Why did Jolly kill: A psycho-social analysis of Koodathai killings
The Kerala Police claim that Jolly Joseph killed her husband Roy Thomas, his parents and three others poisoning them with cyanide. Jolly could be compared with John Bodkin Adams and Dr Harold Shipman, say the police. It seems six homicides took place in a span of fourteen years, 2002 to 2016 and a woman from Koodathai, Kozhikode is the prime suspect. Suddenly Jolly has become the centre of gossips, discussions, legal debates, police explanations, psychological analysis and sociological interpretations all over Kerala. Psychiatrists, criminologists and victimologists have already started elucidating the predisposing and precipitating factors of Jolly’s behaviour and her personality.
To have a sound understanding of the Koodathai murders, it is essential to know the history of the suspect and her offence. As per the first shreds of evidence, Jolly is from a remote village in Idukki, belonged to a lower-middle-class farmer’s family. She was a below-average student, and her father did not have the finance to support her college education. So, Jolly joined a parallel college at Palai for her graduation in commerce in 1993 and might have completed her studies in 1996. To attend a wedding, she visited Koodathai, along with one of her future victims, where she met Roy Thomas, the would-be husband and her another victim.
Roy Thomas, a businessman was comparatively from a wealthy family, whose parents were teachers and his siblings were educated, and at least one of them worked in the USA. It is believed, Jolly and Roy fell in love with each other and married. For Jolly, the palatial house, the fancy clothes, the shining cars, the other luxuries, and sumptuous food at Roy’s home was something new. Suddenly she started comparing herself with other family members. And gradually she felt uneasy about the background in which she came. To overcome this inferiority complex, Jolly claimed herself a highly qualified person and teacher at the National Institute of Technology, Calicut. She enjoyed driving her car and went out in the pretext of going to the NIT.
Power and property
At home, Jolly observed with envy the respect and love Annamma, her mother-in-law, Roy’s mother, received and the power and authority she wielded in the family. Jolly craved for power, respect and influence, but her mother-in-law was the stumbling block. So, Jolly thought of eliminating Annamma. It was the result of a gradual evolution of the desire of a village girl to have a position and authority. It was like a politician thinking of eliminating a powerful politician to attain power. Jolly’s first murder was a palace coup. It happened in 2002. Even though it created anxiety, some sadness, mental conflicts, Jolly might have enjoyed the act of killing her mother-in-law. The murder gave her pleasure, as it was the result of her long-cherished dream to have power. The British jurist and criminologist Jeremy Bentham highlights that pleasure and pain decide the cause of every human act. So, the higher the pleasure, the stronger the motivation to achieve it.
In 2008, the second murder happened. The property in which Jolly and her husband Roy lived in was in the name of Tom, her father-in-law. To enjoy more pleasure by acquiring a priced real-estate, in her name, Jolly decided to eliminate her husband’s father, and she might have celebrated her father-in-law’s death. The police have a hunch that Jolly might have had an incestuous relationship with her father-in-law to please him to acquire the property, but when Tom hesitated to transfer it in Jolly’s name, she might have taken the decision to poison him.
Power and property might have ignited to have better and higher sexual pleasures. Jolly might have thought that her husband was incompetent to provide her enough and lasting sexual preferences. It seems constant quarrels and conflicts took place between Jolly and Roy. For Jolly, her father-in-law’s nephew, who was her husband’s cousin, Shaju, even though married, was a better choice. Therefore, Jolly had no qualms in adding cyanide in Roy’s food in 2011. Many studies have categorically proved that in a vast majority of cases, female murderers have used poison to kill, especially their husbands. An extramarital relationship with Shaju, flourished even before the death of Roy, assume the police.
The next murder was that of Mathew, aged 68, Annamma’s brother, with whom Jolly came to Koodathai to attend a wedding. Mathew became suspicious and raised doubts about the death of Roy and asked for an autopsy. This angered Jolly. To have a lasting pleasurable life with Shaju, the end of Mathew was essential, and for her it was inevitable. Thus, Jolly’s sexual needs turned into anger.
The penultimate murder was that of Alphin, one-year-old daughter of Shaju and Sili in 2014. And Sili, Sahju’s wife was killed in 2016. Eliminating Sili was imperative to possess Shaju. It is said that Sili died in Jolly’s lap.
Jolly and the Society
Murder is always reflective and responsive to an individual concerning the community norms and cultural traditions. In the context of the Koodathai homicides, and to understand these phenomena, social scientists may ask the following questions:
1. Why did Jolly commit these homicides;
2. What are the precipitating and predisposing factors which might have forced Jolly;
3. What is the impact of various institutions such as family, religion, and education on her;
4. What are the consequences of these homicides?
It seems Jolly had no sense of belonging to her family. Her personal contacts were neither stable nor satisfactory. She appeared to be suffering from psychic isolation. Hence, she might have experienced a lack of supportive primary relationships, absence of interpersonal commitment and genuine social interactions. There was a failure in Jolly to identify with other’s view, interests and values. Jolly might have thought she was wrongly denied power, position, authority, money, education. sex and pleasures. She reacted cunningly and point-blank against people who opposed to her, who blocked her path.
Jolly rejected established standards of behaviour, written and unwritten. She could not identify with the family and society which did not stand with her. Jolly might have felt estranged from her husband, Roy and his parents from the beginning of her married life and suffered a sense of loss of identity and personal meaning. But she knew that certain things, positions and relationship were precious and that was the reason she claimed that she was a teacher at NIT. After the death of her husband, she managed to produce a WILL alleging that it was signed by her late father-in-law. Jolly showed undue interest in marrying Shaju. Her late husband’s cousin.
Jolly might have questioned the purpose of her existence and compared herself with Sili, Shaju’s wife. For her Sili was “lucky”. Jolly might have attributed the causes of her meaninglessness in life to Roy and Sili. Jolly might have thought that she was not in a position to change the situation and perceived loss of personal efficacy and experienced inability to change the situation and family structure unless she killed Roy, Mathew, Alphin and Sili after removing Tom and Annamma from the family. And in 2017, after a couple of months of Sili’s death, Jolly married Shaju.
Homicidal behaviour nests in the individual psyche of the offender and the collective culture of the society. Thus, culture shapes the mind of the murderer. Murderous behaviour appears to have heavily concentrated among individuals who seek “pleasure” to eliminate “pain” for power, position, authority, property, money, sex, etc. Ultimately, murder is focused on pleasure by an individual who is influenced by the values of a society, and Jolly sought comfort in all these which are dear to the community.
In this context, Jolly’s behaviour was an effort to deal with her husband, his siblings, parents, and the community when conventional means failed or when there was no desire to seek accepted methods or the methods were inadequate. Thus, social and psychological pathologies predominated in the killing of the family members. For Jolly, murder was a solution to problems sprang out of frustrated desires. And slowly, Jolly transformed herself a sadist, who might have had some innate masochistic inclinations.
For a sociologist, murder is a product of the interactive process in society. Thus, a series of decisions and actions on the part of Jolly and her victims resulted from the succession of happenings that might have eventuated in the killing of six people in Koodathai. Jolly had no access to socially legitimate means in achieving a degree, authority, property, perverted sexual wishes, which she thought were culturally-induced goals of a well-knit and law-bound society. Disruptions in the marital relationship among Jolly and Roy culminated in sexual fantasy in Jolly and eliminating Roy was vital to have better sexual bliss.
These six homicides were the result of unmet needs and sexual perversions that culminated in anomie in Jolly. Her victims were responsible for their murder in such a way that they were related to Jolly and readily available to be killed. It indicates that the personality formation of Jolly was a product of failure of family and human relationships.
The Criminal Justice System
Murder committed by women in India in comparison to that of men is negligible. But there is a tendency to depict women murderers as “witches” or heinous criminals. Women criminals too have their dignity as they are not different from men who commit the crime. In Jolly’s case, there is a high possibility that she has received tacit support from her male friends, who might have had illicit sexual intimacy and financial dealings with her.
The police, the court and the prison or correctional administration constitute the criminal justice system. As the case is in the initial stages, the police have a responsibility to establish fool-proof evidence against Jolly. They might face problems in assessing the intentions and patterns of the homicides. The empirical pieces of evidence needed to be built on the IPC and Cr PC and needed to be logically, technically and scientifically sensible and tenable to establish the wrongdoing of the suspect. The legal validity of the proofs will test the reasoning capacity and intellectual stamina of the police. The police have a challenging task before them. Till proven guilty, Jolly will be considered innocent as you and me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
(The author is former Professor and Dean at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai; former Principal and Director at the MSSISW, Nagpur University, Nagpur. He was Visiting Professor at the National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, Delhi; National Institute of Social Defence, Delhi; and the Indian Institute of Public Administration, Delhi.)