Jolly Joseph and 3 accused remanded to police custody for six days
The preliminary hearing in two of the six cases relating to Koodathayi serial killings will start on August 8. Image Credit: Social media

Dubai: Trials for the Koodathayi serial killings that rocked the south Indian state of Kerala last year, are set to begin on August 8. Early in October, in 2019, a murder mystery unfolded, in which a 47-yer-old woman named Jolly Joseph had used cyanide to kill six people of the Ponnamattam family, including a two-year-old, over a span of 14 years.

Reportedly, the preliminary hearing in two of the six cases, against Joseph, the prime accused, is set for Saturday, August 8. And, the charge sheet in all the cases have been submitted in court.

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What is a preliminary hearing?

The preliminary hearing under Section 226 (opening case for prosecution) of the Indian Code of Criminal Procedure, is basically a legal procedure to hear the prosecution and defence sides, before the court officially frames the charges, and reads out the charge sheet to the accused.

Jolly Joseph: What we know so far

Last year, in October, a man named Rojo Thomas, a non-resident Indian living in the United States, grew suspicious about the death of his parents, brother and other family members, which happened over 14 years. He complained to the police, and demanded a reinvestigation into cases that had been previously closed as “unnatural deaths”.

Following this, a team of police officials and forensic medicine experts opened burial vaults at St Lourde's Church in Koodathayi, and St Mary's Church in Kodencherry, in Kerala's Kozhikode district, where the family members had been buried. Little did they expect a murder mystery behind the serial deaths to unravel.

Soon the investigators zeroed in on Jolly Joseph, Roy Thomas' (Rojo’s brother) former wife. For years, Joseph talked about how her house was cursed, blaming it for the unexplained deaths.

Jolly Joseph's current house
In 1997 after marrying Roy Thomas, the unemployed son of a popular local couple, Joseph moved into Thomas's family home, a pastel pink spacious house, with an iron fence.

Her mother-in-law apparently died from a mysterious illness. At least three of her close relatives suffered fatal heart attacks, and her two-year-old niece choked to death on a piece of food.

But in October, Kerala police presented a different theory - they alleged, Joseph had poisoned each of them, by giving them cyanide-laced food, and then covered up her crimes with lies.

Jolly Joseph is now in Kozhikode district jail. Here is a dossier of all the developments of the serial murders which State Police Chief Loknath Behra described as a "challenging probe".

The mother-of-two seemed to be a pious, jovial person, neighbors said. Every day, she left home, on the pretext of going to her job as a professor at the prestigious National Institute of Technology Calicut (NIT) university, about a half-hour away from home, according to police. She was smart and spent her spare time helping in church activities.

Neighbours never had a shadow of doubt on Jolly until the very recent turn of events.

“Jolly Joseph was the perfect daughter-in-law. She was very smart and efficient. She participated in the community, organised things, people liked her,” Manojkumar T. T. Koodathayi, member of the local Omasserry Gram Panchayat, told Gulf News.

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On October 5, police arrested Jolly Joseph, 47, for the murders. They also arrested jewellery employee and relative M S Mathew (Shaji) and goldsmith Prajikumar, 48 for providing cyanide to Jolly Jospeh.

Koodathayi killings: A timeline

Jolly murders family tree
This family tree, published by Manorama Online, shows the family tree and how Jolly (blue box) - the accused - was connected to each victim. Image Credit: Manorama Online

On August 22, 2002, Joseph’s mother-in-law, Annamma fell unconscious immediately after drinking some mutton soup. She was hospitalised and later died. According to police, Jolly killed her mother-in-law Annamma to gain control over the finances at home.

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Six years later, Tom Thomas, her father-in-law also passed away, after swooning and collapsing. Police said Jolly killed  Thomas to seize the family’s property. Reportedly, Thomas had given her the money from the sale of a two-acre paddy field. He also told her that she would not have rights over the remaining property, which would be divided between his son and daughter.

However, it was later found that Jolly forged Thomas' will, which said the family property should be given to Jolly, and her husband Roy.

In 2011, Jolly killed her husband Roy Thomas. He had an alcohol problem, and did not have a steady income. Allegedly, she mixed cyanide in his rice and chickpea curry.

Roy Thomas and Jolly Joseph
Roy Thomas and Jolly Joseph Image Credit: Social media

The cause of death was then ruled as suicide due to financial issues as the post-mortem report showed traces of poison.

She later killed MM Mathew, Roy Thomas’ maternal uncle, after he cried foul over Roy's death. Mathew had demanded a post-mortem on the previous deaths. Mathew's wife not at home that day, and Jolly mixed cyanide in his coffee.

After Roy's death, Jolly married Roy Thomas’ paternal cousin Shaju (who is the son of the Tom Thomas' brother).

In 2016, she also killed Shaju's two-year-old daughter Alphine, by giving her a piece of bread that had cyanide on it, and Shaju’s wife Sily. While it was first suspected that Shaju had a part to play in the murders, he was later let off after police interrogation.

Jolly new 1
Jolly Joseph arrested for Alphine's murder. Image Credit: Supplied

During investigations, it was found that Joseph had introduced herself as a teacher at the National Institute of Technology at Kozhikode, and she had even forged the institution's identity card. She told her relatives that she was a commerce teacher at NIT.

On October 7, reports suggested the suspected involvement of police, and local politicians, in helping Joseph.

It was later found that Jolly Joseph had also tried to kill her husband Roy's sister Renji, by giving her a poisoned Ayurvedic tonic.

After intense rounds of questioning, the police raided Joseph’s house, car, and the Omasserry Bank where her financial dealings took happened.

Soon, as crucial evidence, a substance obtained from the dashboard of Jolly's car tested positive as cyanide. A sample of cyanide was also discovered from the Ponnamattom house

After fourteen weeks of investigation, finally, on January 1, a 1,800-pages long charge sheet was filed at the Thamarassery magistrate court in Kerala, India. This was pertaining to the alleged murder of her first husband Roy Thomas. Jolly Joseph was named as the prime accused.

She was formally charged with murder, destruction of evidence and Section 6 (2) of the Indian Poison Act for crimes committed using poison.

After four other charge sheets, the final charge sheet was submitted on February 10.

By now, police had concluded that while Jolly used cyanide in eliminating five of the six, in the case of her mother-in-law Annamma, she used the poison normally given to kill rabid dogs and sourced it from a veterinary clinic on the grounds that she wanted to eliminate her dog.

After being arrested, Jolly was housed at the Kozhikode District jail. On February 27, Joseph attempted suicide in jail, she first bit her wrists, and then rubbed it against the tiles and injured herself, according to a statement that was given to the police in the hospital.

The courts that heard the bail pleas of Jolly and her accomplices have refused to grant it, as the police had informed the courts that she is a person with suicidal tendencies.