ALAVANDAR MURDER CASE

                                             RANDOR GUY

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Alavandar always dressed well and was rarely seen without a neck-tie, or bow. He used perfume liberally and every time he took a woman out for a cup of coffee he doused himself liberally all over! He was a regular visitor at the YMCA, Esplanade opposite the Madras High Court . ( Here, this writer, then a student and member of YMCA had seen him. He had a smile and wave for everybody whether he knew him or not. He was then living in Nattu Pillaiyar Koil Street, George Town,  a crowded area of street houses.)

Meanwhile back at MadrasÖ. another newspaper headline hit the city with a loud thud sending waves of shock and terror among the citizens. Madras , at least during 1950ís was a quiet city and life rolled over at a placid pace. Indeed the city was still small townish it its attitudes and social mores and modes of life and living .

The Indo-Ceylon Express train which left the Egmore railway station at Madras the previous night steamed into the Manamadurai junction down south on its way to Dhanushkodi on the Bay of Bengal. Passengers had complained about bad odor coming from under a seat and a steel trunk seemed to be the source of stink. Also noticed were stains of some foul - smelling fluid which had oozed out of the metal box. The box had no claimants! At last a complaint was made to the Railway Police and the compartment was detrained at Manamadurai. The local cops took out the box which was opened in the presence of independent witnesses. The contents shocked even the small town cops.

( The Indo - Ceylon Express also known as the Boat Mail ran from Madras to Dhanushkodi and provided direct link to passengers taking the boat to Ceylon. Hence the name. In that era there was considerable traffic between India and Ceylon ( now Sri Lanka). Later the name of the train was changed to Rameswaram Express. Dhanushkodi was almost totally washed out during a storm in 1950ís. Rameswaram is a sacred island town associated with Lord Rama. )

The steel box contained a human nude male trunk. It had green socks on the feet and its penis was circumcised. There was also a thick thread round its waist. The head was of course missing. The Manamadurai cops sent the trunk to the District Headquarters at Madurai for the autopsy or post-mortem.

(Manamadurai was then part of the Ramnad district with its headquarters at the famed temple city, Madurai. Indeed Madurai was the principal town for two districts, Madurai and Ramnad. ( now Ramanathapuram). The two sets of courts functioned at the historic Thirumalai Nayak Palace.) ( In recent years districts in Tamil Nadu and elsewhere have been divided and sub-divided mainly due to political considerations and as vote-catching devices.)

The autopsy was performed at the Erskine Hospital by the District Medical Officer (DMO) Dr.Krishnaswamy, a radiologist. He took x-rays and worked on the trunk and submitted his report. Unfortunately his conclusions were not quite right. He opined that the trunk belonged to a male of 25 years of age. Normally the fusion of two bones at the lower back takes place at that age and hence he thought on those lines in arriving at the age of the trunk. This discrepancy was later cleared at the second post-mortem done at Madras.

There were other wrong conclusions arrived at by the small town cops. The circumcision and the presence of green socks on the trunkís feet misled them to think that it belonged to a Muslim male. Muslim males , like Jews are obligated under their religion to undergo circumcision. It is done at a very young age as a religious ritual called "sunnat". Green is the favorite color of Muslims. Both conclusions however proved to be wrong.

The body had around the waist a thick thread. It was usually worn by Hindus males in the bygone days. It was intended to hold the loin-cloth in its place. This custom has almost vanished today. One wonders how the cops overlooked the presence of the thread and decided that the trunk was that of a Muslim!

Meanwhile back at Madras.... Alavandarís wife had called on Devakiís house on Cemetery Road in Royapuram. When she knocked on the door Prabhakara Menon, Devakiís husband answered her. He told her that her husband never came to his house and he had not seen him. It was only then she requested Cunnan Chetty to go to the police. In acting on the complaint a police officer attached to the Esplanade Police station bicycled to Royapuram and surprise awaited him there. A lock on Devakiís door.

He made enquiries and found that the couple had left for Bombay ( now Mumbai )! Somewhat intrigued by this disturbing information the policeman cycled his way back. In Royapuram, the road takes a curve close to the sea and while he was riding on that stretch of the road a curious sight attracted his attention.

He saw a packet bobbing on the sea being pushed by the rising sea waves towards the sandy shore. His curiosity fully lit, the cop went up to the sands and picked up the package wrapped in a brown shirt. The cop was astonished when he saw what was inside. A human head! ( This shirt was later identified as Alvandarís.)

The head had been obviously buried in a shallow pit in the sea and the tide had brought it up and washed it ashore! If a crime writer had written it in his novel it would have been dismissed as fanciful fiction but it was all true. As they say truth is stranger than fiction!

The discovery of the head made headline news in the press and the city sat up with horror. The severed head was sent to the Madras Medical College Forensic Department for analysis. Dr. C.B.Gopalakrishna, then the Assistant Professor of Forensic Medicine performed the post-mortem. Meanwhile the headless trunk at Madurai was also brought to Madras and handed over to Dr. CBG.

Dr. C.B.Gopalakrishna was one of the authorities in Forensic Medicine in India and he had been hailed as " Sir Bernard Spillsbury of India". Sir Bernard is a legendary figure in the forensic science world. An Englishman, his evidence in many cases had sent the guilty to meet their fate in courts. A similar role in India was played by Dr.Gopalakrishna. He underwent training in England under the renowned pathologist and authority on Forensic Medicine, Sydney Smith ( of the best-selling book "Mostly Murder" fame). Dr. Gopalakrishna was one of the favorite students of Dr. Smith.

Dr. Gopalakrishna worked as the Police Surgeon, Madras for many years and was the consultant for many states in India and also the Indian Army. His services were on heavy demand from all over the country for many years. His evidence in courts sent the guilty to prison and saved the innocent from being wrongly punished. Many universities claimed his time and talent to be the examiner in the oral tests and written examinations in Forensic Medicine. He had performed over 8000 autopsies during his long and distinguished career and had given evidence in many sensational and important cases around the country.

( A good friend and guide of this writer he had helped him in several ways. He and Dr.CBG worked on plans to do a book based on his work and experiences but it remained a dream. Regretfully Dr. CBG passed away some years  ago when this writer was in in Los Angeles writing  Hollywood movie scripts. Sadly he carried a wealth of information, knowledge and experiences to his grave.....)

Dr. Gopalakrishna set to work on the trunk and head. The head was slightly decomposed and revealed a deep cut on the head. The result of an attack with a sharp weapon like a knife. It had been severed at the cervical vertebra. A bone had been cut obliquely and a piece was missing. Two teeth had peculiar formation, over- riding one on another. The right ear-lobe was pierced in two places while the left had only one. Mrs. Alavandar visited the mortuary and identified the head as that of husbandís. Besides she identified the teeth too as her husbandís.

The examination of the trunk revealed that the person was between 42 and 45. (Alavandar was 42.)

Interestingly when the head and trunk were placed together the two parts fitted perfectly. Thus Dr.Gopalakrishna came to the inescapable conclusion that they were of the same body. However he wished to prove that the body was Alavandarís beyond all doubt. The records at the Avadi Army Headquarters gave the final answer.. Finger- prints. The army records had the dead manís finger-prints and the two sets matched ! No doubt, the body was Alavandarís......

                                                                                     (To be continued)