Two old murder cases have not faded from Madras’ collective memory. One involved C. N. Lakshmikanthan, a brazen practitioner of scurrilous journalism, and the other, Alavandar, a small-time businessman and reportedly a womaniser of Casanova proportions.

These cases, which attracted intense media attention and public curiousity in the 40s and 50s, continue to be hot topics for nostalgia-driven soirees and newspaper columns. Even bloggers have revisited them, raking up the sordid details that made them sensational in their times.

Sleaze played a big part in sustaining interest in both the cases, which were however dissimilar on other counts.

The Lakshmikanthan stabbing case, as it was known, rode on the popularity of the people involved, directly and indirectly.

Lakshmikanthan, who ran magazines of spurious journalistic value, first Cinema Thoothu and then Hindu Nesan, ferreted out information about the private lives of renowned citizens, including filmstars and businesspersons, and traded on it. He grew rich off their fear that these stories would make it to the press. In the process, he made implacable enemies.

He found this out on November 8 in 1944, when a group of unidentified men stabbed him. The case still remains unsolved. But in the days following the murder, investigators made headline-grabbing arrests, including those of M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, a superstar of those times, and legendary comedian N.S. Krishnan. They were convicted and languished in prison for three years, before a retrial found them innocent.

In contrast, the Alavandar murder case had no big names but generated as much interest with its details scandalising Madras. P.P. Menon and his wife Devaki were found guilty of the murder of Alavandar, who was the woman’s former lover. Alavandar had been pestering Devaki to renew their relationship.

On Alavandar, film historian and writer Randor Guy, says, “Whenever I went to YMCA Esplanade to play table tennis, I would see him there. He would walk in, wearing a bowtie, and with a girl in tow. He sold plastic goods from a portion at Gem and Company. He was not interested in business, only in women. He also sold sarees on instalments, just to connect with them,”

On August 28, 1952, Menon murdered Alavandar with Devaki’s help, and tried to cover their tracks by burying the severed head at Royapuram beach, and then cramming the headless trunk into a box and leaving it on the Indo-Ceylon Express. C.B. Gopalakrishna, who specialised in forensic medicine, helped crack the case. But the couple got away with a light sentence.

The trial generated tremendous interest among the public. People flocked to the hearings. They lapped up booklets that provided lurid details about the case, including a sketch of a severed head.

In 1995, Doordarshan telecast a serial Álavandar Kolai Valakku, based on a work by Randor Guy.

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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