Kerala has been, for this past weekend and Sunday, rattled by a series of murders that seem unfathomable but undeniable.
Police in the southern Indian state claim that the investigation and evidence collection have been going on for a year, and this is what led to the arrest of the prime accused — Jolly Shaju, previously known as Jolly Thomas.
On Sunday, police officials told media that Jolly had confessed to all the murders, including that of her first husband, Roy.
The bodies of the other victims were exhumed on Friday for forensic analysis. [Jolly is currently married to Shaju, Roy's cousin.]
Jolly Thomas' elder son Romo told IANS on Sunday: "A crime is a crime and the wrongdoer should be punished."
"I don't want to say anything. The probe by the crime branch is on. The truth should come out. I have got to stay strong as I have a younger brother. I can't afford to let him down," the 21-year-old added.
Meanwhile, police have asked seven more people to come in to the station for questioning on Monday.
The family tree
Jolly (47), originally from Idukki, was married to Roy Thomas of Ponnamattam House in Kozhikode.
Her parents-in-law, Tom Thomas and Annamma Thomas, lived with the couple.
Roy had one brother, Rojo Thomas, who is a non-resident Indian in the United States of America.
And there was a cousin who features prominently in this saga; Shaju, Roy's relative and Jolly's current husband.
The first to die were Jolly's parents-in-law and husband Roy, followed by Annamma's brother, Mathew Manjadiyil, in 2014.
There were two other victims: Shaju's then-wife Sily, who died in 2016, and his two-year-old daughter, Alphine Shaju, who was murdered in 2014.
The police told local media houses that all six victims had been poisoned by the accused, Jolly, and that she had confessed to all the crimes after seeing all the evidence.
Jolly allegedly killed everyone in the case using cyanide-laced food or drinks, starting with her former mother-in-law Annamma Thomas in 2002.
Vadakara Rural Superintendent Police, KG Simon, told the local media that when Annamma died, followed by Tom Thomas in 2008, no one suspected foul play.
However, before Annamma died, she had been taken to the hospital after displaying signs of poisoning after consuming mutton soup.
She was sent home after doctors couldn't pinpoint the issue through routine tests. She died of her symptoms months later.
According to police reports, six years later, Tom Thomas (66) also passed away, after swooning and collapsing. Their daughter-in-law Jolly was present on the spot on both occasions.
Roy Thomas, Jolly's then husband, died after consuming rice and curry that was allegedly poisoned. He was found dead in a bathroom which was locked from the inside, according to reports.
Traces of poison
A post-mortem was conducted for Roy, at the behest of his NRI brother, Rojo, and his uncle Mathew but police said it was a case of suicide.
The postmortem had found trace amounts of poison in his system.
Since only Roy's body underwent a valid postmortem, the case against Jolly has been filed on his murder — the other cases will be added on after forensic examination of the remains exhumed victims on Friday.
Jolly had claimed at the time of his death that Roy had a heart attack.
The next to die was Mathew, Annamma's brother and Roy's uncle, who had initiated a postmortem request for Roy after suspecting something to be wrong.
While police didn't go into detail on his death, the Superintendent of Police reportedly said: “Mathew was the person who insisted the most that there should be a post-mortem on Roy.”
Mathew Manjadiyil was 68 at the time of his death and reportedly displayed similar symptoms.
Local media reports have surfaced saying Jolly confessed to giving him cyanide-laced coffee to drink.
Alphine Shaju, a toddler, died in 2014 — the same year Mathew died.
At the time, the cause of death was considered to be choking on food.
"Though the child was supposed to have choked to death, after much deliberation and studying facts, we believe that this death too showed signs of cyanide having been used,” the SP said to media.
Sily Shaju, Alphine's mother and Shaju's ex-wife, died in 2016 while at the dentist's office. Jolly was there too and police believe she laced Sily's glass of water with cyanide.
Why do this?
Jolly's ultimate goal, according to police, was to get the family property in her name.
Reports state that this was the reason why Annamma, the mother-in-law, was killed first. She reportedly handled the family's financial matters.
Jolly, who otherwise had a good relationship with her father-in-law Tom, allegedly killed him after a fallout over her and Roy's share in the family property.
The couple had a strained relationship after the parents' death and this is why, police claim, Jolly poisoned her then-husband.
She also may have thought of keeping the property to herself, police claimed. The SP added in a media statement that Roy's sister had narrowly escaped a murder attempt, similar to her family's, according to Jolly's police statement.
Mathew, who died in 2014, was the sole person who asked for more investigation into Roy's death and police consider it her motive for killing.
In the same year, toddler Alphine died, followed by her mother Sily in 2016.
Jolly had initiated a marriage arrangement with Shaju, her ex-husband's cousin, relatives claimed to media.
Shaju had lost his daughter and wife in a space of two years and after both families agreed, the widower married Jolly. Police said Jolly believed Alphine and Sily to be obstacles in her goal, which may be why she allegedly poisoned them.
Jolly married Shaju in 2017.
The husband's role
Shaju is Roy's cousin on his father's side. His wife and daughter were among the victims. He married Jolly in 2017 but claimed he had no idea about anything. Police said to media that there was currently no evidence linking Shaju to any of the deaths.
Lies and more lies?
Jolly was a commerce graduate, according to reports.
However, she had told family members, reportedly, that she was a B. Tech graduate and a visiting professor at the National Institute of Technology (NIT).
She, according to Rojo (brother of former husband Roy), forged Tom Thomas's will to show herself as the sole heir.
The property dispute and suspicious deaths of Alphine and Sily, according to reports, is what motivated Rojo to file a case.
Police have proven that she was on the scene for all six of the murders.
- Sources: Local media reports, correspondent's copy