The murder mystery of Kerala is as heinous as the Amroha murder case, which refers to an April 2008 familicide in Uttar Pradesh by Shabnam Ali and her lover Saleem, who murdered seven members of Shabnam Ali’s family by sedating six of them and then hacking them to death; the seventh victim, a ten-month-old was murdered unsedated. There are many crime stories where a woman is the murderer of her own family for her own reasons. One of the murder cases is Jolly Joseph, a resident of Koodathai in the Kozhikode district of Kerala.
Jolly hails from Kattappana in Kerala’s Idukki district and is reportedly a first-year college dropout. Jolly was a very social and joyful person. She was the first in her family to go to college, and she was a go-getting woman who was said to have ambitions beyond the farm. Her ambitions were taken over by her greed and her greed made her mindless and cruel.
It all began after Jolly Joseph married Roy Thomas, the eldest son of Koodathai’s Ponnamattam family, whom she met during a family event at a relative’s house in 1997. Roy had a younger brother, Rojo Thomas, and a sister, Renji. They were a sophisticated family. Annamma was a working woman all her life who told Jolly to get a job herself. Annamma Thomas was a school teacher. Thomas’ family believed in her lies, as Jolly was very good at showing off. At the time of marriage, Jolly had lied about having an M.Com. degree. Her outgoing persona impressed the family and they never thought of investigating the claims made by Jolly.
After her first marriage, Jolly moved to Koodathayi. Annamma’s persistence increased after she retired as a school teacher. This bothered Jolly for a long time, and she was worried that Annamma might find out about her lies. Jolly’s only aim was to possess Roy’s properties and finances but Annamma was a hindrance to her dishonest ambitions. After retirement, Annamma started remaining at home full time. The butcheries began in 2002 with the death of Jolly’s mother-in-law, Annamma. Jolly wanted control over the family and finances. She wanted all that authority to rule the family. As per reports, Jolly’s mom-in-law was believed to have died of a cardiac arrest considering her age until the truth was exposed a decade after Jolly’s arrest in 2019. Jolly confessed her crime of killing Annamma by lacing her mutton soup with poison. Annamma was a very dominating woman. After killing Annamma, Jolly took over the family matters; her dreams of being the sole possessor of the family weren’t fulfilled as Roy was not the only heir. The couple had two grown up sons.
She killed six in all, including her first husband, Roy. In 2019, when Jolly Joseph was arrested, she shocked the entire state of Kerala as well as India. She remained in the headlines for months. Each time, Jolly managed to escape, until her brother-in-law and sister-in-law got suspicious and decided to have the deaths in the family investigated. Her only motive was said to have been an easy, lavish life. Jolly used cyanide to kill her family members with the intent of taking control over their assets. Jolly’s victims included her first husband Roy, her father-in-law Tom Thomas, her mother-in-law Annamma Thomas, Annamma’s brother Mathew Manchadiyil, her second husband Shaju’s first wife Cili, and their daughter Alphine.
After every killing, she convinced everyone around her that the deaths were natural and made-up stories to ensure there was no room for doubt. Second on Jolly’s list of victims was her father-in-law, Tom Thomas. The time difference between the two murders was six years, leaving little room for suspicion. Tom worked as a senior clerk in the education department. Jolly reportedly had her eyes set on Tom’s property as her husband Roy didn’t have a stable job to fulfil her demands. Tom owned a decent amount of land. Jolly feared he would give his property to his younger, US-settled son Rojo, and she would be left with nothing. In 2008, Tom was in Colombo, Sri Lanka, where his daughter Renji lived with her family after marriage. From there, he had planned to fly to the US. But Jolly called him back, telling him that she was pregnant and that her husband was drinking too much. Tom returned to Kerala, and soon Jolly killed him by giving him cyanide through a capsule that he used to take. At that time, it seemed to the world that Jolly was the first one to find the dead body, after which she called for help, convincing everyone that it was a cardiac arrest. Jolly had managed to get possession of her father-in-law’s title deeds and pretend to have a forged will according to which all of his properties would go to her husband, Roy, after Tom’s death.
The cyanide was supplied to Jolly by MS Mathew, with whom she had an extramarital affair. Mathew used to work for a veterinary firm. Jolly convinced Mathew to help her after telling him that her father-in-law had found out about their relationship. It was Roy’s turn now; his death gave the first ever hints of a murder. He apparently knew about her relationship with Matthew and even questioned her about it. In 2011, Roy was found lying unconscious on the floor of his bathroom, vomiting and frothing from his mouth. He was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.
Roy’s siblings and their 68-year-old uncle Mathew (not the one who is Jolly’s lover) suspected foul play and managed to get an autopsy done, which revealed the presence of cyanide in his body. Jolly, however, managed to convince the police that Roy was a depressed alcoholic and had ended his own life after falling into a huge debt. The local police did not investigate the matter further at that time.
For making a police complaint, her next target was Uncle Manchadiyil Mathew. Mathew also discovered Jolly’s relationship with MS Mathew. This made Jolly very angry. In 2014, Jolly claimed the old man’s life by mixing cyanide in his drink. He collapsed and was rushed to the hospital by Jolly herself and his neighbours, but he was dead by then. Jolly had the desire to marry Shaju Zacharias, her husband’s first cousin, given that he had a good job and was well-settled. Alphine, Shaju’s year-old daughter, became her fifth victim. Alphine was given cyanide at her sibling’s Holy Communion. The sixth victim was Shaju’s first wife, Cili. Jolly planned to kill Cili so she could marry Shaju. In 2016, she killed Cili by lacing her drink with cyanide. This happened when Cili accompanied her for a dental appointment. Since the death occurred in a public place, no one raised suspicion, and Jolly managed to escape doubt once again. A year after Cili’s death, Shaju tied the knot with Jolly.
The reality of the deaths unfolded in 2019, and it was established that all the deaths in Koodathai were murders. According to India Today reports, the case came to light when Rojo Thomas, son of Tom Thomas, filed a complaint in 2019 expressing suspicions about the deaths. After Rojo’s complaint, the police, under Kozhikode Rural SP KG Simon IPS, initiated an investigation. Following discrepancies in the initial findings, the police were prompted to open the family grave, leading to the discovery that all six deaths were, in fact, murders. Jolly was arrested on October 5, 2019, and she confessed to all her crimes. Matthew, who supplied the cyanide, was also arrested. Both remain in custody and are currently facing trial. This murder saga has become a Netflix documentary, largely based on the investigations done by India Today and other media publications.