A murder of a school girl in Jaffna
By Ananda Jayasena, Retired Senior Superintendent of Police
@ Island , Sunday, August 17, 2008
I had my first spell in the CID in 1962 when the department needed additional strength for inquiries connected with the abortive coup d’ etat involving several senior army, navy and police officers. My boss, ASP Vanderwall, recommended me to the CID where I spent nearly two years in my first spell of duty there.
In the middle of November 1962, DIG (CID), Mr. S.A. Dissanayake, a taciturn, no-nonsense officer, was walking past Unit One. He looked into the unit and told Inspector A.M. Seneviratne, the OIC, to come into his office with me.
We followed him to his fourth floor office and the DIG offered IP Seneviratne a seat. He handed him a report sent by SP Jack Van Sanden in Jaffna remarking "SP Jaffna seems jittery about the possibility of a caste disturbance in Jaffna.’’ The DIG suggested that I be sent there with a team and directed IP Seneviratne to monitor our work from Colombo. He wanted weekly progress reports.
I looked at the letter sent by the Jaffna SP received by the DIG (CID) on November 15, 1962 requesting assistance to investigate a case of an 18-year old schoolgirl who was missing from her home.
The girl, Saroja Pushparani Yogeswaran belonged to the Vellala caste and was a student at a leading girls’ school in the peninsula. She had last attended school on Friday, October 27, 1962. She was supposed to have been friendly with a 25-year old man, Mudiappu, said to be of a much lower caste, who owned a reputed funeral parlour in Jaffna. He was supposed to have a lot of women around him and lived all by himself in his house.
Sgt. Nadarajah, Constables Subramaniam and Martin and I prepared to leave for Jaffna. Nadarajah was from Chavakachcheri while Subramaniam hailed from Kodikamam. Both of them knew the area like the back of their hands.
When we arrived in Jaffna, Nadarajah went to his home there while Subramaniam invited Martin to stay with him. I went to No.25, Hospital Street, Jaffna where the parents of my good friend, Sub Inspector Achilles Joseph, who lived with me at the Bambalapitiya Police Inspectors’ Mess had their home. Joe had told me that I could stay with them while I was in Jaffna.
On our arrival there we decided to meet every day at a place close to the Jaffna Hospital at 8 a.m. and at 5 p.m. to exchange notes. We found nothing for the first two days with the Jaffna people saying little to strangers.
On the third day Sgt. Nadarajah got a lead. His sister’s two daughters went to the same school that Saroja attended and these girls had told their mother that Saroja rode the same bus as they after school on October 27. Saroja had told them she was going to her aunt’s place. The two girls knew of Saroja’s affair with Mudiappu and suspected she was going to see him. The girls were not prepared to make a statement.
In the meantime PC Subramaniam had been hanging around Mudiappu’s funeral parlour. On the fifth day he had met a friend and asked him about a man called Sandanam who worked in the parlour. The friend had told Subramaniam that Sandanam was a useless drunkard and if Subramaniam was interested, he would bring Sandanam to meet him the next day.
As promised, Sandanam met Subramaniam who gave him a few shots of arrack from a bottle he had kept ready for the purpose. Sandanam got drunk and Subramaniam let him go away. Sandanam came back the next day to see Subramaniam who gave him more arrack. The man became garrulous after the drinks.
Subramaniam told Sandanam that he needed a big favour done through Mudiappu. Sandanam told the policeman that Mudiappu was so friendly with him that he once wanted Sandanam to dispose of the body of a school girl Mudiappu had shot dead. Subramaniam gave Sandanam more drinks until he fell asleep in a drunken stupor and then contacted me.
I immediately telephoned SP Jaffna at his home and Mr. Van Sanden sent a police van for us to take Sandanam to the SP’s office where he was put to sleep in a vacant room. Sandanam woke up only at 9 a.m. the next morning.
I interrogated the man in the presence of the SP and Sandanam spilt the beans making a detailed statement which I recorded. He said that he had worked as a butcher at the Jaffna market for about 10 years when Mudiappu offered him a job at the funeral parlour where he had worked for the last seven years. His duties included staying overnight at the parlour and helping to embalm dead bodies brought there. Once that work was done, body parts that were removed from the corpses were taken in a hearse driven by Mudiappu to the Jaffna cemetery for burial.
Though the cemetery keepers and the Jaffna MC knew that body parts after embalming were buried at the cemetery, they did not object. This work was done only at night to avoid the public gaze.
Sandanam said that when he was in his house somewhere towards the end of October, Mudiappu came there in the hearse and took him to Mudiappu’s own home. The time was about 6.30 p.m. and on the way Mudiappu had told him that he had shot and killed a girl who was pestering him and wanted help to dispose of the body.
At Mudiappu’s house Sandanam saw the body of the girl in school uniform with an injury on her left temple. The body was brought to the funeral parlour where the school uniform, socks and school tie were doused with petrol and burnt. The residue was washed down the drain. The girl’s shoes were buried in the premises of the parlour.
Sandanam thereafter dismembered the body detaching the arms and legs from the trunk and decapitating the head. The body parts were well wrapped with polythene, put into sacks and loaded into the hearse which was driven by Mudiappu to the cemetery, where they were buried.
The night cemetery keeper, Muttiah, wondered why the post-embalming digging took longer than usual. He came there to investigate and Sandanam said that the bundles were unclaimed bodies of three children. As the government’s payment rates did not cover the cost of coffins, they were going to bury them wrapped in polythene. He said that Mudiappu gave Muttiah Rs.300.
We held Sandanam at the SP’s office and took him to the cemetery at about 2 a.m. next morning in a vehicle provided by the SP. Muttiah was on duty and Sandanam dug out the four bundles that had been buried and we drove back to the SP’s office with Sandanam and Muttiah.
I drafted a letter to the JMO Colombo giving him all the facts of the case and requested that he hold the post mortem on the dismembered body that we had exhumed. PC Martin took the body parts to Colombo in a vehicle provided by the Jaffna SP.
On the night we had sent the body parts to Colombo, Mudiappu had taken the night mail to see a sick relative of his in the city. He was to be away in Colombo for a few days.
We were confident that Mudiappu did not know what we have been doing in Jaffna. I contacted Dr. W.D.L. Fernando, the JMO, at his Edmonton Road home and he undertook to finish the post mortem and send the report under registered cover to the SP’s Office in Jaffna. In the meantime, Mr. Van Sanden had come to Colombo, contacted the JMO, and personally brought the report to Jaffna when he returned.
The post mortem report read as follows: " I held a post-mortem on the body of one Saroja Pushparani Yogeswaran aged between 15 to 19-years, height about 5’2"; the body had been dismembered into several parts, legs, arms, torso and the head. At the time of death she had not been a virgin, there were marks of a recent abortion. The cause of death was due to a .22 pistol fired at a very close range from her left temple, death had been instantaneous."
The JMO had a footnote in the report saying that the dismemberment could have been done by a qualified surgeon or by a butcher using sharp cutting knives. Sgd. W.D.L. Fernando, JMO, Colombo.
We received information that Mudiappu had returned to Jaffna by the night mail. I wanted to go and arrest him but the SP suggested that I get the assistance of HQI and IP Crimes Jaffna. At about 8.30 a.m. next morning, three of us accompanied by a few police officers went to the funeral parlour and found Mudiappu there.
On seeing the police party he got very agitated and when we were about ten feet away from him, he suddenly whipped out a pistol and shot himself through his right temple. There was a silencer fixed to this pistol and there was no gunshot report.
HQI Jaffna took charge of the .22 pistol which was the suicide weapon and the inquiries into this case of suicide.
CRIME DOES NOT PAY. Curiously, Mudiappu shot the girl through her left temple and he committed suicide by shooting himself through the right temple with the same weapon.
(Names of the accused and the deceased girl are fictitious. All the other names are genuine)