Murder without mayhem: Chilling facts behind the Koodathayi killings

Jolly Joseph, a resident of Koodathayi village in Kozhikode district, has confessed to plotting and killing six family members, including a two-year-old, over more than a decade. Mohamed Nazeer pieces together the chilling facts behind the tragedy.

October 12, 2019 12:15 am | Updated December 03, 2021 07:10 am IST

The Ponnamattom family tomb at Lourdes Matha Church, Koodathayi in Kerala’s Kozhikode district.

The Ponnamattom family tomb at Lourdes Matha Church, Koodathayi in Kerala’s Kozhikode district.

It looks as if a storm has passed. The surroundings of Lourdes Matha Church, located on a hillock at Koodathayi village in Kozhikode district of Kerala, wear a deserted look on the hot afternoon of October 9. Just days earlier, forensic personnel had landed at the cemetery attached to the church and exhumed the bodies of four family members buried there, as part of the District Crime Branch’s investigation into the mysterious deaths of two branches of the Ponnamattom ‘tharavadu’ family (ancestral family) over 14 years.

Jolly Joseph, 47, who is in police custody, is the prime suspect in the murder case of her 40-year-old husband Roy Thomas. But in a chilling confession, Jolly has said that she plotted and executed not only Roy’s murder but also the murder of five others : her father-in-law Tom Thomas, 66; her mother-in-law Annamma Thomas, 57; Annamma’s brother Mathew Manchadiyil, 68; her second husband Shaju Zakharias’s first wife Sily, 41; and Shaju and Sily’s two-year-old daughter Alphine. The case has shaken the quiet town and suddenly thrust it into headlines across the country.

The cemetery where the four bodies were exhumed stands testimony to the tragedy. The inscription on the granite plaque that covers one of the nearly three dozen family tombs reads like an eerie roll call:

“In loving memory of:

Annamma Thomas

Born: 28-04-1945

Died: 22-08-2002

Tom Thomas

Born: 01-05-1942

Died: 26-08-2008

Roy Thomas

Born: 13-05-1971

Died: 30-09-2011”


Another tomb carries the inscription of Mathew M.M., who died on February 24, 2014. Alphine, who died on May 3, 2014, and her mother Sily, who died on January 11, 2016, are buried at the cemetery of the St. Mary’s Church at Kodanchery. Their bodies were also exhumed on October 4.

‘I would have been next’

It was in the 1950s and 60s that the families of Roy Thomas and Shaju Zakharia settled in the eastern parts of Kozhikode district. Roy and Shaju’s grandparents were among the hundreds of thousands of Christian settlers who had migrated from the southern and central parts of the State and settled near the foothills of the western flank of the Western Ghats in the northern Malabar region of Kerala. They tilled the land to mainly cultivate rubber. Roy hailed from the branch settled at Koodathayi, around 40 km from Kozhikode city. Shaju is from the Ponnamattom offshoot settled at Pulikkayam, a village near Kodanchery located around 10 km further east. The house at Koodathayi where Roy, his brother Rojo, sister Renji, and his young sons — a 20-year old who is studying hotel management in Shimla and a 14-year old — had been born and brought up is unoccupied now. Shaju, a school teacher, lives in his parents’ house near Kodanchery.


Shaju looks worn out; he has spent the past few days going in and out of the office of the District Crime Branch in Payyoli, a town north of Kozhikode city. He has been quizzed for more hours than he can count about the bizarre tragedy that has struck the family. He denies knowing anything about the crimes committed by Jolly. “Two months after Sily’s death, Jolly called me over the phone and proposed that we get married. But I insisted that I will marry her only after the first death anniversary of Sily,” he says. “Now I realise how perfectly she acted, leaving nothing that will expose her lies. I would have been her next victim, if she had not been arrested now.”

A series of murders

Meanwhile, after interrogating the prime suspects in the case, the investigating team has sketched a picture of the case. And even this eerie account, they say, is probably not the full story. The police say that more deaths could have taken place in the family if Jolly and two of her suspected accomplices had not been arrested following the investigation launched two months ago after the District Police Chief (Kozhikode Rural) K.G. Simon received a complaint from Roy’s brother, Rojo Thomas, who lives in the U.S., and sister Renji, who lives in central Kerala. Rojo had obtained Roy’s post-mortem report only then. According to the investigators, the victims were poisoned to death in a plot so bizarre that local people who know the family are still in disbelief. Says Sanju Devasya, 32, a lab assistant at St. Mary’s Higher Secondary School at Koodathayi: “When we heard about the arrest of Jolly and her confession, we were shocked. She was a respected person in the area and no one could believe that she could do such horrible things.”


Following the complaint lodged by Roy’s siblings, Jolly was arrested on October 5 for allegedly killing her husband. The police say that the investigators are gathering more incriminating evidence to prove her involvement in the suspected poisoning of five others in the family.

“What prompted Rojo and Renji to seek investigation into the death of Roy was the contradiction in what Jolly told us all about Roy’s post-mortem report,” says Muhammad Bava, a neighbour who was a close friend of Roy. Roy died on the night of September 30, 2011, after eating his dinner of puttu and kadala curry. Jolly initially told relatives that he had died of a heart attack, say investigators who are piecing the story together. But Roy’s maternal uncle and neighbour Mathew insisted that an autopsy be done. When the report found cyanide in his body, Jolly changed the story and claimed that her husband was an alcoholic who had personal issues. The family believed that it was a suicide, but did not want to make it an issue as they thought it would affect their reputation, the investigators say. Jolly had also claimed that Roy had died before eating his dinner. The autopsy found that he had eaten nearly 15 minutes before his death.

Also read: Prevention of autopsy affecting evidence gathering in cases

It was her remarriage to Shaju a year after Shaju’s wife’s death that caused suspicion among Roy’s siblings, says Bava. It was Bava, a businessman, who helped Rojo secure the post-mortem report through the Right to Information Act.

Mathew insisted that an autopsy be done as he believed that his sister, Annamma, who had been a teacher in a local lower primary school, had died in a similar way with similar symptoms nine years earlier. Annamma had vomited, frothed at the mouth, collapsed and died after drinking a bowl of mutton soup. That was the first death in the family, and was treated as a natural death.

Six years later, in 2008, Annamma’s husband Tom Thomas, a retired officer in the Education Department, died, also after eating food. After Roy’s death in 2011, Mathew died in 2014. Mathew was alone at his home at the time of his death, according to the police. It was Jolly who informed the neighbours that she had gone to give Mathew coffee and had found that he had collapsed.

“When Mathew was brought here, he was unconscious. He had suffered a cardiac arrest,” says M.K. Mubarak, Administrator of Shanthi Hospital at the nearby town of Omassery. Since Mathew was undergoing treatment for a heart-related ailment in the hospital from 2012, his death too was viewed as natural. There was nothing suspicious about it, he says.

Barely three months after Mathew’s death, Alphine — Shaju and Sily’s daughter — was brought to the same hospital in a serious condition. The hospital records show that she was brought at 11 a.m. on May 1, 2014. Alphine’s pulse rate was low and she was suffering from respiratory distress. Those who brought her to the hospital told the duty doctor that she had experienced breathing problems while eating food. She was immediately referred to a hospital in Kozhikode where she died two days later. The police say that Jolly was in the house at Kodanchery when the child developed respiratory problems. Two years later, the child’s mother, Sily, died, also under mysterious circumstances.

Jolly, the prime accused in the Koodathayi murder case, being taken to Thamarassery judicial first class magistrate court from Kozhikode district jail. Photo: Special Arrangement

Jolly, the prime accused in the Koodathayi murder case, being taken to Thamarassery judicial first class magistrate court from Kozhikode district jail. Photo: Special Arrangement


Shaju recalls the day Sily died. It was January 11, 2016. He had an appointment with a local dentist at around 4:30 p.m. Sily, an accountant at the local church office, had gone for a relative’s marriage reception at Kodanchery with Jolly. The 14-year-old sons of Sily and Jolly had also accompanied them. After the function, the two women and children went to meet Shaju at the dentist’s clinic. While he was seated in the dentist’s chair, Shaju recalls hearing his son scream. He and the dentist ran to the lobby of the clinic and found Sily lying on Jolly’s lap and shaking violently. They thought she had epileptic fits, much like she had two years ago. They rushed her to Shanthi Hospital immediately.

“The patient was brought here at around 5 p.m. in an unconscious state and with symptoms of epileptic fits,” says Mubarak. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation was done, but Sily was declared dead by 6:25 p.m. The cause of death, according to hospital records, was epileptic cardiopulmonary arrest. The family members who accompanied the patient declined the doctor’s suggestion for a post-mortem because there was no suspicion, say hospital authorities.


Jolly was present every time the family members developed health complications. During interrogation after her arrest, Jolly confessed to killing all the six by poisoning, the officers say. The investigators are now awaiting the report of the forensic examination of the samples taken from the exhumed bodies.

‘Affable, well behaved’

Jolly was born in a middle-class family at Vazhavara in Idukki. She came to Koodathayi as a bride following her marriage to Roy in 1998. The fifth of the six children of C.J. Joseph and Thresia, now settled at Kattappana in Idukki, she studied at St. Mary’s school at Vazhavara and completed her pre-degree course at MES College at Nedumkandam.


The police say Jolly lives up to her name: she is affable. Neighbours say she was always well behaved and helpful . She used to participate actively in local prayer gatherings and festivals of the local parish and social meetings. They address her as “teacher”, as she ‘taught’ at the National Institute of Technology, Calicut (NIT-C), located 22 km north east of Kozhikode. “Who would not respect a person who was a faculty member at a prestigious institution,” asks K.P. Kunhammad, Koodathayi ward member in the Omassery panchayat. Jolly used to leave her house and return at the same time on working days, so there nothing odd in her behaviour, he says. In the Crime Branch investigation, it was found that Jolly used to leave her house in the morning to “teach” business administration students at NIT-C. However, instead of going to the institute, she allegedly camped at a beauty parlour at Mukkom.

It remains a mystery how Jolly lived with a fake identity for nearly 14 years. She forged an NIT-C identity card as well as a postgraduation course certificate and a certificate for clearing the University Grants Commission test. She ensured her presence in the institute’s campus whenever her family friends visited the campus. According to investigators, she started posing as a lecturer at NIT-C from 2005. During the interrogation, Jolly said she told her neighbours that she had a B. Tech degree, investigators say. Further investigation revealed that she had joined a B. Com degree course in a private institution at Pala.


“She appears to be an accomplished performer. Perhaps that’s how she managed to pose as a faculty member at NIT-C for 14 years,” says Simon, who is leading the investigation. “When we received the complaint raising suspicion about the deaths, we got the list of the NIT staff, including faculty members, who have worked there since 2011. We found that nobody by the name of Jolly had worked there.” The police also found that Jolly had no B.Tech degree as she had claimed, he says.

The motive

Based on preliminary investigation and Jolly’s confession, investigating officers say that all the six family members were killed by poisoning. Two accomplices have been arrested, the police say. One of them is Praji Kumar, a goldsmith who illegally possessed cyanide for the purpose of gold processing. The other is M.S. Mathew, an employee in a jewellery store who procured it from Praji Kumar purportedly for killing rats.

Money was the motive behind the elaborately planned murders, Simon says. Jolly killed Annamma because it was she who ran the family affairs and managed its finances. She then killed Tom Thomas after securing a will transferring his property. When that ‘will’ was found to be legally invalid, she arranged to fake a will that satisfied legal requirements. She then poisoned Roy in order to have control over the family property, which included the house and the land on which it stood. She landed Shaju’s property after marrying him. She first killed Shaju’s daughter Alphine, he says, because she knew that the child would be a burden for her after her marriage to Shaju. According to Simon, this explains why she left Shaju’s adolescent son unharmed. The final obstacle to her plan to marry Shaju was Sily. “She showed no sign of remorse during interrogation,” Simon says.


“Pathological lying, lack of remorse about an act, superficial charm and an excellent ability to cover up the crime are indications of a personality disorder,” says C.J. John, a Kochi-based psychiatrist. Moreover, one unsolved crime committed by such a person serves as a reinforcement or encouragement for committing another, he says.

Rarely have such cold-blooded acts of crime been accomplished without raising any serious suspicion — and for so long. Jolly served all the victims food, provided care and even accompanied them to hospital — all to to execute her well planned script.

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