One murder, 2 'accidents' and deep mystery: What we know of Jaya's Kodanadu estate crime so far
At around 1.30am on April 24, the guards at late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa’s Kodanadu tea estate were in for a shock. Om Bahadur, who was guarding Gate No. 9 of the estate, encountered men who were trying to burgle the bungalow. Om Bahadur was killed by the strangers.
Another guard, Krishna Bahadur, also met the burglars - and survived to tell the tale. Not very far from where his colleague was killed, Krishna Bahadur was tied up and assaulted by the men who wanted to rob the building.
And then, the murderers escaped, reportedly in an SUV.
The initial investigation
The next morning, when the police found them, it came to light that the burglars targeted some specific rooms in the estate that Jayalalithaa had used as her summer retreat when she was alive. The rooms were the ones used by the late Chief Minister, and her aide Sasikala.
The police told media persons then that some ‘valuables’ had been stolen - while some believed that the thieves made away with jewellery, others suspected that it was much more sinister: Among the things stolen, some believe, are some crucial documents.
The police meanwhile zeroed in on some suspects. They had little information to go on.
According to reports, CCTV footage revealed the number plate of the SUV in which the suspects reportedly escaped. But soon, they found that the number plate was fake. According to The Hindu, the fake number plate and gloves used by the gang were found dumped in the outskirts of Kotagiri town on Tuesday.
ToI meanwhile reported that two SUVs were used in the crime. And according to a police office they quoted, an SUV with the AIADMK flag was blocking the traffic on the afternoon of April 23, and the people in the car got into an altercation with a police constable. This SUV was traced to Chennai, and the police was planning to detain the five people in the car in connection with the murder.
There are multiple reports on what happened next. While one team of the Nilgiris police went down to Chennai to track some suspects, another team landed up in Kerala’s Thrissur.
On April 27, four days after 51-year-old Om Bahadur was murdered, the investigators made the first arrest in the case - a man from Kerala who was allegedly part of the 10-member gang that murdered the security guard.
They then said that Sayan alias Shyam, a man from Kerala, was believed to be leading the gang.
By the next day, the police had nabbed seven other people allegedly part of the gang - three from Thrissur and four from Malappuram. Among those detained are Satheeshan, Deepu and Santhosh.
And the interrogation of these men led the police to one more suspect: Kanagaraj, a former driver of Jayalalithaa.
The driver and the plot
By then, the police had no doubt that this was a well planned crime. But exactly why was Kanagaraj involved in the plot?
According to the police, Kanagaraj used to work as a driver for Jayalalithaa in Kodanadu - until he was dismissed by the late Chief Minister. According to reports, Jayalalithaa found out that Kanagaraj was misusing her name, and she then fired him from his job.
Angry, and still stinging from the sacking, Kanagaraj apparently visited the estate several times in the past. More importantly, he was a man who knew what was where in the bungalow, and decided to use this knowledge to attempt a burglary after Jayalalithaa’s death, the police said.
Kanagaraj hatched a plot along with Sayan - and the three men from Thrissur now in police custody. And on Friday, April 28, the police launched a manhunt for him as well.
But on Friday night, two things happened that made the case murkier still.
Firstly, Kanagaraj was found dead. He was involved in a road accident in Salem at around 8.30pm, and was killed, according to reports. That this ‘accident’ happened hours after the police started looking for him escaped no one’s notice.
Secondly, and even more shockingly, there was another road accident involving another suspect in the case. Sayan, who was traveling with his family from Thrissur to Palakkad, met with an accident on the way. His wife, Vinupriya (27) and their daughter Neethu (5) died on the spot. Sayan is critical and has been admitted in the GKNM hospital.
As Sayan remains critical, Judicial Magistrate R Selvakumar on Saturday took Sayan's declaration statement in hospital. Meanwhile, the police are planning to take the seven men in their custody to the crime spot to interrogate them.
Were these accidents co-incidental, or were they planned attempts to cover up a larger plot? While the police is investigating this, several other questions are being raised.
Who owns Kodanadu estate?
Fistly, who owns the late Chief Minister bungalow after her death?
The opposition DMK raised this question soon after Om Bahadur’s murder. DMK working president, MK Stalin, reportedly said that the “ownership of the property remains a mystery, just like the death of Jayalalithaa.”
Some reports say that the estate and the assets attached to it were passed on to Sasikala after Jayalalithaa’s death. But ever since Sasikala was sent to jail in the disproportionate assets case, no one has reportedly visited their former summer retreat.
The second big question is - what was stolen from the bungalow? What were the ‘valuables’ that were stolen? And were there important documents among them?
O Panneerselvam, former Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa loyalist, and now the leader of a rebel faction in the AIADMK, voiced suspicion over the motive behind the murder of the security guard - and demanded that the government of Tamil Nadu clear the air on the subject.
"This daring murder incident at the bungalow of Jayalalithaa, who is still revered by many, has led to apprehensions among people if law and order is not being properly maintained in the state," he said in a statement.