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Murder Most Foul: Part 3 – The Killing


Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Alavandar: The Local Casanova

C. Alavandar belonged to the Hindu Vysya community of Telugu speaking ‘Komati Chettis. The members of this community are by tradition businessmen, and many of them wealthy, but Alavandar was not.

In 1952, Alavandar was about 42 years old, married and had two children. He lived in the crowded Nattu Pillaiyar Koil Street, in George Town, Madras, with his family.

After his discharge from the British-Indian Army, Alavandar got employed as a salesman at Gem and Company, the foremost dealers of fountain pens in China Bazaar, Madras, owned by M.C. Cunnan Chetty, a fellow Vysya.

Soon after the war ended in the mid-1940s, celluloid and plastic goods made their foray into the Indian market. Alavandar wanted to start a small business selling celluloid and plastic wares. Cunnan Chetty gave Alavandar a small space in the frontage of his pen company to display his celluloid and plastic wares and conduct his business.

Despite his unseemly looks, Alavandar always dressed well with a necktie or a bow-tie to boot. He was not keen on conducting business but had interest only in women. He was indubitably a womanizer, a local Casanova, romantically involved with many women.

In the early 50s, fountain pens were a prized possession. Alavandar used to allure young women by initially presenting them fancy fountain pens, building their friendship, and eventually taking them to a lodge on Broadway to have sex with them.

Alavandar also sold saris in instalments on easy payment terms. He chose this line of business mainly to inveigle women. Many of his women clients who failed to pay the instalments were willing to pay him in kind by accompanying him to lodges to have sex with him.

He regularly visited the YMCA, opposite the Madras High Court, always in the company of a woman. Once he boasted to one of his friends that he had slept with 400+ women of all communities.

One of the women he was romantically involved with was Devaki from Kerala.

In mid-1951, Devaki, then young and single, engaged in Hindi ‘prachar‘ work, came to Gem & Company to buy a fountain pen. There, she met Alavandar and the two became friends. By October that year, Alavandar took her to a lodge in George Town and slept with her. To the playboy, Devaki was just one more notch on his scabbard.

By the end of that year, Devaki broke off her relationship with Alavandar and got married to Prabhakara Menon.

After their marriage, Prabhakara Menon and Devaki went to Gem & Company. Alavandar congratulated Menon for marrying the lovely young woman. The way Alavandar behaved intimately with Devaki, sowed seeds of doubt in Menon’s mind about the fidelity of his wife. One day the newly wedded couple went to Minerva Theatre in Broadway, Madras. During the show Devaki confessed to her husband about her intimacy with Alavandar and said the womanizer was stalking her again, harassing and beseeching her to renew their relationship.

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Alavandar Murder Case - Paper cutting - 2
A paper cutting with photos of Prabhakara Menon, Devaki and Alavandar.

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The Killing

The Menons had a boy as their servant and provided him food and lodging in their house. Later on, during the murder investigation, the boy told the police that at nights sleeping on the floor near their bedroom he could hear Devaki sobbing at times. Also, he had heard Menon and Devaki talk about Alavandar and the ways to get rid of him. According to the boy, Menon had coerced his wife to bring Alavandar to their house so that he could meet out to the devil his due.

In the morning of August 28, 1952, the day of the fateful murder, Menon bought a ‘Malabar knife’. Later in the day, he gave the servant boy pocket-money and asked him to go sightseeing as he was new to Madras.

That afternoon, Alavandar came to Devaki’s house at Royapuram by rickshaw with high hopes since Devaki had told him that her husband would be away from home. Many people in the neighbourhood including the owner of the shop hiring out bicycles near Devaki’s house, had seen Alavandar going up the steps and knocking on the door. But nobody saw him coming out of that house.

As soon as Alavandar stepped inside the house and closed the door, he started physically molesting Devaki, trying to undress the unwilling woman. Prabhakara Menon, who was in the kitchen, rushed out with a knife in hand and enraged with what he saw, killed Alavandar by stabbing him.

Menon then cut off the dead person’s head using the lethal Malabar knife.

The couple packed the murdered man’s headless torso into a steel trunk. Menon transported the steel trunk to Madras Central Railway Station. On his way to the Egmore Railway Station, Menon threw the Malabar knife in a park on Broadway, Madras. With the help of an unsuspecting porter, Menon placed the steel trunk under a seat in a third class compartment of the Indo-Ceylon Express.

On returning home from the railway station, Prabhakara Menon wrapped the severed head in Alavandar’s shirt, carried it to the Royapuram beach, and buried it in the sand.

Later in the night, the couple set out for Bombay.

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← Previous: Part 2 – The Headless Cadaver

→ Next: Part 4 – The Trial and the Judgement

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Murder Most Foul: Part 1 – The Decapitated Head


Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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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.

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Randor Guy (Photo : M. Periyasamy)
Randor Guy (Photo : M. Periyasamy)

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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.

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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!”

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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.

 

→ Next: Part 2 – The Headless Cadaver

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