In Kerala, police exhume graves after six suspicious deaths in one family

Vishnu Varma
The crime branch division of the Kerala Police moved to exhume three of the six bodies of the deceased as part of a fresh investigation. (Representational)

The first unusual death in the family of Tom Thomas, a retired education department official in Kerala, occurred in the year 2002 when his wife, Annamma (57), died mysteriously. She reportedly fell unconscious after consuming a meal and passed away due to a heart attack. Six years later, in 2008, Thomas (66) himself died under similar circumstances. In the next eight years, Thomas' son Roy (40), Annamma's brother Mathew (68), Thomas' nephew's wife Cily and their daughter Alphonsa (2) passed away in quick succession, raising doubts in the minds of close family members. On Friday, the crime branch division of the Kerala Police moved to exhume three of the six bodies of the deceased as part of a fresh investigation into the deaths in Koodathayi village in Kozhikode district. The probe was launched on the basis of a complaint by Roy's brother Rojo who suspects a conspiracy behind the string of six deaths in his family. Forensic investigators Friday collected DNA samples from the skeletal remains of three of the bodies in a bid to find the cause of death. In the coming days, the forensic team will collect samples from the remains of the other deceased as well. A senior police officer involved in the probe told, "After Roy died in 2011, a post-mortem of his body was conducted by the local police. The post-mortem report had pointed to the presence of hydrogen cyanide in his body, which caused his death. But somehow, the report got buried and never came out. Obviously, there has been a failure on the part of the investigating officers then. The relatives of the deceased also did not bother to follow up." "Cyanide, as you know, is not easily available in the market. Also, why should a young man like him commit suicide? Nobody asked these questions then. Now, after many years, someone in the family analysed these deaths and began seeing similarities. On the basis of his complaint, we have re-opened a probe and we questioned a lot of witnesses. We also realised that we would have to exhume the bodies to find out the truth. That's what we are doing," he said. The officer confirmed that all the six deaths occurred right after the victims consumed food of some kind. Whether the food they consumed was poisoned is yet to be known, except in the case of Roy. "We still don't know if the reasons are coincidental or deliberate. Through DNA examination, we hope to arrive at a conclusion," he said. Needless to say, the re-opening of the case into the six deaths have generated a lot of interest among the public and the media in Kerala. There are unconfirmed reports that a female member of the family is at the centre of the probe and could be involved in a serial conspiracy to usurp real-estate property of the deceased.