Seven murders, one confession and missing evidence: The 'Ripper' story

One of India’s most notorious serial killers is a Malayali fisherman who was put behind bars two decades ago for murdering seven people. Authorities nearly executed him a few years back. But did he truly kill them all?
A graphically altered image of 'Ripper' Jayanandan, who is known as Kerala's most dangerous serial killer.
A graphically altered image of 'Ripper' Jayanandan, who is known as Kerala's most dangerous serial killer.
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Devaky was sleeping peacefully in her house in Puthenvelikkara, a gram panchayat without street lights in the suburbs of Ernakulam in Kerala, unaware that a burglar was standing over her, ready to strike. This was around 1 am on October 2, 2006. What happened next has inspired many horror stories, and is now part of folklore as Kerala’s own version of Jack The Ripper. But last summer, I uncovered a trail of facts that challenged everything that is known about the case.

What we know from the police version is that the burglar stood about 5 feet tall, with thinning hair, a small beard, and a heavy moustache. He had come to Devaky’s bedroom after knocking out her husband Ramakrishnan, who was asleep in another room, with two strikes to the head using an iron rod. He used the same rod on Devaky’s head and face, splashing blood on his green shirt and saffron mundu (dhoti). He wasn’t done.

For some twisted reason, he stripped her bare and brought her knees up. Using a large knife he sliced off her left hand at the wrist to remove her six gold bangles. He searched other rooms before leaving; by the time he did, he had murdered the 50-year-old homemaker and left her 60-year-old retired-soldier husband with irreversible brain damage. He made off with the six gold bangles and a gold necklace totally weighing 96 grams, and Rs 1,300 kept in a clay piggy bank.

When relatives and friends came looking for Ramakrishnan at his house on October 3, 2006, they detected a strong smell of cooking gas and kerosene. One of them, Devaky’s friend Shyamala, opened the window of one of the rooms and was the first to witness what she described as a “dreadful scene.”

Kerala had rarely witnessed such violent murders. Malayalam newspapers, competing with a new generation of 24x7 television channels, reported the killing in vivid detail. The police had come up with the description of the suspect based on the testimony of a woman in the neighbourhood who said that a man had broken into her own house the day before the crime. He took an electric torch from her house, which was found in Devaky’s house. So, the police assumed it had to be the same person.

Several others in the neighbourhood also reported missing other things. Most prominent among the missing items: an iron rod, a large knife, a green shirt and a saffron mundu. These details would later become crucial in the investigation. The police located some of them, like the rod and knife, in Devaky's well. Sniffer dogs barely found a scent to follow as the murderer discharged the gas cylinder and spilled kerosene all over the house.

The murder gave people in Kerala nightmares of a robber hiding in the countryside, waiting to bash their heads in. It prompted a public outcry and led to the formation of neighbourhood-level vigilante squads. It put enormous pressure on the police to catch the killer.

A man was finally arrested nearly two months after Devaky’s murder based on a tip-off from a secret informant with a history of petty crime. To everybody’s horror, the suspect began to confess to a string of other brutal killings that had confounded the police until then. The media immediately gave him a nickname – ‘Ripper Jayanandan’ – a moniker that has stuck with him to this day.

According to the police, Jayanandan confessed to committing five unsolved murders between 2003 and 2006, including two double murders and the murder of Devaky, which was by then notorious as the Puthenvelikkara case. The police said that he had killed seven people in total. His modus operandi, according to the investigation, was to bash the heads of elderly people while they were sleeping and loot their valuables.

All the stories about him in the public domain are based on his alleged confessions to the police. But few people know that he retracted his statements as soon as he was produced before a magistrate, and has consistently maintained in these 17 years that the confessions were extracted through torture.

A little digging led me to another discovery. He was acquitted in three of the five murder cases filed against him — but none of these acquittals were covered as enthusiastically by the media as his arrest. While there is a Wikipedia page about Jayanandan’s alleged crimes, even this page doesn’t mention the acquittals.

The cases against 'Ripper' Jayanandan
The cases against 'Ripper' Jayanandan

According to his family, ‘Ripper’ Jayanandan or KP Jayanandan, a Class 8 dropout, was born and raised 10 km away from Puthenvelikkara, in Thrissur’s Poyya, a village known for picturesque backwaters and shrimp farms. When he was nabbed, Jayanandan was 38 and living in a modest house with his wife, two school-going daughters, and elderly parents. He was saddled with debt. His neighbours were labourers, tea-sellers and mechanics.

Starting when he was still a child, he had worked all his life as an estuary fisherman proficient with Chinese fishing nets. His life in the village was no different from others of his caste, the Kudumbis. An extremely marginalised Konkani-speaking social group that fled Goa during the Portuguese inquisition, the Kudumbis or Kudubis settled in the marshlands of Kerala where they subsisted on shrimp cultivation for centuries.

But there was allegedly more to Jayanandan’s life than subsistence fishing. According to a judge who presided over the trial in one of his cases, he was actually living a double-life as a "gruesome, diabolic, revolting" killer.

If such a “blood thirsty, irreclaimable and hardened criminal” is spared from the gallows, said a judgement in 2008, it “will be a mockery of justice”.

Jayanandan was convicted in two of the five murder cases, and received the death sentence in one — later commuted to life imprisonment. He has been in prison for 17 years since the police first arrested him for Devaky’s murder. He made the headlines twice during his imprisonment when he broke out of two different heavily guarded prisons. Jayanandan had mostly faded from public memory when, in December 2021, the police booked him in yet another unsolved murder case from 2004. According to the police, Jayanandan had confided to a cellmate about this murder.

Traditional news outlets competed with social media and excitedly rehashed his violent crimes to feed the boom in true crime shows. Each recounting added fantastical narratives of him relishing gruesome murders and even necrophilia.

When Project 39A —  a legal aid and research organisation of the National Law University, Delhi — approached me to take a look into this case to file a report, I found it strange that there hasn’t yet been any media scrutiny of the acquittals and nobody had, until then, reached out to the man himself. Call it a pursuit of journalistic objectivity or plain curiosity, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering what Jayanandan’s side of the story is.

I set out to meet him at a high-security facility inside Thrissur's Viyyur jail in July 2022. The prison administration prohibited a one-on-one interview. So I waited across a barricaded window in an area where visitors can contact inmates during particular hours, over the din of other convicts and guests shouting, and guards listening.

As he emerged in the white jail outfit, he looked nothing like the photographs of a thin young man with a messy beard and wide, dark eyes that I had seen so often in the media. He had grown older. Turning 54 that year, he was heavier, grayer, clean-shaven but for a bushy moustache, and wore thick-rimmed glasses. He spoke calmly but with authority.

“I didn’t do any of it,” he said, in Malayalam. “The police framed me to solve unsolved crimes. I confessed under torture. The police fabricated evidence against me. I was an easy target, because I had no money, no social leaders or political parties to help me,” he said.

He avoided providing case facts as he was surrounded by officers. He claimed it would make his life in prison more difficult.

The alleged crimes of Jayanandan

The most recent case, which was filed in 2021, hasn’t gone to trial yet. If you exclude that, Jayanandan was exonerated in three of the five murder cases he faced. The courts found that the police had no reliable evidence against him. A 2014 police affidavit filed in the Kerala High Court also confirmed this.

In the 2004 murder of an elderly couple in Thrissur, Nirmala and Sahadevan, the Kerala High Court did not agree with the trial court’s conviction and death sentence given in 2008.

The then Thrissur Principal Judge B Kamal Pasha had said, “I do not find any hypothesis that points towards the innocence of the accused.” Weighing in on the police version that Jayanandan was a serial killer, he continued: “These murders are committed in a most cruel, inhuman, extreme brutal, gruesome, diabolic, revolting and dastardly manner. Therefore this case is one coming within the category of rarest of rare cases.”

The High Court however in 2010 acquitted Jayanandan. It found the evidence to be shoddy and manufactured. “The circumstances relied on by the prosecution do not measure up to the rigorous test insisted by law. The verdict of guilty and conviction has, in these circumstances, got to be vacated,” the judgement added. The Supreme Court too upheld the acquittal in 2015.

In the other two cases where he was found innocent, the police chargesheet was thrown out in the trial stage itself.

In one of them, he was charged with robbing and killing a woman named Nabeesa (52) and her daughter-in-law Fousiya (23) in Thrissur’s Mala neighbourhood in 2004. He was also accused of severely injuring two children and a young woman who lived in the house. The case became infamous as the Mala double murder case.

In April 2008, he was acquitted of this charge by the CBI Special Court. “The judge Chandreshekaran Nair observed that there was no reliable evidence to connect the accused with the crime,” said a report by the news agency UNI.

In the other case, he was charged with killing a liquor outlet security guard, Subhashakan, in Ernakulam in 2005. The police initially thought the guard was killed because he was a critical witness in a political murder investigation, and they prosecuted others. However, in 2006, the police said that Jayanandan had confessed to this murder as well during interrogation. Ultimately, Jayanandan, who pleaded not guilty in court, was acquitted in this case.

Jayanandan was found guilty, however, for two murders — Elikutty in Thrissur, and Devaky in Puthenvelikkara. These two cases soon became my obsession and I ended up spending a year researching them. With the help of a fellowship from Project 39A, I travelled across Kerala’s Thrissur and Ernakulam districts to uncover finer details of the cases.

I met investigating officers, witnesses, Jayanandan and his family. I revisited sites of the crimes and dug up old newspaper archives even as I processed endless reams of court documents.

I came across police personnel bragging about planting evidence and conducting tortuous interrogations. I met witnesses openly admitting to fabricating evidence, and prosecutors who casually overlooked crucial evidence that doesn’t fit the police theory.

What I found

The details I began to exhume raised troubling questions about the case. While most of the answers are beyond the reach of a journalistic inquiry, the questions deserve to be placed before the public in all fairness.

So how was Jayanandan found guilty in two murders?

For robbing and killing Elikutty in Thrissur in 2005, a trial court sentenced Jayanandan to a rigorous life imprisonment in 2011. The case is special for two reasons.

Firstly, Jayanandan's fingerprint was found on a broken mirror from the crime scene. This is sharply in contrast to all other murder charges against him that were based on circumstantial evidence. There was no further forensic proof of his presence at the site – no additional fingerprint or DNA trace.

The mirror, which was the sole piece of material evidence linking him to the crime, went missing during the trial. Jayanandan alleged during trial that he was made to hold a mirror by the investigating officer to fabricate evidence. But the court did not accept it as true.

Secondly, the police said the robbed gold ornaments had been melted into an ingot (a block of gold) by the time it was recovered. The trial court and the High Court found the gold ingot to be sufficient material evidence. However, when the exact situation had come up in the Nirmala and Sahadevan murders, the Kerala High Court said that gold ingots could not be admitted as evidence as it was impossible to trace an ingot to the actual jewellery. Jayanandan said he wants to file an appeal in the Elikutty case but he has no money.

This makes the Puthenvelikkara murder of Devaky the only instance in which even the Supreme Court felt that Jayanandan’s guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt. Jayanandan was sentenced to death in this case by a trial court, which was later commuted to life in prison without the possibility of release by the Kerala High Court. The Supreme Court later agreed with the High Court, but limited his imprisonment to 20 years.

It is the Devaky murder case that first landed Jayanandan in the police net. His indictment in the other murders was a result of his alleged confession in this one. This is the case that gave birth to countless fables involving an iron rod, a large knife, and Jayanandan’s blood-soaked clothes: a green shirt and saffron mundu.

After only a month of combing through thousands of pages of old case files, I made a stunning discovery.

Tucked inside the police files was the chemical analysis report of the allegedly ‘blood soaked’ mundu and shirt that were recovered from Jayanandan’s house. The report said that the garments showed no traces of blood. This report, which could have had a bearing on the case, was not brought up during the trial.

Images above show the chemical analysis report that was not brought up by the police during the trial.
Images above show the chemical analysis report that was not brought up by the police during the trial.

Chemical analysis showed that there were no bloodstains on the iron bar used in the murder, either. At the trial, the police claimed that it happened as a result of the iron rod coming into contact with water in the house well, where it lay for a day before being discovered. The claim was disputed by Jayanandan’s defence. But the court trusted the police.

In yet another puzzle, Viswanathan NV, the building contractor from whom the police said the murder weapon was stolen, failed to identify the iron rod. He testified in court that the tool presented as evidence by the police was not the iron rod he lost. He was declared a hostile witness by the police.

Importantly, the chronology of events put together by the police did not match the medical reports, which is troubling because Jayanandan's conviction partly rested on them. The police told the court that Devaky was killed around 1 am on October 2, based on the post-mortem examination report. However, the attack on her husband shows a different timeline. Ramakrishnan's medical record shows that he was attacked around 12 hours before he was rushed to hospital early in the morning on October 3.

Ramakrishnan's medical report contradicts the police timeline in the case.
Ramakrishnan's medical report contradicts the police timeline in the case.

This indicates that the attack and injuries he sustained would have happened late evening on October 2 — several hours after Devaky’s murder. This does not match the police narrative that Ramakrishnan was attacked first.

The police disregarded this major discrepancy in their submission to court. The police even produced a computerised slip from a gold mortgage shop which showed that Jayanandan pledged the gold hours after he killed Devaky on October 2 — which is several hours before Ramakrishnan was attacked.

The evidence against Jayanandan

Jayanandan’s wife Indira was 36 years old when he was arrested. She used to help her husband fish using Chinese nets. The money was scarce, she said, so they had just pawned her wedding chain and their daughter Keerthi's earrings at the local branch of a popular gold financier to purchase a van. The plan was to use the van to sell agricultural goods alongside a nearby national highway.

They still needed additional money to finish the purchase, so they took a cash loan from a private lender. When they were asked by the police where they got the money from, they presented formal proof to back up their story, including a pawn shop receipt and a legal document created by the private financier when he loaned them money.

The legal document produced by the financier as proof that Jayanandan had pledged gold.
The legal document produced by the financier as proof that Jayanandan had pledged gold.

This contradicts the police interpretation of the motive behind Devaky’s murder. The police alleged that Jayanandan bought the van with money from Devaky’s jewellery. They backed this up with a computer-printed receipt from a different pawn shop.

“I couldn't believe it,” Indira said. “On November 21, 2006 morning, I was told that some people in a jeep abducted him on his way to work. I told my relatives, who contacted the police and media. Two days later, we learned from media reports that he was in police custody, arrested for brutal killings,” she said.

According to the police, Jayanandan was arrested on November 23, 2006. The police claim that the family was formally intimated about the arrest but there’s no documentation to back this claim.

It is important because, according to Jayanandan, these two days practically sealed his fate forever.

During these two days, Jayanandan claims that he was tortured in a hidden chamber. The torture made him confess to all the unsolved crimes the police asked him about, he said later.

He added he was forced to sign a false computer-generated receipt and a ledger entry that said he pawned the stolen gold items from Devaky’s house at a pawn shop called Thomson Enterprises in Thrissur's Chalakudy town. The document said that the transaction was carried out on Jayanandan’s behalf by his brother-in-law, PG Babu.

"The police negotiated some agreement with Thomson Enterprises to get a receipt in the name of my brother-in-law and made me sign it. The ledger was made there in front of me," Jayanandan claimed. A copy of the original ledger was not provided in court, claiming that it was given to tax officials by the company.

On November 23, 2006 Indira raced to the police station hearing about the arrest, only to be questioned by the police about her family’s whereabouts on specific dates between 2003 and 2006, and her failure to do so was interpreted as suspicious. Jayanandan went fishing at night with Chinese fishing nets, which is a two-person task, and he sometimes slept in the mornings, which the police considered strange.

The police recorded the arrest on November 23, 2006. But Jayanandan's family says he was taken away on the 21st.
The police recorded the arrest on November 23, 2006. But Jayanandan's family says he was taken away on the 21st.

What about Jayanandan’s legal defence?

Indira said she could not understand the legalities, which hurt Jayanandan’s defence. And then, a specific incident destroyed her confidence in the legal system and prevented her from pursuing the case any further, she claimed.

Indira revealed that an advocate had sexually assaulted her once. "I was about to leave the court. He volunteered to drive me to my destination. He assaulted me in the car," she said.

It shook her, “I never went back to court again. I was afraid,” she said. She claimed that after learning about the incident, Jayanandan also warned her to stay away from lawyers and courts.

They watched helplessly as Jayanandan was paraded as a serial killer, without ever fully being able to help him properly. Life went on. Jayanandan's wife and two daughters still maintain a low profile and only expose their identity to close friends and family while living in a rural corner of Thrissur.

Chances were decked against them, but the daughters, 28-year-old Keerthi and 24-year-old Kashmira, have created identities for themselves. Keerthi became a lawyer, agitated by her father’s poor defence. Kashmira is studying to become a doctor to fulfil her father’s wish. When Jayanandan was arrested in 2006, Keerthi was 11 and her sister was just 7 years old. They only have hazy memories of his arrest and life before this incident.

They still live in a small unfinished house, devoid of most furniture or other amenities, and scrambling to raise money for Keerthi’s marriage to her boyfriend on March 22. As fate would have it, the groom is the son of a police officer. They met in college.

Following the evidence trail

Despite no material evidence at Devaky’s murder scene in Puthenvelikkara connecting Jayanandan, how did the police discover him in the first place? What were the strongest pieces of evidence that linked him to the murder? Why did he confess to the murder initially?

These were questions playing on my mind as I drove to the village of Puthenvelikkara, which straddles a beautiful tract of land at the confluence of two rivers.

When I reached the house, I discovered that Ramakrishnan, who had been left with permanent brain damage from the attack, had died a few years ago.

The residents of the village seemed excited to see a reporter returning to ask questions about the murders after nearly two decades. They eagerly discussed ‘Ripper Jayanandan’. Some even offered to be interviewed, like an elderly gentleman who ran a tiny restaurant.

The restaurant owner said the police compelled him to sign a blank paper during the investigation and he got a call to testify in court a year later as a witness. But he had witnessed nothing. He panicked and went to court, where he saw other villagers in similar situations. He claimed the prosecutor scolded the police and urged the magistrate to delete them from the witness list.

I was taken aback by how casually the restaurant owner spoke about police attempts to falsify witnesses. I initially thought that it was an isolated incident, but the more people I met, the more intriguing things got.

In the trial court, the prosecution called 48 witnesses, while the defence called none. The vast majority were witnesses who discovered Devaky and Ramakrishnan, and police officers who worked on the case. Some were experts, such as the doctor who performed the autopsy. At least six witnesses explicitly linked Jayanandan to the crime.

As I sought out interviews with the six key witnesses, a relative of the deceased Devaky came up to me and made a startling revelation on the condition of anonymity. According to this relative, the family was convinced by the police and aggressive media reports that Jayanandan was guilty, and they feared that he would get away for lack of material evidence. So, they lied at crucial points in their testimonies to the court to ensure that Jayanandan received the harshest punishment possible.

The relative claimed that the police convinced the family to wrongly identify some random pieces of gold as the jewellery that was stolen from Devaky. The police told the family that the actual gold had been melted by the pawn shop. As the case would be weakened if the original ornaments were not presented before the court, the relatives allegedly agreed to identify the jewellery planted by the police, this person said.

"The stolen gold weighed 22 grams but the evidence presented in court was just 18 grams,” the relative said, "Everyone, including police, prosecutors, and witnesses, knew it was not the original gold jewellery that was stolen."

The only person outside Ramakrishnan’s family called to identify the gold was Devaky’s friend and neighbour, Shyamala Raghunandan. But she testified in court that the gold produced as evidence was not Devaky's. The police declared her a hostile witness.

Shyamala's statement in court
Shyamala's statement in court

When interviewed by me, Shyamala stood by her statement to court. She said she inadvertently blurted out the truth in court, despite being asked by the family to go along with the alleged deception. "The courtroom intimidated me," she said in a recorded interview. "Everyone chastised me after I mentioned it wasn't the same gold," she said.

"Shyamala was just telling the truth," the relative who spoke to me said, "She had not seen the new gold before. So, despite being encouraged to identify the new gold, she panicked and revealed the truth. She didn't plan to jeopardise the case."

These accounts pose another question. What did the staff at the pawn shop from where the gold was recovered, Thomson Enterprises in Chalakudy, have to say? The court documents said that they had identified Jayanandan as the one who pledged and sold the gold ornaments.

In search of the witnesses

When I went in search of Thomson Enterprises, I was taken aback to discover that the pawn shop — which has now been shut down — was located right across the road from the Chalakudy police station. Of all the pawn shops in town, the killer apparently chose the one right next to a police station to pawn the looted jewellery.

With the owner now dead, the pawn shop seemed to be a dead end. So, I started searching for the former manager of the shop, a man named Babu PA, who had testified in court that he had seen Jayanandan walk into the store to pawn the robbed gold.

In his testimony to the court, Babu said that he first saw Jayanandan on October 2, 2006, when the latter came to mortgage the gold. He saw him again on October 6, 2006 when Jayanandan decided to sell the ornaments instead. He saw him for the last time at 9 am on November 11, 2006 when the gold was taken away by the police as part of the recovery procedure, according to court records.

Babu told the court that he saw the police authenticate the receipt and ledger, which were presented as official proof of the gold transactions between Thomson Enterprises and Jayanandan. Babu also signed the recovery report as a witness.

I found Babu after months of searching. He was working as a manager at a garment shop in Angamaly, a town near Chalakudy. Babu’s revelation was shocking — he said he had never seen Jayanandan until he was called to the stand in court.

"I wasn't in the shop when the police said Jayanandan pledged the gold. I was out for some different work when the police came in. I never saw him enter, pledge, or sell the gold,” Babu, the former pawn shop employee, said in a recorded statement.

Why did he then provide a firsthand account in court? He claimed he was obeying orders from his boss. Thomson, the now-deceased owner of the pawn shop, asked staffers to testify in court, according to Babu. Babu thought he was helping the police put a criminal behind bars, because Jayanandan’s name was all over the news, and he had already been declared a serial killer through a media trial.

"I consented since the owner needed a witness to defend the shop in court. What else could I have done?" Babu asked. He claimed he was even classified as a manager in court, despite the fact that he was only an employee. “I don't know what really happened because the owner handled it directly," he said.

Devaky’s gold jewellery was never DNA-tested for blood or other forensic evidence.

Retired Vadakkekara police constable MK Kaleshan took pride in writing the case-files in the Devaky murder case. Even after he retired in 2007, his superiors consulted him for case files, he said. He was glad that Jayanandan had been convicted. A DNA testing would have led to unwanted complications, he thought. “What if the jeweller had given us different gold?” he asked.

The police say Jayanandan revealed the name Thomson Enterprises in his confession. But the full version of this confession was never produced in court transcripts — the company’s name is not mentioned in the portions that were produced. "If you take me, I can lead you to the finance business where I pledged and afterwards sold the gold ornaments," it simply stated.

But the police had other evidence against Jayanandan apart from the gold — like a clay piggy bank recovered based on his confession. However, this was planted evidence according to Shibu KR, who was the head constable of the Puthenvelikkara police station in 2006.

Shibu was anxious in the days when the case was being investigated. The police were unable to make an arrest for nearly two months, prompting a public outcry and increasing tensions in Puthenvelikkara. The men in the village, armed with sticks and knives, stood guard in front of town squares and churches to catch the killer.

Residents recall mothers forbidding their children from playing outside. Anybody who got out alone in the night was looked at with suspicion. A mob attacked a middle-aged man once because they mistook him for a robber. He had just stepped outside his house to relieve himself.

Out of desperation, Shibu said he went to an astrologer. "He instructed me to inspect a canal. So we looked... That's how we discovered the piggy bank," he grinned. The police submission to the court said something else entirely.

According to the chargesheet, Jayanandan led the police to the canal where he had broken the piggy bank open. The police presented Anilkumar, a 35-year-old fisherman, as the witness who said he saw Jayanandan guiding the police to the canal from where they recovered the piggy bank.

“It is a canal filled with mud and weed. When I was standing there, I heard that a person named Jayanandan had been brought there and I went to see him. He said that the clay pot is in the mud. DySP asked me to search there. I started searching there. Then I got two shards of a clay pot,” read Anilkumar’s testimony.

A local community leader who was present when the police brought Jayanandan to the house for evidence retrieval also told me that the police did not take Jayanandan to the canal. “It was all a show. It was all over in about five minutes," the leader said, requesting not to be named, “Jayanandan couldn't even stand up. They had to help him walk by letting him rest his hands on their shoulders.”

Another key witness, Jini V Anil, readily admitted to me that she pointed out Jayanandan during an identification parade by the police based on photos she had seen of him in the newspapers. Right after his arrest, the police and the media made Jayanandan's image widely known. By the time this witness was called to identify Jayanandan, about a year after the murder, she could easily identify him.

Jayanandan when he was arrested and paraded before the media.
Jayanandan when he was arrested and paraded before the media.

Another important eyewitness, KK Babu (not to be confused with the pawn shop worker) had a unique story. According to the police, Jayanandan had been friends with Babu and was spotted at the latter’s upholstery shop sometime before the murder. Babu also hailed from Poyya, Jayanandan’s village, and knew him.

After moving to Puthenvelikkara decades ago, Babu says he barely saw Jayanandan. Their last meeting was a chance one when he saw Jayanandan on the road outside his shop. When enquired, Jayanandan said he was on his way to pay the electricity bill. Even this meeting was "two to five years" before the 2006 murder, he said.

Babu’s deposition in court was that he had seen Jayanandan “3-4-5 years” before the murder. But the prosecution utilised this testimony to show that Jayanandan was familiar with Puthenvelikkara's layout. Babu had to bear the consequences of this widely shared story. It’s become a local legend that Jayanandan sat in Babu's shop and scanned the entire village, with considerable fallout for Babu’s business.

The interviews provided a new insight into the Devaky murder case, in sharp contrast to the official court records. The murder victim's relatives said that the gold jewellery presented by the prosecution wasn't the loot. The pawn shop employee recanted his testimony and said that the incident of him seeing Jayanandan never took place. Two eyewitnesses' accounts of spotting Jayanandan near the scene of murder seems unconvincing at best.

When asked why they claimed something they weren’t sure of, or simply lied, they all gave the same reason. They were sure Jayanandan was responsible, because their newspapers said so. Their television news said so. Their local authorities, their neighbours, and their friends said so. They didn’t have any reason to suspect otherwise. They even felt vindicated when Jayanandan was convicted.

All of this still didn’t answer how the police found Jayanandan in the first place. The first officer to suspect Jayanandan in the Devaky murder case finally unlocked that mystery: they didn’t find him, but rather stumbled upon him.

Finding a killer

Vinayan was a constable under the then Sub Inspector RK Krishnakumar, who was part of the task force probing Devaky’s murder. The task force was looking for a short, bald man with a criminal record, as described by Jini, the woman who reported that a pen torch was missing from her house near the murder site. They first suspected a fisherman named Thampi, who had a history of petty crimes and robbery in rural Ernakulam, Vinayan told me.

But in an unrelated incident, Vinayan said, Thampi was issued a warrant for a local market scuffle. He had absconded soon after, and no one knew how to find him. Vinayan however said he managed to speak to Thampi through a mutual friend, and convinced him to appear for “an interview” in exchange for not executing the warrant.

Thampi was nervous when they met, Vinayan recalled. He did not strike Vinayan as the sort of person who would commit a murder. Vinayan said he intimidated Thampi, while getting drunk on arrack, into naming a person who could have committed the crime. Otherwise, he would be charged with murder, Thampi was told according to Vinayan. "If we don't take you, the Crime Branch or the CBI will,” Vinayan recalled saying to Thampi.

Under duress, Thampi revealed the name of Jayanandan. "I am nothing, sir. I've only been in minor brawls. Sir, there is a more evil man. Do you know a person named Jayan, Jayanandan?" Vinayan recalled Thampi asking him.

Thampi alleged that Jayanandan had murdered Nabeesa and Fousiya at Mala in Thrissur in 2004, and also killed the security guard Subhashakan during a failed robbery attempt at another location. Jayanandan had allegedly told Thampi about the Mala murder. They both had allegedly unsuccessfully tried to rob the liquor store guarded by Subhashakan in 2005 — one month before Subashakan was murdered. Thampi assumed therefore that Jayanandan went back to finish the job.

However, Thampi’s claims didn’t stand legal scrutiny. Jayanandan was acquitted in both cases. For some reason, Thampi was not called a witness in the Devaky murder case, but was indirectly referred to as a “secret informant” in the court papers, according to Vinayan.

Thampi is still a known thief and troublemaker, so when I asked for his home address, the neighbours wondered if I was from the police. My local acquaintances warned me against meeting him, saying he could become aggressive.

Thampi lived up to this reputation. He lived apart from his wife and three daughters in a small, cramped house without an access road in a rundown corner of Thrissur’s Krishnan Kotta village. Likely mistaking the party at his doorstep for government officials, or relatives of his daughter's prospective in-laws, Thampi invited us in warmly. But when he discovered we were there to ask about Jayanandan, he stood up and asked us to leave.

I tried to wheel him into a conversation but he sounded too worried to speak his mind. “Have you seen Jayanandan's old photo?” he asked, before pointing to a photo of himself on the wall. “Do you see any similarity? This is where it all started.”

He was upset that he wasn't rewarded for catching Jayanandan. It launched the career of police officers he helped, he said. "But what about me?" he asked, referring to him being labelled a criminal for his apparent closeness to Jayanandan.

He occasionally offered to talk if I could get a Malayalam news station to do his live interview. But then, he also indicated his family would like not to raise the subject again, especially since his eldest daughter is getting married.

Thampi denied police interference in his testimony. His testimonies were genuine, he said. But he didn’t reveal what those testimonies were. At one point though, he blurted out that he testified in favour of Jayanandan in the Nabeesa and Fousiya murder case in Mala. “I was alone in the magistrate's chambers. The police don't know what I said. I told him what I knew. Jayanandan was not punished in that case, right?" he said.

Thampi was unreachable after this meeting. I came to know from the villagers that he had borrowed money from a local toddy shop where he sold fish and left town. He informed his toddy store friends that the Devaky murder case had resurrected and the police were after him, so he was hiding for a few days. His phone was switched off. After repeated calls over the next few weeks, I finally got him over the phone. He was nervous and was in a hurry to disconnect the call when I said I had just one question: Had Thampi lied to the police about Jayanandan?

"Yes man, I lied. You do whatever you want,” he said, before hanging up with an expletive.

The truth of the confession

When Jayanandan was transported to prison, he retracted his confession, and said he was tortured by the police. He even said this in court. RK Krishnakumar, who retired as a DySP, was the person who first took Jayanandan into custody and recorded his confession. He was happy to discuss how the confession was obtained.

The case was one of the high points of Krishnakumar’s career. In the state Assembly, the then Chief Minister Oommen Chandy praised the police for cracking the case, Krishnakumar is proud to recount. A neighbourhood group even organised a felicitation ceremony for Krishnakumar. The MP and the local MLA were among the distinguished attendees.

We spoke at his home for almost two hours. "Everybody has an opinion about illegal detention. Those who support human rights, in general, do not recognise the risks that the police take," he declared during the conversation.

He claimed that when he learned about the Devaky murder case, the first thing that crossed his mind was the story of a pickpocket whom he had apprehended.

The pickpocket targeted drunk travellers, and, just like Jayanandan, had no prior record of violent crime, according to Krishnakumar. However, Krishnakumar had the impression that the petty criminal was more complex than he let on, when he observed the man carrying about Rs 700 and sporting a gold necklace.

So, he took “urgent action" against him. But even after two days of questioning, the pickpocket remained silent. Krishnakumar claimed that he then gave the detainee “a special therapy” — and went on to describe brutal custodial torture in detail. "I will go to any length in my attempt to prove something, if I have a feeling that it is real,” he said in a taped interview.

Krishnakumar explained why this was necessary. According to him, criminals go through various stages before they spill the truth; first, they appeal to an officer's humanity by asking about their family and children; then, they play the role of the innocent victim and accept all charges; finally, they engage in protective behaviour and yell for help.

“Then we'll open every window and inform him that no one will come to get him out of there even if he dies. We gradually break his confidence,” he said. Such interrogations eventually force all perpetrators to confess to their misdeeds, and it could be done without causing external injury or damage to important organs, he claimed. The pickpocket finally confessed to a number of unsolved murders and thefts, he said.“I went to that extent in the case of this fellow (Jayanandan) also,” said Krishnakumar.

He claimed that in Jayanandan's case, a member of his team briefly considered stopping the questioning at one point out of concern that the detainee might not survive. Krishnakumar said he assured the officer that he would take accountability for everything. He avoided answering direct questions about custodial torture, however. But he did provide snippets of what transpired in the interrogation room.

"We made him run on the treadmill first," Krishnakumar said, “Then he was placed in a room where he yelled and attempted to bang his head against the walls. We were aware that he had no option but to confess after that. We were also very discreet. He was blindfolded when he was brought into the room.”

RK Krishnakumar DySP (Retd.)

The police torture that Jayanandan underwent is not documented medically. According to his post-arrest medical evaluation, he had no visible wounds. When Jayanandan was taken for evidence recovery in the Devaky murder case, village residents recalled he couldn’t walk on his own, and had to be assisted by police officials. Jayanandan’s wife Indira said that when she visited him during this time, he appeared to have been beaten up. Jayanandan later told the family that he was being kept naked and shackled in a secret chamber, while being interrogated. He alleged that he was plastered head to foot with sugar syrup, and fed to ants. He said the police used a 'chenda kol' (a thick stick used with the musical instrument chenda) to beat him, which left a mark on his head.

How did Krishnakumar get the impression that Jayanandan was a seasoned criminal?

"Let me tell you, based on that guy's [referring to Thampi] information, we know some things, right? We gauge these things with our experience. I can size up a criminal just by observing their gaze, demeanour, and other behaviours. If our minds are clear, we can understand someone extremely well, unless we have a personal stake in it,” Krishnakumar said.

It is interesting that he stressed on the fact that he had no personal stake in the matter. During my visit to Puthenvelikkara village, I had learned from the residents that Krishnakumar was a distant relative of Devaky’s. In fact, when I mentioned this to him, he candidly admitted that he was related to Devaky.

Krishnakumar described how Jayanandan confessed to the double murder of Nabeesa and Fousiya in Mala, and to another murder that Jayanandan was never charged with. He explained how he would ask detailed questions about the crime, including the direction the house was facing and whether a table was present, to obtain every piece of information from the suspect.

Jayanandan was acquitted in the Mala murder case due to lack of evidence. Krishnakumar argued that the cases were ruined when they were transferred to other officers. He claimed that the officer who retrieves evidence must be the one who records the confession.

I asked Krishnakumar what he made of Jayanandan’s personality. He instead referred to Jayanandan’s house to justify his intuition that the man was a violent criminal. “The windows and doors of his house would remain closed all morning,” he said, claiming that’s how criminals behaved. However, as described earlier, Jayanandan’s family says this is common for a fisherman who works at night and sleeps in the morning.

Krishnakumar however emphasised that Jayanandan was not convicted because of his confession alone, and that his criminality was supported by “additional evidence”. Evidence that this investigation has found is questionable.

Making a murderer

When I met Ranjith Marar, a senior lawyer who reviewed Jayanandan’s cases as part of a legal aid programme by Project 39A for death penalty convicts, the first thing he said was, "Jayanandan had poor legal representation."

"When I arrived at the Kerala High Court, I asked his then-lawyer for the necessary papers. He was unfamiliar with the case. Consider that. You're defending a capital punishment case!" he observed.

Marar’s appearance in the Devaky murder case in the Kerala High Court and the Supreme Court, the only instance where he could present a substantiate defence, made the courts consider commuting Jayanandan’s death sentence to life imprisonment. Marar believes Jayanandan is innocent of the murder, but described how grindingly difficult it is to get someone’s case back in court once convicted.

“It was not easy and probably too late to argue for an acquittal,” Marar said, “Jayanandan was a hardened criminal facing several murder accusations in the eyes of the law and the judges at the time.”

Jayanandan's unpublished autobiographical memoir provides a glimpse into his complex mind. While on one side he writes about dehumanising experiences in the jail with a tinge of humour, on the other side, he casually says that he wanted to execute a "surgery" on the stomach of a cellmate who had cheated him.

His memoirs also omit how resourceful he can be, or how he executed two jailbreaks.

He managed to escape Kerala's Central Jail in Trivandrum district in 2013 with another prisoner, breaking the lock with an iron cutter and using a rope made of bamboo and clothes to climb the outer wall. He had previously escaped from another Central Jail in Kannur in 2010 by squeezing through the bars of his cell, and unsuccessfully attempted to tunnel out of Thrissur Central Jail in 2007.

When confronted about it, he claimed the escapes were his biggest mistakes, damaging his cases and creating lifelong rivals in the police. Jayanandan said that a police officer suspended for his jailbreak framed him for an unsolved 2004 murder, which led to his arrest in December 2021. This happened just as he was appealing for a pardon on the 75th anniversary of Independence Day in 2022.

I examined the remand report in this case. It is based largely on a former cellmate's claim that Jayanandan confessed the crime to him. Jayanandan alleged he was tortured for two days in December 2021 to confess to this murder. After going through everything, he said, he didn't confess.

Who is telling the truth? Is Jayanandan the dangerous killer the police have made him out to be, or is he truly innocent as he claims?

In one of my last meetings with Jayanandan’s family I wondered what the objective of my quest was. Do all the things I found prove Jayanandan was not the Ripper? While a journalistic inquiry is not equal to a state-ordered investigation, the facts that I uncovered compel me to ask if a man can be condemned to the gallows or imprisoned for life when there could be a chance, however slim, that he may be innocent?

If nothing else, this is an attempt to illustrate the manner in which criminal investigations are pieced together in India. Project 39A's 2016 ‘Death Penalty India Report’ found that 29.8% (443 convicts) of all trial court-sentenced death penalty convicts in India between 2000 and 2015 were later acquitted by the Supreme Court. The study found that financial constraints and societal discrimination prevented most of them from getting adequate legal assistance in the first place.

Because he had no money to put up a surety, Jayanandan remained in jail until his trial without pleading for bail. His family struggled to get him proper defence and gave up when his wife was sexually assaulted by a lawyer. It is also within reason to argue that Jayanandan, as well as the court, would have been enormously better served if he could afford a proper lawyer.

This story was researched on a Project 39A, NLU Delhi fellowship. Project 39A was involved in facilitating representation for Jayanandan in the Kerala HC.

Nidheesh MK is a journalist who writes on politics, crime and business.

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