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Murder Most Foul: Part 4 – The Trial and the Judgement


.Myself

By T. V. Antony Raj

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Fiat justitia ruat caelum
(‘Let justice be done though the heavens fall.’)

Fiat justitia ruat caelum

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A team of Madras City Police travelled to Bombay in search of the Menons. With the help of the Bombay police, they traced the relatives with whom the Menons were staying.

When the police arrived, Devaki Menon who had undergone an abortion was resting at the home of her husband’s relatives. Prabhakara Menon was not there. He had gone out and the police traced him to the Chowpatty Beach, Girgaum. Menon had shaved off his moustache, nevertheless, the police recognized him. One member of the Madras police took out a fountain pen from Menon’s pocket. The pen had the initials of Alavandar.

The police arrested Devaki and Prabhakara Menon. A Bombay City Magistrate charging them with the murder of Alavandar, and other miscellaneous charges, remanded them to custody. The arrested couple was brought to Madras.

A team of top Madras police officials investigated the murder and gathered evidence for the trial assisted by Dr N. Pitchandi and Dr C.B. Gopalakrishna, the Police Surgeon, Madras, and consultant for a few other states in India, and to the Indian Army.

The Malabar knife used by Prabhakara Menon to decapitate and amputate the body of the dead Alavandar, which he later threw in a park in Broadway, Madras, was found by the park attendant, who in turn gave it to his mistress. The police recovered it from the woman to include it as evidence. They found the shop where Menon bought it on the morning of the killing.

The police also found the blood-stained sari worn by Devaki Menon at the time of the murder, and while helping her husband to dismember the dead body.

As there were no eyewitnesses to Alavandar’s murder, the police tried to make a deal with Devaki Menon by suggesting that she would be given the state’s pardon for her role in the murder if she gave evidence against her husband. But she turned down the offer since she believed that her husband killed Alavandar to save her honour.

The Trial

The trial came up for hearing at the Madras High Court Original Criminal Sessions before the renowned Judge, Mr Justice A. S. P. Iyer (Ayilam Subramania Panchapakesan Iyer).

The eminent lawyer S. Govind Swaminathan was the State Prosecutor. Advocates B.T. Sundararajan and S. Krishnamurthy appeared for the two accused.

The trial by jury was then in force in Madras High Court. A panel of nine jurors, some of whom were noted citizens of Madras, was sworn in was sworn in.

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HOARY HALL - A view of a hall in the Madras High Court (Photo: K. N. Chari)
HOARY HALL – A view of a hall in the Madras High Court (Photo: K. N. Chari)

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Large crowds thronged at the hearings of this sensational trial. On March 13, 1953, according to the Indian Express, “… the crowd in the courtroom became unmanageable, delaying the proceedings.”

The next day was no different. The veranda, leading to the court hall, was so crowded it made entry into the court hall difficult. The police bundobusts (arrangements) were meagre, and reserve police were called in.

The couple, Prabhakara Menon and his wife Devaki, pleaded “not guilty” to the various charges including murder.

The prosecutor Govind Swaminathan built up a strong case of a planned murder of Alavandar by the couple. He stated that the servant boy of the Menons told the police that he heard Menon and Devaki discuss the ways to get rid of Alavandar and that Prabhakara Menon had pressurized his wife to bring Alavandar to their house so that he could give the devil his due. It was a case of killing the snake that strayed into one’s home.

Defending advocate, B. T. Sundararajan, argued that the killing was not pre-meditated as suggested by the prosecution. Prabhakara Menon was provoked to murderous fury by the playboy who assailed his wife Devaki in their own house, with the intention of having sex with her against her will. The defence lawyer stated: “It was done out of grave provocation and in self-defence. It is a homicide and not murder.

What is the difference between “homicide” and “murder”? In fact, most people use these two terms interchangeably.

A homicide is the killing of one human being by another. The killing may be accidental or intentional; it may or may not be done with criminal intent. If one kills a man accidentally or in self-defence, it would be considered “homicide”; similarly, if one runs over an individual intentionally, it would be considered “homicide”. It is a neutral term. So, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and vehicular homicide all are types of homicides that are not murders.

Black’s Law Dictionary edited by the world’s foremost American legal lexicographer, Bryan A. Garner, is the definitive legal resource for American lawyers, law students and laypeople alike. It is known for its clear and precise legal definitions, substantive accuracy, and stylistic clarity – making it the most cited legal dictionary in print. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the word homicide merely “describes the act, it pronounces no judgment on the moral or legal quality”.

Murder, on the other hand, is an illegal act that usually involves some degree of premeditation or intention to kill. Murder is punishable by death under Article 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

The word “murder” has a negative connotation associated with it. The police force in the United States has a Homicide Department, but not a Murder Department.

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The Judgement

Gavel

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Justice A. S. P. Iyer, a person ingrained in the ancient Hindu tradition opined that the victim, Alavandar, the scallywag, was a disgrace to humanity and deserved to be eliminated. He considered the killing as a “justifiable execution of an unwanted rascal.”

After the lengthy trial, Justice A. S. P. Iyer’s summing-up to the jury swerved in favour of the two accused. He accepted and supported the sudden and grave provocation theory put forward by the defence, taking into consideration the interests of the society and its morals. However, some people felt that his indulgence towards the accused couple from Kerala prejudiced because he too hailed from Kerala, from the agraharam in Ayilam Gramam, 320 km from Palakkad. However, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of ‘guilty’ against both the accused.

However, the jury returned a unanimous verdict of guilty against both the accused.

On August 13, 1953, accepting the verdict of the Jury, Justice A. S. P. Iyer sentenced Prabhakara Menon to seven years rigorous imprisonment for culpable homicide and Devaki to three years in prison.

The top police officials who were eager to get the maximum punishment of death by hanging for Prabhakara Menon, the first accused, were sorely disappointed by the sentence.

Menon wanted to appeal against the sentence. But his lawyer, B.T. Sundararajan, advised him not to, now that he had escaped with a light sentence thanks to the judge. Menon accepted his lawyer’s advice and did not appeal.

The Menons were released early due to their good conduct in prison, and they shifted back to their native state, Kerala. In their prayer room, the couple placed a photo of Justice A.S.P.  Iyer along with the gods and goddesses venerated by them.

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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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Murder Most Foul: Part 2 – The Headless Cadaver


Myself . 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The Boat Mail Train aka the Indo-Ceylon Express

In the 1950s, there was much traffic between India and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) by land and sea. The Boat Mail train, aka the Indo-Ceylon Express plied between Chennai (then Madras) and Dhanushkodi on the Bay of Bengal. It took almost 19 hours to complete the journey of 675 kilometers.

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Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.
Ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar in the 1950s.

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After the Boat Mail train reached Dhanushkodi Pier at 15:05 hours in the afternoon, the passengers after alighting from the train crossed the Palk Strait using the steamer ferry service from Dhanushkodi Pier to Talaimannar Pier in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The ferry steamer used to leave the Indian shore soon after 16:00 hours. It took about 3½ hours for the crossing.

The era of the Boat Mail came to an end after a cyclonic storm with high-speed winds, and high tidal waves struck South India and northern Ceylon between December 22 and 25, 1964. The entire town of Dhanushkodi was completely submerged with heavy casualties. The railway line running from Pamban Station to Dhanushkodi Pier was destroyed, and a passenger train with over 100 passengers drowned in the sea.

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 The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964
The railway track in Dhanushkodi destroyed by the cyclone of December 22, 1964

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Years later, the name of the train changed from Indo-Ceylon Express to Rameswaram Express.

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The Headless Cadaver Crammed in a Steel Trunk

As the day dawned on August 29, 1952, the Indo-Ceylon Express was nearing Manamadurai. The passengers in a third class compartment started complaining about the stench emanating from a steel trunk placed under a seat and the foul-smelling gooey fluid that oozed from it. The train had left Madras Egmore railway station at 20:00 hours the previous night, on its way to Dhanushkodi.

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Alavandar murder case - steel trunk

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When the train came to a halt at the Manamadurai Junction at 10:15 AM, the Railway Police detained the compartment. The local police opened the steel trunk in the presence of witnesses and were shocked to see a headless nude male cadaver crammed inside, along with severed limbs.

Since the penis was circumcised and the victim was wearing green socks on his feet, the colour preferred by most Muslims, the police concluded that the murder victim was a Muslim. However, the police overlooked the thick string around the waist, usually worn by Hindu men, even today, to hold the loincloth in its place and did not place any importance on it.

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The First Autopsy in Madurai

Manamadurai was then part of the Ramnad district. At the district headquarters in Madurai, the District Medical Officer Dr Krishnaswamy, a radiologist, performed the autopsy on the headless corpse at the Erskine Hospital, (now Madurai Medical College). He took X-rays, and his report said the headless trunk belonged to a male of 25 years of age. Unfortunately, this conclusion was not quite correct.

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The Second Autopsy in Madras

Meanwhile, the headless corpse was brought from Madurai to the Forensic Department of Madras Medical College where Dr C. B. Gopalakrishna, Assistant Professor of Forensic Medicine at Madras Medical College carried out a fresh autopsy.

The autopsy result said the head was slightly decomposed. A sharp weapon had been used to sever the head at the cervical vertebra, and a piece of bone was missing. Nevertheless, the cervical vertebra of the head and the trunk fitted perfectly confirming that they belonged to the same person aged between 42 and 45. The missing Alavandar was 42.

Two teeth had peculiar formation, over-riding one on another. At the mortuary, Mrs Alavandar, after looking at the severed head and the peculiarly formed teeth – a solitary black tooth along with two teeth over-riding one on another, and the pierced earlobes, she confirmed that the corpse was that of her husband.

That Alavandar was an opium addict came to light when the narcotic was found in the dead person’s stomach. He might have consumed it as an aphrodisiac, or as a relief from his frequent asthma attacks.

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→ Next: Part 3 – The Killing

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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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Justice K. Chandru “A People’s Judge” Retires


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Justice Chandru
Justice K. Chandru

In India and elsewhere, when a High Court Judge retires, it is usual for all the judges of the High Court would to assemble a meeting in the Court of the Chief justice and the Advocate General would deliver a farewell speech followed by a photo session, high tea and dinner in a five-star hotel. However, Justice K. Chandru, who served as a judge of the Madras High Court for the past sevens years, did not want this ritual farewell. In a letter to the acting chief justice R K Agrawal, dated February 8, 2013, Justice Chandru requested him not to order the farewell ritual for him as he would like to leave office quietly.

The last time a judge declined a farewell function was in 1929, when Justice Jackson told the Advocate General, “I have done my job; where is the question of a farewell for me?”

Friday, March 8, was the last day in office for Justice Chandru. He submitted a copy of his ‘voluntary declaration of assets’ to acting Chief Justice R K Agrawal. After returning to his chambers, he signed a few documents. From there he went to the press room and e spent a few happy moments with the journalists who had assembled there,  answering their queries.

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Justice Chandru on his way to MRTS station. — (Photo - Deccan Chronicle)
Justice K. Chandru on his way to MRTS station. — (Photo: Deccan Chronicle)

After leaving the court premises, he walked up to Sangeetha Restaurant across NSC Bose Road. A group of friends was waiting there, and he had coffee with them. From there he walked up to the Beach Station and boarded a suburban MRTS train bound for Velacherry.

Posted as an Additional Judge of the High Court on July 31, 2006 , Justice K. Chandru became a Permanent Judge on November 9, 2009. He had disposed of nearly 96,000 cases, both at the Principal Seat and at the Madurai Bench. He is altogether a different kind of Judge. Known for his simplicity, he shunned some of the accoutrements that usually accompanied a Judge. He disliked pomp and pageantry. He was a role model for others.

    • He dispensed with the practice of his duffedar carrying a mace while escorting him to the court and returning to his chamber.
    • He did not have a gun-toting personal security officer (PSO) beside him.
    • He did not have official servants at home.
    • He did not approve lawyers calling him “my lord”.

Justice Chandru would be remembered for several of his landmark judgments including a ruling that women could become priests in Hindu temples.

Regrettably, the websites of Madras High Court that carry the bio data of its judges has no links to details about Justice K. Chandru. For example, the page, “The Honourable Judges of the Madras High Court,” lists the name of 48 judges, but Justice Chandru’s name though listed does not link to any page with details about him. With his retirement, the strength of the Madras High Court has come down  to 47 judges while the sanctioned strength is  60.

A notice displayed at the entrance to his chamber declared:

No deities – no Flowers
No one is hungry – no Fruits
No one is shivering—no Shawls
We need only best wishes

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