It was six years after her husbandâ€™s death that 40-year-old Dhanalakshmi* from Coimbatore mustered the will to search for another life partner. This mother of a young boy and a teenage girl believed that her children too required a father figure as they grew up. She created a matrimony profile for herself on mettiolimatrimony.com, a site famous in her city and listed her profile under the VIP section.
By her own admission, Dhanalakshmi who holds a Masters in computer application degree is from a wealthy family that owns cotton mills in Tamil Nadu and has properties across the state. It is through the matrimony site that she first received a phone call from a 57-year-old man named B. Puroshathaman, who said that he was a widower with a successful business.
Enthused by the idea of a new life, Dhanalakshmi married Purushothaman in a matter of days and moved to his residence in Vellalur. Just 15 minutes from this house, at the Podanur police station, a heavy case file with Purushothaman name carried over 20 complaints of cheating and fraud against him. Some of these cases were from women he had extorted money from, in the name of marriage.
And as Dhanalakshmi would soon find out, his modus operandi was near flawless.
The business front
"When I started talking to him in August last year, he said that he owned a transport business worth crores with 26 lorries plying in the country. He had a teenage daughter as well and an elderly mother," confesses Dhanalakshmi to TNM. "I felt like he is someone who will respect women as he takes care of two already. And I wanted someone over the age of 50 because I thought he will be mature and an example for my children," she adds.
Dhanalakshmi recalls how Purushothaman would often talk on the phone, supposedly giving orders to his employees and rattling off names of northern states. He also keenly questioned what kind of properties and investments Dhanalakshmi had. While these seemed like routine questions to the widow, what first put her off was his insistence that they get married within 10 days of their meeting.
"In that one week, he showed me his offices in Coimbatore which were set up in Race course and Sundarapuram. There were even four seemingly well educated people working there. When I pointed out that there were more systems than people, he told me that they hire based on the project," he explains. "He even had visiting cards, documents and balance sheets for this business," she adds.
The character reference
Purushothaman portrayed himself to be an extremely kind and understanding man. After their first interaction he immediately introduced Dhanalakshmi to his 18-year-old daughter Saritha* and an elderly mother who was mentally unsound.
"I naturally sympathised with him and decided he must be a very empathetic soul," says Dhanalakshmi. "Even though he was from a different caste, I fought with my parents to marry him," she says. "His daughter told me that they were looking for a wife for her father for 17 years and mine was the first profile he accepted," she adds.
Even the owners of the mettioli website, a husband and wife duo identified as Mohan and Vanajakumari took special efforts to promote Purushothaman. "They described him as a man of golden character and said I was lucky to find him," explains Dhanalakshmi. "He would even hand over his phone to me to talk to 'friends' who heaped praises on him," she adds.
'Mesmerised' by his character, Dhanalakshmi put aside her doubts momentarily and agreed to the hurried marriage.
Money from the vulnerable
Over the course of just 10 days, Purushothaman took Rs.15 lakh from Dhanalakshmi. "He would take it in small amounts and return it immediately. He said he was supposed to get back Rs.17 crore through a civil case and that he needed the money for the business. I thought, this is the man I am going to marry, so why not help him," she explains.
Once they were married, the amount that passed hands from the new bride to her husband was a whopping Rs.3 crore which he allegedly needed to pay his 'auditor'. â€śHe had returned the few lakhs I had given him first, so I never doubted when I lent money later,â€ť she says.
But soon, his behavior began to change.
"He literally kept me under house arrest and refused to let me go anywhere. Soon through the neighbours and slips from his own daughter I began to realise that he had married a second time before. He had a wife for 12 years but she had divorced him. I heard that he would bring other women home all the time and abuse his wife," says Dhanalakshmi. "Moreover he had no death certificate for the first wife. and he kept pressurising me for more money. I began to realise that something was wrong and when he went to Chennai for some work, I escaped from that house," explains Dhanalakshmi.
The torture however did not stop there.
"I resigned to the fact that I had lost Rs.3 crore but was happy I escaped alive. My relief was short lived," she says. Dhanalakshmi had left Purushothaman in November. But he allegedly continued to follow and threaten her. "He said he will kill my children and drag me back to the house. I was really frightened. He would stop my car in the middle of the road and abuse me in public," she adds.
That is when she decided to go to the police.
Inspector Mashu Begam of the Podanur station who is handling the investigation, sounds disgusted as she reveals the details of the case.
"He has conned women off Rs.4.5 crore so far. What he did with Dhanalakshmi is his exact modus operandi every single time. He acts like a business tycoon, targets vulnerable women looking for a second marriage and leaves them once he loots crores of rupees from them," she says. "He has no real business. It is merely a front that he puts up," she adds.
The inspector rattles off the names and occupations of the other seven women who were cheated. Their professions ranged from teaching to business, but all were wealthy, educated women who were either divorced or widowed.
"Like in the case of Dhanalakshmi, he gives the victims almost no time to think about their decisions. He forms a psychological bond with them by using his daughter and mother. Most of them are targeted through the matrimony website," says the inspector. "The website owners seem to be in cahoots with Purushothaman and it is somehow rigged to make profiles match to his. We are still investigating this," she adds.
On Monday, the duo who ran the website were taken into custody by the police.
The woman who escaped
But Vasantha*, a businesswoman from Chennai who just about managed to escape this matrimonial trap, alleges that there is no doubt about the website's involvement.
"I am a divorcee and a relative had given my number to this matrimony site. The owners called me and connected me to Purushothaman in January last year. He said he has been a widower for 17 years," she recalls. "Soon he came home and even his daughter would stay with me for extended periods of time. He behaved so well with us, you would think he is the kindest man you've met," she says, exasperated.
On one such day, when Purushotaman's daughter was staying with Vasantha, she let slip a small truth about her father.
"Saritha said her father did marry again after her mother died," says Vasantha. "When I confronted Purushothaman about this, he completely denied it. I developed doubts and then began to enquire about him. That is when I found out that there were multiple cheating cases against him," she says.
This was in July 2017 and Vasantha immediately refused to marry him and demanded that the two scamsters leave her alone.
By then, however, she had already given Purushothaman Rs.1 crore for his 'business'. "I had mortgaged my house without telling my family and given him the money. When I called Saritha and asked for it, she told me it is my fault I got fooled and questioned who allows strangers to stay with them for extended periods of time," she adds.
Vasantha had in fact complained to the matrimonial site asking for Purushothaman profile to be removed but clearly it wasn't. "That is why Dhanalakshmi got fooled. I in fact tried to contact her but Purushothaman got hold of her phone and deleted my messages," she alleges.
Vasantha, is now a witness in Dhanalakshmi's case.
Police meanwhile, have questioned Saritha who is an engineering student over her connivance in the matter and two special teams are formed to nab Purushothaman who is absconding.
"We are tracking his cellphone and will find him soon," says the inspector. "Once he is caught, we will focus on the matrimonial site,â€ť she adds. The police are also investigating the death of his first wife.
Dhanalakshmi and Vasantha are however not convinced. "How has he escaped jail till now? How can someone so openly carry out such fraudulent activities?" they ask.