Kottayam: The day was January 22, 1984. A man driving a car sees an ambassador car on fire in a field in Kunnam near Mavelikkara and rushes to a nearby house to get help. He finds Suresh Kumar in the house and he in turn alerts Radhakrishnan Asari , a neighbour and the men together inspect the burning car.
They find the right door lying open and a dead man behind the steering wheel, little knowing that they had chanced upon one of the most sensational crimes in the history of Kerala , the Chacko murder.
The main accused is Sukumara Kurup, who allegedly scripted the murder after reading about a crime involving embezzlement of insurance money in Germany. Getting himself insured for about Rs 8 or 9 lakhs in Abu Dhabi , he tried to fake his own death to claim it, even murdering a man to lay his hands on the money.
Conspiracy behind the heinous act
What motivated a family man like Sukumara Kurup an executive with an Abu Dhabi marine petrol company to plot a murder of this kind? "It was absolute greed, and the urge to live a life of luxury," says PM Haridas, investigating officer of the case.
Kurup allegedly plotted the murder with his co-brother, Bhaskara Pillai, his driver Ponnappan, and friend Shahu during his visit home. At first they planned to get a dead body from a cemetery to convince his insurance company that he had died in an accident.
But when they could not find a body matching Kurup's description, they went looking for a person who resembled him and found him in a man asked for a lift in their vehicle in front of Hari theatre in Karuvatta on January 21, 1984, at around10 pm.
The unfortunate victim was Chacko, a film representative, who was married only a year previously. He was made to drink liquor mixed with ether after getting into the car and once he had lost consciousness, was allegedly strangulated by Bhaskara Pillai while Kurup followed in another car. Once at Pillai' house in Cheriyanadu near Chengannur, they removed Chacko's clothes and burnt his face and hair to keep him from being recognised.
They set the stage at a paddy field
His body was then taken to a paddy field in Kunnam, and placed behind the steering well of a car before 10 litres of petrol was poured over it and a match lit to set it on fire.
"I reached the spot of the crime by 5.30 that morning. I suspected foul play from the very beginning as I noticed a match box, a hand glove and stains of petrol in the area. I found out that the car belonged to one Sukumara Kurup, an expatriate. But in the investigation that followed we found that the body was not that of Kurup, " recalls Haridas, who was then Chengannur Dysp.
When the postmortum was conducted, the cause of death became apparent.
" In the examination of the respiratory organ, we didn't find any signs of charcoal which should have been there had he been alive when the car was burning. Moreover his stomach gave a special odour of a poison," says Dr B Umadathan, the forensic surgeon, who conducted the postmortem.
How investigation caught up with truth
The hunt launched for Sukumara Kurup may have been the biggest in the history of Kerala as the police searched for him for 12 years, from 1984 to 1996.
"The last time we confirmed his presence was when he was in Mumbai near the Santa Cruz airport in 1990. He had sent a letter from that address to relatives here. But when we reached there , we did'nt find him," Haridas adds.
The police also went in search of Kurup to Mumbai, Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Oushangabad near Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh. In Oushangabad, it found that he had left his aunt's house two days before it reached there. The police believes he has received extensive support from his relatives to escape its net. According to its records, Kurup was 38 in 1984. If he is alive now, he would be 68.
God will give fitting answer, says Chacko's wife
Santhamma was married to Chacko in July 1983. When he was murdered on January 21, 1984, she was carrying his son, who is now 29 years old and a father himself and works in a private company. Santhamma got a job as an attender in a nearby institution after her husband's death.
"I didn't suspect anything for the first few days as he had a habit of going away on his job for quite some time. Then I read about this murder in the newspapers, and his brother filed a complaint with the police that he was missing. I cannot even think about those days. Nobody helped us and I was struggling to raise my child. God will give a fitting answer to the perpetrators of this dastardly act", she adds.
Family of accused could never get away
Bhaskara Pillai, who underwent life imprisonment, is still living in Cheriyanadu. Kurup's wife and children have been socially ostracized and both he and his wife lost their jobs, which fetched them around Rs 60,000 a month in 1984.
His wife who worked as a nurse in a hospital in Abu Dhabi at the time was the fourth accused in the case. Her younger sister was the fifth accused. But both were acquitted by the court for lack of evidence.
Kurup also had reasonable savings in Kerala, including two tourist cars, but lost it all. The police which was present during the marriage of his son in 2010 had hoped to catch him when he came to the house for it , but he never did come. The Special Investigation Team of the crime branch in Thiruvananthapuram is now handling the case.
No word on Kurup’s family
Kurup's wife and children are no longer in Cheriyanadu and locals have no idea where they are