Four years, five deaths and a burglary: The Kodanad heist and murder case

Jayalalithaa’s summer retreat and second office in Kodanad witnessed a murder and break-in in 2017. Four years later, the case is embroiled in a heated political row.
A collage of Jayalalithaa and a sign that says Kodanad estate
A collage of Jayalalithaa and a sign that says Kodanad estate
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Located in the picturesque Nilgiris district, the Kodanad estate, which is spread across 906 acres and belonged to former Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and her aide VK Sasikala, became a crime scene in 2017. Four months after Jayalalithaa’s demise and two months after Sasikala’s incarceration, the Kodanad estate, which had once served as their summer getaway, witnessed a break-in and murder in the wee hours of April 24, 2017. Four years after a string of mysterious incidents surrounding the estate, which served as Jayalalithaa’s second office, it has once again become the center of a heated political row. 

The Tamil Nadu police has begun further investigation into the Kodanad heist and murder case and this investigation has taken on political overtones with AIADMK joint coordinator and former CM Edappadi Palaniswami accusing the DMK government of trying to foist a false case on him. TNM takes a look at the timeline of the case, which has seen several twists and turns. 

According to the chargesheet, a gang of eleven people led by C Kanagaraj, who was once a driver at Jayalalithaa’s Poes Garden residence, hatched a conspiracy to rob Jayalalithaa’s residence as they believed crores of cash was stashed in the house. The armed gang- including Kanakaraj and ten people from Kerala- arrived in two cars, reaching gate number 8 at 10.30 pm on April 23, 2017. Once there, they broke open the gate and entered the bungalow. They tied up Krishna Thapa, one of the two security guards present at the estate, and locked him up in a lorry. Two accused stood guard, watching over Krishna Thapa as the others went to gate number 10, where they attacked and killed Om Bahadur, the other security guard.   

The gang then entered the bungalow, breaking open a window using an iron rod. The gang searched three rooms including Jayalalithaa’s office room, but found no cash. The chargesheet states that Kanagaraj had allegedly told KV Sayan, another accused, that there was Rs 200 crore cash at the estate while plotting the burglary. Instead, the gang made away with 10 watches and a crystal rhino worth Rs 42,000.

Four deaths in three months

And while the heist and murder made headlines across the country, it was the subsequent deaths and glaring lapses in police investigation that have added to the mystery and intrigue around the crime. Five days after the Kodanad heist-murder, Kanagaraj, who has been named accused 1 in the case, was killed in an accident on the Salem-Chennai highway in Attur. Kanagaraj reportedly belongs to Edappadi, the same village as EPS. The same day, Sayan, accused number 2 who hails from Thrissur in Kerala, also met with an accident near Palakkad, with his car ramming a parked lorry. The accident killed his wife and daughter, but Sayan escaped with injuries.  

Months later, on July 3, the computer operator from the Kodanad estate, 29-year-old Dinesh Kumar was found dead at his residence in Kotagiri. The police said he had died by suicide. It was the fourth such mysterious death related to the Kodanad case.  

In September that year, the police filed a 300-page chargesheet. Out of the eleven accused, only Kanagaraj belonged to Tamil Nadu, with the others- Sayan, Manoj, Deepu,Jamsheer Ali, Satheesan, Bijin, Udhartan, Santhosh Sami, Manoj PC and Jithin Joy- were from Kerala. According to the chargesheet, Kanagaraj and Sayan were friends. They met at a bakery in Coimbatore and allegedly hatched the conspiracy to burgle the Kodanad estate. 

Lapses in probe and a further investigation

During the trial 41 out of 103 prosecution witnesses deposed in the court. One of the key witnesses was the investigating officer Balasundaram, the inspector of the Kotagiri police station. His deposition revealed glaring lapses on the part of the investigation - photos and videos of the crime scene were not taken, an inventory of the valuables at the estate were not taken, police officials failed to probe the accidents involving the two accused, the sole eye-witness in the case Krishna Thapa’s signature was not taken in the FIR and he was allowed to return to Nepal, even as the police remain clueless about his current whereabouts. 

The trial, which is being heard at the Nilgiris sessions court was nearing completion, saw another twist in April this year. Three accused filed a petition seeking the interrogation of EPS, Sasikala, the then Nilgiris collector, police chief among others. They alleged that the real culprits in the case had escaped due to the ‘lethargic’ investigation in the case. When their petition was dismissed by the court, they moved the Madras High Court. In their petition, they alleged that the trial at the Nilgiris court was hurried, influenced and monitored by persons holding power in the former ruling party, reported Hindustan Times.  

Meanwhile, in July, second accused Sayan, who had been in jail since 2019, was granted bail. Sayan’s bail had been cancelled two years ago after he along with another accused Manoj gave an interview to journalist Mathew Samuel alleging that then CM Edappadi Palaniswami had ordered the break-in to retrieve money and important documents from the estate. While EPS went on to deny the allegations and filed a Rs 1 crore civil defamation suit against the journalist, the DMK, which was in the opposition, demanded the CM’s resignation.  

With Sayan out on bail and with a new government at the helm in the state, the police in August filed a memo in the trial court informing the court that they are doing further investigation into the case. They told the court that they had gathered some new information and sought a further probe. Soon, they summoned Sayan to verify this new information. 

The moves, however, send jitters down the AIADMK camp, with EPS accusing the DMK of intending to malign him and the party. But soon there was another twist. A prosecution witness moved the Madras High Court seeking a stay in the further probe, alleging that he faced threats from various quarters to submit a favourable witness statement. The prosecution witness, ‘Anubhav’ Ravi, who belongs to the AIADMK, questioned the need for a further investigation especially since the chargesheet had been filed and he had already been examined. Ravi was the last person Kanakaraj had allegedly spoken to before his death. The High Court, however, dismissed his petition pointing out that he had no locus standi in the matter as he is only a witness. The court’s order paved the way for a further probe into the case. 

While the police is expected to finish its probe within eight weeks, it remains to be seen whether the Kodanad heist and murder case will see political names dragged into the investigation. 

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