certification.
Tom's house in Koodathayi
According to several reports, Annamma and Tom - the oldest couple of the Ponnamattam family who enjoyed a position of privilege in Koodathayi - had recommended Jolly for a job at a higher secondary school in Pala, but she never attended the interview.
Instead, three years after Annamma mysteriously died in 2002, Jolly claimed to have bagged a job as lecturer in NIT Calicut.
For a decade and more, as family members began to collapse and die one by one, Jolly Joseph maintained an impeccable social reputation, regularly attended Sunday mass at Church, gathered a huge group of friends and upheld the family’s goodwill.
“She used to visit my house most mornings and chat with my parents. She spoke at length about her job and what she has to do there, and generally came across as an educated and sophisticated lady,” says 18-year-old Musammil Mohammad, who used to play football with Jolly’s son Romo and has known the family for years. Like Musammil, most neighbours who knew the family and Jolly well are in a state of shock.
Used to receive phone calls from ‘colleagues’
Dressed in a crumpled shirt and dark brown lungi, 48-year-old Shaju Zacharias, Jolly’s second husband, recalls details from the early days of their marriage and what he knew about her job.
“Very often she would get calls from her colleagues and seniors asking her to do work. I have heard her saying ‘Madam, yes I will bring these books from the library,’” says Shaju.
He also added that Jolly used to keep traveling for ‘study tours’ and ‘retreats’ from college. Once she had even attended the wedding of a ‘colleague’ from NIT in Kodenchery.
Several sources have confirmed that three days after the mysterious death of Tom Thomas in 2008, Jolly had gone on a ‘study tour’ from her college for three days. However, the police are yet to figure out the places she had visited during her ‘college’ trips.
When journalists visited NIT Calicut, some of the staff at the canteen recalled a lone woman visiting the college canteen during lunch hours. She would eat alone in the canteen and leave, they said. Jolly was also known to visit the library of the college.
A salary of Rs 65,000
“Initially she told us that she drew a salary of Rs 65,000 by working as a guest lecturer at NIT,” Shaju says. However, he claims to have never seen this money or her bank accounts.
“She had her freedom and I would offer her money for her personal issues. I would have given her over a lakh over the years,” Shaju claims. The police are still investigating if Shaju had a role to play in any of the alleged murders and his version, therefore, has to be examined further.
Jolly is believed to have had access to about Rs 18 lakh which came from the sale of one of Tom Thomas’s properties.
A few months ago, Jolly told the family that she had moved from a full-time position to a part-time job within NIT as she wanted to pursue a PhD, according to Shaju.
“She told me she is doing a PhD in Commerce from Pondicherry University. She even left the house a few times, claiming to go to Pondicherry and then suddenly stopped her visits. As for her salary, she told me that it had dropped to Rs 18,000 as she had moved to a part-time position,” Shaju added.
According to Shaju, Jolly had made him believe that she was working in the Commerce Department within a college on the premises of the NIT campus in Kozhikode. He had never bothered to check if her claims were true.
Shaju and Jolly had been married for over one-and-a half years, soon after Shaju’s first wife Cily passed away suddenly. Two years before Cily’s death, Shaju’s two-year-old daughter Alphine, too, had choked to death.
Jolly's husband Shaju
The police believe Jolly had a hand in both these deaths, where the victims showed eerily similar symptoms - seizures, apnea and foaming in the mouth. The police have questioned Shaju at least six times to understand his involvement in the deaths of his wife and child.
While Shaju claims innocence in the six murders and alleges that he never knew of Jolly’s dark side, he admits that a few months ago, he learnt that Jolly’s NIT job was fake.
“When the case was reopened, Jolly was anxious and kept asking me if anyone enquired about her job. This made me suspicious. When I asked her if her job was real, she told me it was not,” Shaju says.
Rojo busts Jolly’s fake identity
Rojo Thomas, the son of Annamma and Tom Thomas who is settled in US, had had his doubts for several years. However, out of respect for his late brother Roy Thomas and sister-in-law Jolly’s request for space, he took a backseat and let things be.
“Rojo knew that some people were behind Tom’s property and that they were playing dirty games. But he did not suspect foul play in the deaths for a long time,” Bava, Rojo’s close associate and neighbour tells TNM. It was Bava, Rojo, and Rojo‘s sister Renju who discussed and first connected the dots in the case, years after the deaths had taken place.
In 2011, Roy had collapsed in the bathroom of their house. He had seizures and foam in his mouth when he died. Soon after this, a photocopy of a will appeared on Rojo’s cellphone.
The picture was sent by Jolly and it was Tom Thomas’s will stating that he’d handed over all his wealth and properties to her.
“What was strange was that Jolly had shown the same will in 2008 when Tom passed away. But suddenly, the same will had a stamp, a letterhead and witnesses who had signed underneath,” Bava says.
Suspicions increased when the post-mortem report of Roy Thomas, confirmed traces of cyanide in his body. Jolly had kept insisting that Roy had accumulated debts and was an alcoholic and had decided to end his life.
Soon after this, Rojo was hot on Jolly’s trail. He visited NIT Calicut, in search of the two witnesses who had signed the will. The two people were later identified as a security guard at NIT and another resident from Mukkom who had no connection to the college.
What Rojo did next was to find out if Jolly had a real job in NIT.
“He went to each and every department to enquire if Jolly Joseph worked there. All of them said no. When he finally asked her where she worked - she replied saying ‘please let me live in peace’,” Bava adds.
When the rest of the family refused to believe him, Rojo requested for a re-investigation into Roy Thomas’s death, leading to the current developments including Jolly’s arrest.
Used to visit a beauty parlour, shops
Investigating officers who are currently probing Jolly’s hideouts and activities during her long years of deception, have little to offer when questioned about her job.
But multiple sources confirmed that she used to frequent a nondescript local beauty parlour named Ragam during the afternoons and evenings.
“She used to go to several places. Beauty parlour, shops and other areas. We are still getting details on all the places she visited and the people she met under the pretext of work,” Kozhikode rural SP KG Simon told TNM.
Multiple sources have also confirmed that Jolly had taken an apartment very close to NIT’s campus in Mukkom.
“But every day, she would diligently return to Tom’s house. Some days by 1 in the afternoon, some days in the evening and at other times in the night,” says Bava.
As the probe in this sensational case continues, Rojo Thomas, the complainant and Jolly’s former brother-in-law, has been summoned from the US for questioning.
Meanwhile, SP KG Simon told the media that two more children in the family had allegedly been poisoned in a similar manner but had managed to survive unlike the six victims.
“Like I said earlier, it is good that we found this out now. Otherwise, the deaths could probably have continued,” Simon said.