It was in October 2019 that 47-year-old Jolly Joseph, a resident of Kozhikode’s Koodathayi town, was arrested by the police. As Jolly dominated news headlines for weeks, what unravelled is a saga of murders that started in 2002 and a killer who had gotten away for years.
Jolly met Roy Thomas in 1997 at his uncle’s house in Idukki’s Kattappana district, and the duo got married soon after. Roy was the son of Tom Thomas, a retired teacher who had worked with the state education department, and Annamma Joseph, also a retired teacher. Roy had two younger siblings – his sister Renji Thomas and brother Rojo Thomas.
The bride of a highly educated family that was well respected in Koodathayi, Jolly, or Jolliamma is alleged to have felt pressure to earn her place. She pretended to work as a lecturer in the Commerce Department at an institute in NIT Calicut in Mukkam for more than a decade but did not really have a job. She drove towards the college every single day and sometimes would just sit around in the canteen. But within years, Jolly felt threatened by her position in the house, wanting to corner the family’s wealth and that is how the murders began, according to the police.
The first death took place in 2002 when Jolly’s mother-in-law Annamma passed away after she consumed mutton soup at home. This was however, not the first time that Annamma had fallen sick. A few months before that too she had collapsed after drinking soup, but doctors revived her. It was believed that Annamma died of a heart attack.
Six years later in 2008, Jolly‘s father-in-law Tom Thomas collapsed inside the bathroom on the ground floor of their house. Doctors in the Shanthi Hospital in Omassery where he was rushed declared that he died following a heart attack. No post-mortem was conducted on either of their bodies.
Immediately after Tom’s death, Jolly produced an unsigned will, in which he had given most of the property to Roy and Jolly. Though the other siblings disbelieved it, they did not have any grounds to challenge Jolly’s version.
In 2011, Jolly’s husband Roy Thomas also collapsed and died in the bathroom on the ground floor of their house in a similar manner. Roy too had experienced seizures before his death, just like his parents. In Roy’s case, a post-mortem was done and it revealed traces of cyanide in his body. But this was not investigated further as the Kodencherry police closed the case calling it a death by suicide. Jolly insisted he had taken his own life due to financial issues.
In 2014, a 2-year-old child in the family - Alphine Shaju - passed away similarly. Alphine was the daughter of Shaju, Roy Thomas’s first cousin. The same year saw another death – that of Mathew Manjadiyil – a retired army man and Annamma’s brother who passed away mysteriously.
Two years after Alphine’s death, Shaju’s wife Cily passed away after she collapsed at a dental clinic. Cily too had experienced seizures and as a result, had froth in her mouth when she died. Barely a year after Cily’s death, Shaju and Jolly got married.
According to the police, the motive differed from person to person. While property was the reason in a few, anger and passion seem to have been the motive behind other crimes, the police claim.
In Annamma Thomas’s case, the police allege that Jolly’s motive was to eliminate the decision-maker of the house. Moreover, Annamma doubted Jolly's claim that she was a postgraduate. These suspicions led Jolly to fake a job for more than a decade. After Annamma’s death, Roy and Jolly lived on good terms with his father Tom Jose. Tom encouraged his daughter-in-law to learn to drive and even sold a property and deposited the money in her account. However, a severe fallout happened after he sold two more properties and decided to give the money to his other children. This is believed to be the reason why he was killed in August 2008.
Roy Thomas and Jolly's relationship allegedly deteriorated significantly because of his alcoholism and this was the alleged reason behind his murder.
The next person to die in the family was Annamma’s brother Mathew Manjadiyil, in the year 2014. Mathew became a target as he was suspicious about Roy’s death and kept insisting that there should be a second post-mortem and an investigation. The police also believe that Jolly killed Roy as she had already decided that a marriage with Shaju, a teacher, would be beneficial for her. This is why after Roy, she targeted Shaju’s child and wife.
The police normally investigate a case of death only if foul play is alleged or a complaint is filed by someone related to the victim. In these deaths, no suspicions were raised. Moreover, most families view post-mortem as a violation of the body and do not insist on it. Hospitals are also not obligated to report suspicious deaths unless the family raises a complaint.
Retired forensic surgeon Dr Sherly Vasu then told TNM, “It’s the responsibility of the local people’s representative to inform the police about death as per the Panchayati Raj Act. A committee should be constituted as per the Act in the presence of whom the police should conduct the inquest. A hospital will issue a death certificate, if nothing untoward about the death is found prima facie. The responsibility is primarily with the ward member, which I don’t think is followed in Kerala.”
It was after the death of Roy Thomas that suspicions began to rise. Though cyanide was found in his body, the police had closed the case calling it a death by suicide. But Roy’s brother Rojo insisted that something was wrong.
Rojo Thomas submitted a petition to the Vadakara police and subsequently, the bodies of all the six deceased were exhumed and examined in detail, revealing their deaths to be murders. Later, in October 2019, the police arrested Jolly, her friend MS Mathew who allegedly procured the cyanide for her, Prijikumar, the goldsmith who allegedly supplied Mathew with the cyanide, and Manoj, who helped with forging the will.
In February 2020, Jolly attempted death by suicide in police custody by biting her wrist.
Jolly, the first accused in the murders, was charged with homicide, criminal conspiracy, and forging documents. Mathew and Prijikumar were charged with conspiracy and incitement, and Manoj with forgery.
The case is in the trial stage at the Kozhikode Additional Sessions court, and advocate BA Aloor, who appeared for Jolly, argued that she had been arrayed as an accused without sufficient evidence against her. Jolly had filed a discharge petition before the Sessions court citing lack of evidence, but the court discharged it. She approached the Kerala High Court as well, but the HC refused to interfere with the decision of the Sessions Court.
Meanwhile, in March 2023, Manorama reported that a close friend of Jolly’s named Johnson told the court that she had disclosed to him that she committed all six murders. He also said that Jolly had sought his help to remove the mortal remains of the deceased from their burial vaults.
Jolly’s siblings Babu Joseph and Tomy Joseph also told the court that she had confessed to the crime.