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Passion, Power & Money

Passion, Power & Money

The Koodathayi murders which unfolded over a period of 14 years between 2002 and 2016 in Kerala’s Kozhikode is a classic example to show that how the lust for money can drive human beings to compulsive killing behaviour.

Yes, a cursory look at the recently arrested 47-year-old Jolly Amma Joseph’s face does not fit the definition of a serial killer. Of course,  appearances can be rather deceiving. The manner she planned and killed six members of her family, with the help of Mathew, a jewellery shop owner and Praji Kumar, a goldsmith who have also since been arrested shows she had well-calculated plans.

The Police too seem to find the case and collection of evidence which is crucial quite challenging as the first murder too place 17 years back and the last one three years back. After Jolly killed her mother-in-law Annamma in 2002 and her father-in-law Tom Thomas in 2008, she next killed her husband Roy Thomas in 2011 followed by Roy’s maternal uncle Mathew in 2014. Her current husband’s one-year-old daughter, Alphine Shaju, from an earlier marriage was next killed and thereafter Alphine’s mother Philly in 2016.

Jolly laced her victims’ food, water, soup etc., with cyanide which she arranged through an acquaintance from Coimbatore. Cyanide, which is stated to be more harmful to the heart and brain than to other organs, prevents the cells of the body from using oxygen and the cells die. After all these deaths, she married her husband Shaju.

It is surprising that Jolly led a double life as a so-called lecturer at National Institute of Technology, Kozhikode for the last 14 years besides being a homemaker and regularly visiting the Church.  If news reports are to be believed, Jolly who has confessed to all the six deaths also said that she liked death and the news of death as death fascinated her and she always wanted to know more about death and read such news.

Jolly is not alone. Other serial killers who used cyanide includes India’s first convicted woman serial killer, 49-year-old KD Kempamma, alias Cyanide Mallika, serving life term for killing seven women by giving them cyanide capsule in various temples in Karnataka between 1999 and 2007, aspired to become rich by stealing from homes where she worked as a maid. Abandoned by her husband after being jailed for a year in connection with a theft, she launched a chit company on release which however ran into big losses. She targeted women from well-off families who were is distress and convinced them that through her special prayers their troubles would come to an end. She provided “prashad” laced with the deadly potassium cyanide to her unsuspecting victims who met her adorned with all their jewels. She decamped with gold jewels that her victims wore, frequently changed her name and identity without being caught. But she ran out of luck after a young woman’s dead body found in a Bangalore guest house led the police to her next victim. Convicted in 2012, Cyanide Mallika is serving life term.

Another serial killer of Karnataka, whose murders created panic includes a dismissed primary school teacher, who also used cyanide to kill his victims. Cyanide Mohan, preyed on unmarried working women from middle-income and lower-income backgrounds at bus stops. He is convicted for having killed nearly 20 young women between 2003 and 2009. He became friendly with his victims and proposed marriage. Denouncing dowry he enchanted his victims to elope with him to faraway places. He had over 12 aliases and chose his surname that matched with the caste of his victims. He would take a lodge, have physical relationship with his victims on the night of the wedding and subsequently provide them with so called anti-pregnancy pills laced with cyanide. His victims were all in their mid-20s or early-30s. All the 20 dead bodies were found in restrooms of bus stands which had to be broken into because they were locked from inside. Notably all 20 victims were dressed in their best (wedding) sarees but did not have a single piece of jewellery on them as he would take away all their jewels after killing them. When he was arrested in 2009, reportedly among others vials of cyanide, fake identity cards, gold ornaments, mobile phones etc., were recovered from the house. He is said to have maintained a list of all the women he had proposed and struck off the names of those he failed to impress. On an average, of every 10 women he met, he succeeded in enticing two.

Studies have shown that when people get greedy, they can become so focused on what they want or desire that it leads to behaviour that is not rational anymore. Notably, greed often arises from early negative experiences such as parental inconsistency, neglect, or abuse and a person who is consumed by greed becomes utterly fixated on the object of his greed. Greedy individuals expect that they will be happier with more money but no sooner they get more they adapt their desires and expectations and want even more.

Also female serial killers, unlike males who usually target unknown victims, tend to kill men who are emotionally and physically closest to them, particularly husbands or friends. They generally kill to improve their lifestyle. An important psychological study of eighty-six female serial killers in the U.S. found that their victims also included children and the elderly. Although they are said to comprise less than 15 percent of all serial killers, females are very effective in their work. They typically use quieter and less messy methods to kill than their male counterparts, like poisoning.

So is Jolly a perfect psychopath, capable of single-handedly killing her family members, yet so manipulative that she could hide behind a well-cultivated mask of normalcy for 14 long years? Are there others who are also involved? A thorough probe supplemented with the results from the ongoing forensic investigation will be important to nail Jolly legally. Gruesome and grisly crimes deserve stringent punishment.

(Published on 21st October 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 43)