Soup for Mother-in-law, Coffee for Uncle: How Kerala Cyanide Killer Eliminated Her Kin, One by One

New Delhi: Kerala woke up to shock and horror in the first week of October as the state police claimed they cracked a case of mysterious deaths happening in one family for about two decades. Suspected serial killer Jolly Amma Joseph (47) was arrested by a special investigation team of the state police in connection with the deaths which took place under similar circumstances in the outskirts of north Kerala city of Kozhikode.

Kerala Police claim the accused killed six of her relatives using cyanide-laced food or drinks. They exhumed five bodies and conducted postmortem as part of an investigation, which was launched after a confidential complaint by one of her relatives.

Who’s Jolly?

Jolly, the widow of late Roy Thomas, is a resident of Koodathai in Kozhikode district. She was arrested by the police in connection with the deaths, including that of Roy in 2011. Jolly, the daughter of Idukki native Joseph, was married to Roy in 1997. A commerce graduate, she met Roy at wedding function of a common friend which led to a brief love affair and subsequent marriage soon after.

After Roy’s death, she married Roy’s cousin Shaju whose wife Sili and toddler Alphine were also found dead under mysterious circumstances earlier. Police suspects the duo were killed by Jolly using cyanide.

Punnamattom Family

Roy's parents Annamma Thomas and Tom Thomas, both retired school teachers, lived with the couple at the family house. Roy's brother, Rojo, lives in the US while his sister Ranji works in Colombo.

The police came to know about the gruesome murders while probing into a confidential complaint by Rojo. The police, as part of the probe, collected evidence for over a year and found Jolly’s presence on the scene of all six alleged murders and also noticed a similarity in the pattern of the deaths.

The police have reportedly asked Rojo to return from the US to help with the probe.

Murders and Timeline

It all started with the death of Annamma Thomas (57), Jolly’s mother-in-law, who was the helm of the financial affairs in the affluent Punnamattom family on September 22, 2002. She collapsed after consuming mutton soup prepared by Jolly and died soon after. Jolly had allegedly mixed cyanide in the soup.

Few years later, 66-year-old Tom Thomas, Jolly’s father-in-law died on September 26, 2008, under similar circumstances.

Jolly’s husband Roy Thomas (40) was found dead inside a bathroom at Punnamattom family residence on October 30, 2011. Even though the police had found presence of cyanide inside the dead body, the investigations didn’t give any leads. It was concluded that Roy committed suicide owing to the financial difficulties he was going through back then.

After Roy’s death, his maternal uncle Mathew Manjadiyil had called for a post mortem report and a probe into the cause of death. In 2014, Mathew was also found dead. Cops suspect Jolly killed him with poison-laced coffee.

Toddler Alphine Shaju also died the same year, “choking on food”. In 2016, Jolly gave Sily Shaju, Alphine's mother, a glass of water and she died on the spot with excessive frothing in her mouth. The police refused to disclose further details of the deaths as the investigation is still on.

Three Arrests Made So far

Apart from Jolly, Kerala Police has arrested two more persons in connection with the case so far. According to police, MS Mathew, also a relative of Jolly, was an accomplice in each and every one of the murders has been arrested. He was the one who helped her arrange cyanide for the killings. Another accused Prajikumar, a goldsmith who passed on cyanide to Mathew, has also been arrested.

Jolly’s Web of Lies

Jolly had reportedly convinced her family members that she was a B.Tech graduate and lecturer at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Kozhikode. She allegedly used a fake photo ID card of the institute. She walked into the NIT campus everyday like an employee and was even familiar with the canteen staff.

Meanwhile, the registrar of NIT Kozhikode, Pankajakshan on Wednesday said that a month back police officials came to him asking him if there was an employee by the name of Jolly.

"After making detailed probe, I reported back to them that we do not have any such employee, either working as part time or full time," said Pankajakshan.

What Prompted Jolly for the Murders

As per Rojo’s complaint, Jolly also forged Tom Thomas's (father-in-law) will to show herself as the sole heir.

Prime facie it looks like financial motives prompted Jolly to commit the murders, Kozhikode rural superintendent of police KG Simon says there could be other factors also which made her commit the crimes. He said the police is further investigating into the matter.

He said the arrests made so far is in connection with the death of Jolly’s first husband Roy and investigation into the other five deaths is underway.

Jolly Planned More Deaths?

Suspicion has now arisen over three more deaths linked to Jolly and it has been alleged that she had also planned to eliminate two children.

On Wednesday, Elsamma, wife of the uncle of Jolly's first husband Roy Thomas told the media that with reports now surfacing linking Jolly to several other murders, she suspects her involvement in two deaths in her family - that of her son Sunish who died in a bike accident in 2002 and his cousin Vincent who was found hanging.