It all began with the alleged murder of 57-year-old Annamma Thomas in 2002. Fondly known as Ammachi by the people of her community, Thomas was a regular churchgoer and somebody who helped the local children with their homework. Annamma had had a negative reaction to a new medicine she was taking and a few weeks later, she fell deathly ill after consuming some mutton soup she’d made. She began frothing at the mouth and died minutes later.
Nobody thought much about it then.
Six years later, Annamma’s husband, Tom Thomas consumed a tapioca dish prepared by his daughter-in-law and died under similar circumstances. His death was explained away as a result of a heart attack and since he was old, nobody thought much about this incident either.
Following his death, three years later, the Thomas’ son, Roy took ill after dinner and rushed to the bathroom where he retched and collapsed. His death was similar to the previous two in his family. This time, his death wasn’t explained away so easily. Roy’s uncle Mathew demanded a post-mortem while his brother, Rojo, flew down from the US after his death. The medical evidence suggested cyanide poisoning.
Roy’s widow, Jolly Joseph, had claimed that his death was due to a heart attack but now her story changed. She suggested that Roy had probably committed suicide. After all, Roy was a drunkard and neighbours knew that the husband and wife weren’t getting along well. The police didn’t take the case further after repeated requests from Jolly, who stated that it would cause issues for her two sons, who were both very young at the time.
While Rojo left for the States, Roy’s uncle Mathew would continue to question how Roy got hold of cyanide. In 2014, Mathew died the same way as his nephew. Again, his death was put down to a heart attack as well.
The only constant in all these deaths was the presence of Jolly Joseph.
In 2014, Jolly attended Shaju Zakariah’s son’s holy communion. Shaju was her late husband Roy’s cousin. During the course of the function, Shaju’s one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Alphine, started choking on something and was rushed to two different hospitals but couldn’t be saved.
In 2016, Shaju’s wife Sili went to a dentist with Jolly and collapsed on her lap. She died later.
Jolly went on to marry Shaju, 13 months after the death of Shaju’s wife.
“We were not happy with the marriage, but we didn’t mind. The two were in a similar situation. Their spouses died. They knew each other, were good friends. What is the harm, we thought? But looking back, we can connect the dots,” says Sili’s uncle Xavier to News18.
This year, in early October, police arrested 47-year-old Jolly Joseph for the alleged murder of Roy and five others. The police claim that Jolly confessed to giving cyanide to Roy, his parents and the others mentioned in this article.
The case, naturally, has taken hold of the public’s imagination with many crowding around police stations to get a glimpse of the alleged murderess. While police state that some of the murders were because of Jolly’s desire to control her husband’s family’s property, still others were crimes of passion.
However, proving her guilt will be a difficult task. One of the reasons is that a post-mortem report was only conducted on Roy Thomas. The police have exhumed the bodies of the other five people as well but News18 reports that none of these cases has any witnesses.
“The prosecution does not have a case here,” says BA Aloor, the lawyer representing Jolly, according to the news website. “They need to prove whose bodies those are, find cyanide from bodies so old. Even if Jolly is accused of murder, they need to establish intent, motive,” he adds.
The case was reopened due to a will left behind by Tom that Roy’s siblings felt was fraudulent. “While all six murders are being treated as suspect, unnatural deaths, it is only in Roy’s death that the police have arrested Jolly. Investigators say they had been working on this probe for nearly two months, questioning and taking statements from nearly 200 people, before actually taking Jolly into custody,” states the report on the news website on the Kerala cyanide murders.