Way back in 1952, when I was 11-years-old, a sensational murder took place in Madras (now Chennai). I remember listening to the news read out from the newspapers by the elders in our village. Even after 61 years, the gruesome details I heard about the murder still lingers in my mind.
The Alavandar murder case and trial became a cause-celebre. It aroused widespread controversy and heated public debate. Now, some details have eroded with time from people’s memory, and controversies crept in at times while recalling the incident.
Madabhushi Rangadorai born on November 8, 1937, a prominent Indian lawyer, columnist and film and legal historian associated with the English language newspaper The Hindu who sports the nom de plume Randor Guy, has written an excellent detailed account of The Alavandar Murder Case.
In 1995, a 13-part Tamil TV serial based on this murder written by Randor Guy and produced by the Dina Thanthi newspaper group was telecast by the Doordarshan Kendra in Chepauk, Chennai as a sponsored program. Though the serial wasn’t well made it proved a big hit.
The missing businessman
It all began with a complaint lodged about a missing businessman at a police station in Madras (now Chennai) on behalf of a worried housewife.
On August 29, 1952, a worried Mrs Alavandar, anxious about her husband who did not return home even after daybreak, went to Gem & Company, fountain pen dealers in China Bazaar (now Parry’s corner), Madras, where her husband had a small frontage space to display his plastic wares and conducted his business. There, the staff of the pen company told her that her husband left the shop the previous day around noon for Royapuram with a woman who came to meet him.
Mrs Alavandar immediately deduced that her husband would have gone with Devaki, a woman from Kerala, with whom he had an illicit love affair. Devaki was an attractive young college-educated woman, who involved herself in social service activities. She lived in Madras.
On reaching No. 62, Cemetery Road in Royapuram, Madras, Mrs Alavandar knocked on the door. Devaki’s husband, Prabhakara Menon, opened the door. He told Mrs Alavandar that he had not seen her husband and asserted that her husband never came to his house.
Mrs Alavandar then returned to Gem & Company and requested M.C. Cunnan Chetty, the proprietor of the firm, to go to the police, and on her behalf, he lodged a complaint at the Law College police station in Esplanade, Madras, about the missing Alavandar.
The following day, The Hindu carried a short news item about the incident with a catchy sensational headline: “CITY BUSINESSMAN MISSING!”
The Decapitated Head
A police constable attached to the Esplanade Police station pedalled his bicycle to Devaki’s house at Royapuram and found the door locked. He made enquiries and found from the neighbours that the couple, Prabhakara Menon and his wife Devaki, had left for Bombay (now Mumbai).
While pedalling back to his station, the police constable saw a parcel bobbing up and down on the shallow sea water. Out of curiosity, he went up to the seashore and picked up the package wrapped in a brown shirt. When he unwrapped it, he was shocked. There was a decapitated human head inside. The head had been undoubtedly buried the previous night in a shallow pit at the edge of the sea and the morning tide had dislodged it from the sand and washed it ashore. The shirt was later identified as belonging to Alavandar.
The discovery of the head made headline news in the press the following day.
- Murder Most Foul: Part 2 – The Headless Cadaver (tvaraj.com)
- Murder Most Foul: Part 3 – The Killing (tvaraj.com)
- Murder Most Foul: Part 4 – The Trial and the Judgement (tvaraj.com)
- Randor Guy (en.wikipedia.org)
- Alavandar murder case (en.wikipedia.org)
- The Alavandar Murder Case (crimemagazine.uitest.info)
- Chilling tales from old city (newindianexpress.com)
- The bodies in the trunks (hindu.com)